After today’s race, I have to admit that I think Brad is right after all. In today’s 7 to 10 knot breezes, on the downwind legs SUI 100 was just plain faster. There was nothing in it upwind, but on the first run Alinghi kept on sliding up behind NZL 92, and once they had pulled in front on the final beat, on the second run they just kept on sliding further away from the Kiwis to the finish.
In today’s conditions, the only weapon in New Zealand’s downwind armoury was superior gybing technique, with the Kiwi ‘inside gybe’ taking about 10 metres off every Swiss ‘outside gybe’. So down the last run Terry Hutchinson kept on trying to engage Butterworth in a gybing duel. After a while, Alinghi refused to play that game and allowed some big splits to open up. It very nearly opened the door to the Kiwis just before the finish, as they closed to within two boatlengths. However, one last roll-of-the-dice split went against the Kiwis as Alinghi came home 28 seconds ahead.
It was hard to fault either sailing team today. In yet another aggressive pre-start, both helmsmen achieved their teams’ objectives – thanks to the fact that ETNZ wanted the left and Alinghi wanted the right. The Kiwi weather team and afterguard won the battle of the first beat, their call for the left proving the winning solution. But the Alinghi afterguard made the better call for the second beat, choosing the right-hand gate and hooking into some better breeze far on the right-hand side.
The Kiwi mastman Matt Mason commented: “On the first run we thought they would pay for going to the right mark and we were laying pretty nicely into the left hand one, so we were happy to go there. We got back on to port and looked just fine the whole way across. There was a lot of what we call rubber banding, as we say, the breeze coming and going.
“We were comfortable until right at the end they got a little flick of right and came back and they were right back in the game. We wanted to send them out to that lay line, but the first time they came back they’d made a little gain and we couldn’t make our lee bow tack stick and that was pretty much it right there.”
Both teams are sailing at the top of their game right now, their sailing styles are becoming more similar as the regatta develops, but boatspeed was a critical factor to Alinghi’s success today. Design is still a big part of the America’s Cup – to that extent Brad Butterworth is certainly correct in his insistence about this – but more than anything this Cup is being decided on good old seat-of-the-pants racing skills. And that’s exactly as it should be. Just when you think you’ve seen all the excitement that you’re going to get from the 32nd America’s Cup, up pops another great race.
After some very one-sided contests in the latter stages of the LV Cup, now we’re finally seeing the benefits of the Version 5 rule changes and the series of Acts over the past three years. Full credit to ACM and Alinghi for setting the stage for such a thrilling showdown.
However, most neutrals in Valencia are rooting for the Kiwis simply because we don’t want the action to end – and also because they’ve taken their setbacks with good grace while Alinghi have had the whiff of sour grapes when things have gone against them.
After today’s match, Alinghi’s confidence will have gone up a notch. The Kiwis are talking a good game, but I don’t think they can take three straight matches off Alinghi. Possibly one, but not more. Anyway, I’m sure they’re not listening to me or anyone else who doesn’t share their enormous reserves of self-belief. Much better that they pay attention to Matt Mason’s words just as they crossed the finish line today. “I just said to the boys, Australia II were 3-1 down in Newport and we all know what happened there. So we’re not going to lie down. Far from it.”