Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Dickson back from the Dead

A week ago Gavin Brady voiced the confidence that BMW Oracle Racing have in their boat USA 98. “I’ve personally never been on a boat where we feel we’re the only people that could screw it up for 98.”

The first two matches of the Semi Finals seem to bear that out, as Chris Dickson turned on the afterburners down the first run to reduce a whopping 58-second deficit at the windward mark to just 20 seconds by the leeward gate.

If the Americans ever manage to get comfortably in front, it’s hard to see Luna Rossa being able to match the awesome pace of USA 98.

But credit where credit is due, because both the Luna Rossa navigator Michele Ivaldi and his USA counterpart Peter Isler said it was also about picking good lanes downwind. And BMW Oracle found the better lanes of breeze today, as well as being faster.

“It is not all boat speed,” said Isler. “We are happy with USA 98 all around the course, the oscillations and puffs gave more opportunity for the trailing boat to look super fast than on a typical sea breeze day where it is more persistent. Gavin (Brady) and Eric (Doyle) did a great job calling the wind, it was good tactics on board and good sail trim. Boat speed is in play, but we have been playing the runs well.”

Overall, both afterguards sailed a tighter match today compared with yesterday’s freestyling all over the race course. However, the onshore conditions were much more predictable than yesterday so the passing lanes were fewer too. The first part of the final beat saw some close tacking until… both boats broke off from battle to go off chasing better breeze on their side of the course. Back to weather gambling again!

At one point the lateral separation across the course was more than 1.5km, with USA on the left, Italy on the right. What was amazing was that when they converged again at the top of the course, they were absolutely neck and neck, to the point where Dickson could initiate a luffing match.

James Spithill held his nerve to round the final mark 14 seconds ahead, but four or five seconds of that slender advantage were swallowed up by the difference in quality of spinnaker hoists. As usual it was the American boat that looked slicker.

Dickson was now able to put all sorts of pressure on the Italians, and when Grael opted to swap sides with USA 98 to claim the tactical power of the right, you got the sense that this was the Brazilian’s final weapon in his ever-depleting armoury.

Boat for boat, and manoeuvre for manoeuvre, the BMW Oracle team is just too strong for Luna Rossa – with the exception of the pre-start where first blood definitely went to Spithill. By far the stronger finishers, however, are the Americans, and they won by 13 seconds today.

Asked why BMW Oracle seem to make it so hard on themselves, why they’re always starting on the back foot, Isler laughed in reply: “It’s more fun and more spectacular! It is certainly harder on the heart, but with a great crew and boat, coming back is all part of the scene. Sometimes you are not going to come off the line first or get the first shifts so you have to have that ability if you want to win the Cup.”

It’s certainly highly entertaining stuff, and Dickson and Co warrant an Oscar nomination for the cliffhanger scripts they’ve been writing these past two days. Long may it continue. While the Americans are busy making Hollywood movies, the Kiwis are writing the text book on how to match race. And text books are very worthy but very boring, which is why I haven’t written about them today. I’m sure that will suit Dean Barker and his team just fine. They’d rather do boring than nailbiting any day.

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