The turning point in today’s match was very reminiscent of the penultimate match of the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals. Just as Luna Rossa tacked ahead and to leeward of Emirates Team New Zealand in that match, so Alinghi did the same today – not quite tacking close enough to NZL 92 to be able to give them dirty air and allowing Dean Barker to eke his way into the lead.
Just a couple of minutes earlier, AC radio commentator Geordie Shaver made the observation that Brad Butterworth was doing “the Corral”. After rounding the left-hand gate mark, Alinghi crossed ETNZ by more than two boatlengths to reclaim the right-hand side.
Butterworth could have placed a tighter cover on the Kiwis but elected for a looser cover further to the right. This is Geordie’s “Corral”, where you’ve got enough confidence in your superior boatspeed that you just herd the opposition in the general direction without actually hurting them. It’s the slow death approach, except on this occasion it was Alinghi that was suffering a slow death.
Asked what went wrong at that point in the race, Alinghi runner grinder Rodney Ardern said: “That’s a good question! The waves were a bit more choppy from the spectator wash and we seemed to lose a bit of speed. We checked the rudder and keel and couldn’t see anything, but we didn’t feel that good up that second beat and they closed in on us and took the lead.”
ETNZ mainsheet trimmer Don Cowie reckoned the Kiwis responded quicker to a slight drop in the breeze. “I think we might have changed gears a little quicker when the light patch came in,” he said. It certainly seems like the New Zealand crew are capable of getting their boat up to full pace more quickly than Alinghi. The trouble is, NZL 92’s full pace is not quite up to SUI 100’s full pace. The Kiwis are talking a brave game of it being a one-design race out there, but that’s not how it looks from the outside.
Dean Barker has fully removed those lingering doubts that existed all those weeks ago about his inconsistent starting. He sailed a blinder of a pre-start against Ed Baird today and crossed the start line bang on the money, while Alinghi took another three seconds to cross. Ed Baird is sporting a back pack that powers up his fighter-pilot heads-up display in his sunglasses. It gives him a visual map of the boat in relation to the start box, but it didn’t seem to do much for his time on distance today.
So for the second time in two races Dean Barker scored a peach of a start with lots of lateral separation from Alinghi, and yet less than five minutes later he was bounced away to the right. Strategist Ray Davies admitted: “We had a bit of a plan that if we could start to the right and continue for two or three minutes we would have been happy with that.
“We were more than happy with where we started. Dean did a great job of starting at pace and with heaps of separation and normally you would be able to last a long time with that sort of range. We were a bit surprised that we got spat off there and with Alinghi making more of a gain it was a little bit of a surprise for us!”
Asked what they could do next time to neutralise Alinghi off the start line, Cowie responded: “We’ve got to work a little bit harder as the trimmers – that’s me and Louie [jib trimmer Grant Loretz] – getting the boat locked in and off the start line. We’ve got to make sure we know what the pressure is off the line.”
I think Cowie is being hard on himself. The Kiwis are sailing their boat beautifully, they’re hardly putting a foot wrong, but SUI 100’s extra little edge is getting Alinghi out of jail. Today’s result will have done wonders for Kiwi confidence, but Alinghi is still looking the more potent package.