By his own admission in this evening’s press conference, Grael thought the breeze had already gone as left as it was going to, so he wanted to protect the right. Maybe by tacking far to leeward of NZL 92 he wanted to encourage the Kiwis to follow him over to the right and fall into Italian bad air as the breeze shifted right. That is the only possible defence for Grael’s unconvincing tactics.
As it was, the breeze went further left than Grael had expected, allowing Dean Barker not only to live on ITA 94’s hip but to move forwards and climb out from there into a controlling position which he would never relinquish. Not for the first time this series, the Kiwis couldn’t quite believe their luck, as ETNZ windspotter Adam Beashel commented afterwards: “We were surprised they tacked to leeward there, it’s not what I’d have chosen, but that was their thinking…” The result was a 52-second win to the Kiwis, who used marginally better boatspeed to extend once they were in front.
Poor old Torben really didn’t want to be sitting in that press conference this evening. Every time he finished answering a question he put the microphone back down like a hot potato. And at the end of the conference, he couldn’t get out of there quick enough. No wonder, as he was asked more or less the same question four or five times. We were no more enlightened as to why he chose to tack so unaggressively under the Kiwis than before the press conference had begun.
Here’s an example. Asked if it would have been possible to tack closer under the Kiwi bow, he replied: “We definitely could, but we felt we were on a leftie and wanted to defend the right side which we thought was good, and take the position which we thought was safe. They hung out with a nice leftie with pressure and they made a huge gain in a short period. From then on it was quite difficult for us to come back because we weren’t in a strong position to do so.
“It’s hard to predict those things - the right came, but it came late and we couldn’t benefit from it. Knowing what happened now, I would go closer, but it’s a hard situation there, you have to decide right then on the information you have, and with the information I had I felt I was doing the right thing.”
You can be sure that if the tables were turned, Terry Hutchinson wouldn’t have been nearly so gentlemanly. He would have tacked on the opposition’s face and bounced them away. You can’t fault Torben Grael’s record in fleet racing – five Olympic medals says it all – and normally no one can read the wind better than this man. However, in the past week, Grael’s legendary windspotting skills have eluded him on a number of occasions.
Luna Rossa won the roll of the dice off the start line today, picking the right side and moving to a four-boatlength lead at the first cross. Fair enough, it worked on that occasion. But if the Kiwis had found themselves in that position it would have been game, set and match right there. Using good old, hard-arsed match racing skills.
In James Spithill, the Italians have one of the sharpest shooters in town, but Torben’s softly-softly tactics are not giving Spithill the ammunition to hurt the Kiwis. When the Kiwis have the faster boat, there’s even more of an imperative to fix bayonets and get stuck into some hand-to-hand fighting. Time for Torben to turn nasty.