Monday, 30 April 2007

Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

Victory Challenge seem to have been one of the underperformers of the Round Robins to date, not to mention their woeful catalogue of sail-handling errors in the fleet racing of Louis Vuitton Act 13. Yet here they are in 5th place on the leaderboard, so there is still much for the Swedes to play for.

How many more Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards will come their way though, such as the one handed to them by Shosholoza yesterday? The spinnaker pole breakage was another heartbreaking moment for the South Africans who, while they have great boatspeed and are sailing tactically very well, are being let down either by ripping spinnakers or snapping poles.

These can be the hardest defeats to take, as skipper Mark Sadler's comment indicates: "It is so disappointing, you can't imagine. Have a second spinnaker pole on board would be too heavy, so what can we do? We didn't make any mistakes at all during the race but we had some strange manoeuvres. All was going so well, we are fast and good. And then once again a material problem. When it happened I thought, 'Oh no, not again!' We have to keep going of course, but this is really hard to digest."

It all just seems to be slipping away for Shosholoza after such a strong start to the Round Robin campaign. A Semi Finals spot now looks a long way away, with Desafio Espanol displaying the sort of form that suggests they are not going to relinquish 4th spot without a big fight.

What the smaller teams must keep on telling themselves is that anything can happen in these conditions. Covering your opponent in such fickle breeze can be a fool's game, with the greater priority being to tap into the best power supply up the course. Gavin Brady's comment after BMW Oracle's race against Germany shows how weather-focused the American team was yesterday: "Our weather team told us there would be a pretty big right hand shift, and whoever was in front would probably win the race.

"So the mentality had to shift from it being a four-leg race to being a one-leg race, and we knew we had to maximise everything, make sure we had our best sail up, and win the start and the first windshift. So there was a little bit of heat on board for that first leg. But our weather team predicted it dead right – it became a one-way race course."

One of the most intriguing of today's matches looks the line-up between Victory and Luna Rossa. The Swedes have proven themselves well capable of giant-killing in the past, and Luna Rossa's starting has been off-key of late, so Victory have to believe they can win this confrontation - without the sort of luck that they relied on yesterday.

And then there is the prospect of Mascalzone Latino against Emirates Team New Zealand, two teams that for different reasons have their backs against the wall. For the Kiwis it is a matter of pride and team morale to keep Mascalzone at bay, while for the Italians it is a matter of staying in the hunt for the last four.

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