I agree with you Jeff. I'm kind of intentionally splitting hairs here because it's another important angle in the debate, I think.
In racing, so much emphasis is put on gear/sails/weight/etc. that I think it gets kind of ridiculous - at least in the context of most all "amateur" racing out there. Granted, I can definitely see where these things can make a real difference in in-shore buoy racing, especially where the boats are pretty evenly matched and finishes are counted in seconds or less. Every item counts. AND, I can totally see your point about small increments adding up to huge numbers over time in an off-shore race. That 10 seconds per mile would add up to 5 hours in the Race to the Border we did.
But, the problem with this idea is exactly what you point out above - these things do matter, BUT good sailing is the key. Always. That's why a "hardcore racer" can look like a real idiot if he goes full bore on all the above, but continually loses because he's not very good at sailing.
I think the AC has been a great example of these kinds of differences. Is it the boat/rudders/foils that have Artemis on the ropes in every single race? Or is it their inability to really sail that boat? I think it's the latter.
So, yes, all this stuff is important. But not nearly as much as most racers think it is at the level they're racing.
The condensed version of what you're saying here, is and has been my philosophy:
Make good Indians, then
give them good arrows.
(crew proficiency before fancy gear)
Last year, we spent one series in the non-spin division, stalled out in 3-5kts of breeze, but the crew got proficient with the white sails.
Next, I bought a crappy spinnaker for $150 and entered us in PHRF C.
The crew got pretty proficient with it. Never a shrimp, never an hourglass or a forestay wrap. We needed to get better at gybing though.
Now, I have a better spinnaker, a kevlar 155% genoa, and a high-tech jib halyard that zzgta made for me.
As my Indians get to be better hunters, I buy them better arrows.
Next year, I hope to improve the quality of the boat's bottom.