This first round, in which each of the nine syndicates will race each other just once, is slated for October 1 to 11. The weather in Auckland is volatile at best at this time of year, and it is expected that 11 days will be little enough time to get off the eight races. But all scheduled races will be sailed. The second round is scheduled to begin October 22.
But the early racing could see trends developing. The teams that started early, have trained longest and budgeted their time most wisely should be fast off the mark and they could establish a habit of winning that would be hard to surpass.
The Swedes and British have also exhibited periods of impressive speed, and as their afterguards learn more about the Hauraki Gulf and the need to change gears rapidly and often, these talented teams are likely to become ever more threatening.
But perhaps not too much can be drawn from these informal encounters. In a recent interview with the British journal Yachting World Coutts is quoted as saying "these are informal races and you don't know what the opposition is putting into it, or whether they're showing all their cards—I doubt whether they are..." By chance most of these preliminary races were held in medium wind strengths, and obviously the results might have been very different in either stronger or lighter conditions.
Early "research" on the water indicates that nearly all the boats are very close in major measurements of length, beam, sail area and displacement. The design team that appears to have strayed furthest from the pack is the Bruce Farr office, which designed the Oracle/BMW boats, USA 71 and 76.
These boats, which are near sisterships, have mainsails considerably smaller than any of the others, which indicates that the boats must be either lighter, or are taking a draft penalty, or some of each. The mainsail area on the Farr boats is about 2,012 square feet, compared to the average of 2,250 square feet for the rest of the fleet. This is a difference of roughly 247 square feet. The foretriangle on the Oracle/BMW boats appears to be very similar to the others, between 1,129 and 1,162 square feet, so the Oracle/BMW headsails and spinnakers would be similar in area to those of the opposition.
The only Team Dennis Conner boat to be sailing in Auckland so far is USA 66. The other TDC boat has recently had about 30 feet of its bow replaced after the boat sank due to a rudder-post failure and the bow was seriously damaged while hitting the bottom of the ocean near Long Beach, CA, in August. A close look at the Conner boats, which are representing the New York Yacht Club, indicate they are the narrowest in the event, not only at deck level, but at the waterline as well. Nearly all this year's boats are narrower at deck level than the 2000 boats. For example, photos indicate that the One World boats, designed by Laurie Davidson, are several inches narrower than NZL 60, which won the cup in 2000 and was also designed by Davidson.
Chief measurer Ken MacAlpine and his team of measurers have been working since early September to check hulls, keel, spars and sails of all the boats that will be racing in the first round. This is an exhaustive and painstaking process that goes on day and night. Flotation measurements have to be done in dead calm water, which frequently can be found only in the wee small hours.
All but two of the Louis Vuitton boats have remained been hidden by skirts—shrouds that hide the underbody, including the keels and rudders. Because there is still plenty of time to make changes during the long elimination process, designers don't want to give anything away. The two camps that have left their boats undraped are Team Dennis Conner and Italy's Mascalzone Latino, the one-boat program led by 45-year-old shipping billionaire Vincente Onorato. Onorato, whose compound is wide open to the public, says he is challenging this time, not to win, but to learn and to have a good time, and he expects to return to the America's Cup wars as many times as it takes to make his presence very well known.
If Conner's boats differ from the others only because they are very narrow, then there is nothing to hide by draping them, as all the challenging boats have been built and if very narrow turns out to be very fast, there is nothing the others will be able to do about it.
The Luck of the DrawThe Louis Vuitton Cup starts tomorrow, October 1, (or today, September 30 in the western hemishpere), and runs through the 21st of January. Yesterday, the day before the competition in the 2002-03 Louis Vuitton Cup began, the nine challenging syndicates were paired up by way of a blind draw. The full schedule can be viewed at www.louisvuittoncup.yahoo.com/ story_images/eng_lvc_pairings5020930090219.gif.
The first match of the day on the Juliet course has the Louis Vuitton Cup defending champion Team Prada going up against Oracle/BMW.
The Louis Vuitton Cup by Bruce KirbyAmerica's Cup Preview by Bruce KirbyAmerica's Cup Design Retrospective by Bruce KirbySailNet Store Section: Sail Handling