One of the great pleasures of watching America's Cup or Louis Vuitton Cup racing, whether it's in real life, on TV, or a computerized simulation, is that you have an opportunity to outguess some of the most successful sailors in the world. In today's race, which AMERICA ONE won by 1:06 and led by 2:31 at the mid waypoint, the words "bonehead move" or "they should repeat Match Racing 101" were applied liberally to the first leg tactics aboard Italy's LUNA ROSSA.
AMERICA ONE rounds the mark ahead of PRADA
The win put Paul Cayard and his crew one race away from victory in the Louis Vuitton finals and a shot at beating New Zealand in the America's Cup, which begins February 19. The Italians would have to win two in a row to advance to the main event.
At the start the boats were virtually even, with LUNA ROSSA hitting the line on starboard tack at the left end, and AMERICA ONE starting on port at the committee boat. The wind was 14 to 16 knots, and, as usual on the Hauraki Gulf, very shifty. It was the type of day when allowing the other boat to gain a lot of separation on the course was likely to result in a big gain or crippling loss. If you thought your boat was faster than the opposition, or the same speed, the textbook play would be to stay close, sail fast, and hope for the little breaks that would give you the victory.
Minutes after the start, LUNA ROSSA tacked onto port on a slight left-hand shift and took up position to weather and behind AMERICA ONE. The electronic course tracker showed the Italians to be slightly ahead as the big sloops drag raced towards the starboard tack lay line. Then LUNA ROSSA tacked away and headed out to the left; but it wasn't just a short tack to take advantage of a local windshift. The silver and red bullet kept sailing until she was more than a mile from AMERICA ONE.
Meanwhile, the American boat was lifted on port tack and then began to get a knock as she neared the lay line. When she tacked onto starboard, she was lifted 20 degrees and was almost laying the weather mark. The Italians finally tacked back toward the middle of the course and it was obvious immediately that they were a very long way behind and had virtually no chance of getting back into the race. At the turn they trailed by a minute and 19 seconds.
At the post race press conference, Italian tactician Torben Grael, one of the world's most successful sailors with an Olympic Gold Medal and several world championships to his credit, said, "Today was one day when things went wrong, and I think it's normal. It's difficult to get it right all the time and we got it wrong today. We thought the left side was going to have more pressure, but we were wrong."
AMERICA ONE foredeck crew in action
What seemed so very wrong was not that the Italians wanted to be to the left of Cayard, but that they went more than a mile left. With a boat that is considered by most to be faster in the conditions that prevailed, why would they not have used this speed by staying in the same arena and battling it out? Not only is LUNA ROSSA fast, but she frequently has gained on AMERICA ONE in tacking duels.
In all fairness, the same question might be asked of Cayard and his tactician John Kostecki - why would they allow the Italians to get so far away? AMERICA ONE could have tacked much sooner to stay in touch with the opposition. Kostecki's answer was, "We liked the right and we obviously got that side at the start. We continued to get lifted and so it was tough to tack off the lift. Eventually it was time to tack for the mark. Right before we did we got a nice right-hand shift and saw a little more pressure out there. I didn't think it was going to be that big a gainer. The end result was great. It was a race winner on the first beat."
Kostecki added a word for the Italians. "I feel for Torben and Francesco (Italian skipper Francesco de Angelis) because we've been on their side and we know how that feels. It can go either way."
AMERICA ONE's good luck, or good management, continued on the second leg. After rounding and setting off down the run on port jibe, the hydraulic boom vang broke. The vang helps with the shaping of the mainsail and also controls the boom during a jibe. While a temporary repair was being made, it would have been risky for the American boat to jibe. Meanwhile LUNA ROSSA had rounded the mark, jibed onto starboard, and was quickly separating from AMERICA ONE.
Unable to cover the Italian move Cayard and crew carried on and before the repair to the boom vang was completed, they had sailed into more wind and yet another shift to the right side of the course. This made it possible for them to lay off with speed and head straight for the mark. The faulty boom vang had turned out to be another good break for AMERICA ONE. Again the Italian move to find wind in another part of the course had backfired They rounded onto the second weather leg still trailing by more than a minute.
PRADA beats toward the mark to try to make up for lost ground
Now in a desperate position, LUNA ROSSA decided to ignore what, by this time, seemed to be a continuing shift to the right and again sailed off to the left. Again it was the wrong move. The American boat, far in the lead, headed right and picked up more wind and more right-hand lifts to increase the margin to two and a half minutes at the second weather mark, which is the halfway point of the race.
The boats were now so far apart that they were in different wind patterns most of the time. But whether through improving fortune or the raw speed that she has shown at other times, LUNA ROSSA gained a minute and 24 seconds on the final three legs to finish 1:06 behind. On the run to the finish, AMERICA ONE hit a light spot in the squirrelly wind pattern and the Italian boat made a substantial gain. Paul Cayard's voice was picked up by the onboard microphone saying, "This is an unbelievably diabolical wind." And how do you say that in Italian?
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