Sunday, 8 April 2007

Lucky 13 for Alinghi

Louis Vuitton Act 13 worked out very nicely for Alinghi. It gave the Defender an ideal opportunity to check in one of the team’s new boats, SUI 91, and provide reassurance for Brad Butterworth that Alinghi is the match of anything that the challengers can throw at them.

Butterworth commented earlier in the week that in his experience it is always the fastest boat that wins the contest. “I think for me the America’s Cup is a design race. I think the fastest boat will win. At this level, against this calibre of sailors, if you have a slightly faster boat you’re going to beat them…they can all sail well and in their own right win races on any given day, but it’s pretty tough to beat a faster boat. At any other Cup I’ve done, the fastest boat has won, and I think this will be like the others.”

However, despite what Butterworth says, it seems like good boat design is going to be a less significant factor than in the past, unless Alinghi really do have something spare that they weren’t revealing during the fleet racing. Were they sandbagging during Act 13? With four wins from seven races, it doesn’t seem likely. Assuming that Ed Baird was driving the boat as hard as possible – and remember, for the American helmsman this was still exam time for him in the ongoing selection process between him and Peter Holmberg – then Alinghi is certainly fast but not significantly faster than the top challengers.

They’re certainly not toying with the opposition the way that they were with SUI 75 in the 2005 season. Remember that race in Malmo when Alinghi’s mainsail started falling down, bowman Pieter van Nieuwenhuyzen was hoisted at running speed to the top of the mast, fixed the problem, and by the top mark they had overtaken the Germans (whilst all the while the onboard GPS locator inexplicably switched off for a few minutes, strange that…)!
Click here for a reminder of that race...

All in all, I think the Defender and challengers gave a pretty honest account of themselves. The Kiwis started badly but finished stronger, as did Luna Rossa, while BMW Oracle looked great at the beginning but slipped up a few times in the middle of the regatta. All of them looked fast at times, but all of them looked more fallible than Alinghi who as I mentioned recently, display the hallmark of all great sporting teams or individuals – to be able to pull a reasonable result out of the bag even when they’re performing below par.

One thing we should bear in mind when trying to compare performances: most of the teams with two new boats were probably fielding their less favoured boat, and who can blame them after what we saw happen to +39 Challenge and their only Version 5 mast earlier in the week?
The fleet racing produced very hectic and at times dangerous situations, but how could anyone possibly argue with the excitement it generated?

Alinghi and ACM have toyed around with fleet racing, and now the genie is out of the bottle. If you want to enthuse the spectators, the TV, even the sailors, then fleet racing offers drama on a much more regular basis than match racing. As one tactician commented anonymously after one of Act 13’s epic races: “You’d have to get through at least 10 match races to even come close to equalling the thrill of one of these fleet races.” So the question is, how to crowbar fleet racing into the 33rd America's Cup?

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