Monday, 2 April 2007

The Italian Job

There were dramatic differences in the keel bulb shapes presented yesterday at Port America's Cup. The bigger, wealthier teams seemed to favour longer, torpedo-shaped bulbs while the poorer teams preferred shorter, stubbier keels. It's quite possible that the big teams are playing a game of smoke and mirrors, keeping their real intentions secret until later in the competition.

The expected light airs would suggest that a short stubby bulb is better for this stage of the regatta, as it has a lower-wetted surface area and is less 'sticky' in light airs. So maybe the big teams will change their bulbs at the last minute. The smaller teams do not have the time or money to play such games, and so their keels are likely to be a more 'honest' configuration for the weather conditions predicted for Louis Vuitton Act 13.

Although there were no massive shocks at the unveiling, one of the more surprising things was just how flat the Luna Rossa boats were underneath. So flat, in fact, they almost look square. So square, they could be Olympic Star boats. When five-time Olympic medallist Torben Grael, Luna Rossa’s tactician, was asked if the boats had been designed to make him feel more at home, he admitted the boats did indeed look a bit Star-like. “Except that they are flatter than a Star,” he added, laughing.

If there were few surprises in the boats, the skippers’ press conference this morning caused a bit of a stir when Kiwi skipper Dean Barker said he would be handing over the wheel to British understudy Ben Ainslie. Talk is that the three-time Olympic medallist has been giving Barker a good run for his money during in-house racing sessions, so maybe this is Barker’s way of saying ‘thank you’ to Ainslie for his role as B-boat driver. Or is it an indicator that Ainslie might also do some of the steering in the Louis Vuitton Cup?

Meanwhile, over the other side of Port America’s Cup at the +39 Challenge base, Iain Percy’s crew have been working late into the evening – and going for a test sail in the dark!!! – preparing their brand new, untested Version 5 mast for competition in Act 13. What a shame these guys haven’t had a clear run at the Cup without all the ‘will they, won’t they’ shenanigans caused by the ongoing financial problems in the team. This is a team competing not for the money, but for the love.

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