Fast action, close calls, but what else was on show asks Matthew Sheahan
The drama of the start line is one thing when twelve 24 tonne carbon machines come thundering down the line, in 16 knots of breeze, but threading them back together at the weather mark is something else. Rarely has the fleet racing action been quite so close as in both of today’s matches, the second day of Act 11.
In a tightly choreographed few minutes there were moments where it was difficult to see how a 24m boat could slot into spaces between the boats on the starboard lay and the weather mark. In a number of cases the steel nerves of the skippers attracted the critical attention of the windward judges who dished out penalties like parking tickets.
So why take the risk?
“In these conditions the angles are pretty strange, we’re sailing almost head to wind,” said Victory Challenge tactician Mattias Rahm. “If you’re too close and you’re on port tack it’s really hard to duck because the duck has to be really, really big. Also, in a 12 boat fleet you might have to duck two or three boats because it was really tight at the top mark. I think people were trying too hard to tack underneath and get around the mark. Instead of being fifth you could end up 10th and that would definitely be the end of your race, so some clearly thought it worth the risk.”
But while the action and drama was riveting throughout the day, was there anything that spectators or the crews themselves could deduce from the racing?
BMW Oracle demonstrated once again what a slippery boat it has, with the ability to accelerate in a heartbeat. And while their overall result doesn’t really reflect it, the crew work continues to be difficult to criticise.
Mascalzone Latino fall into this category too if you ignore a poor showing in one race yesterday, with an impressive performance from an oldish boat that can accelerate quickly too. The team also look more consistent and comfortable in fleet racing than they do in match racing as they hold a well deserved 4th overall.
Although their crew work in tight situations wasn’t quite on the ball, the Kiwis managed to pull back from 9th in the second race of the day to finish 5th, a position that holds them in third overall. A neat wriggle out of a tricky situation and one that appears to demonstrate how quick the boat is in a straight line, and of course how mature the afterguard is.
Pitman Tony Rae was quick to acknowledge that things had looked pretty sticky at times.
“You’d pay a lot of money if you could dial up another few tenths of boat speed when you felt like it,” he quipped, inadvertently summing up precisely what drives the top teams in the Cup.
But what about those in the ‘B’ division, what could they gain from fleet racing?
“For a one boat team, fleet racing can be very important indeed,” said Victory Challenge pitman Nik Pearson.
“From analysing the Virtual Eye data you can see how long boats have been on the same tack as you and you can see what wind direction and strength that they had. You can then take a minute of your time and theirs out and compare the two. After you’ve done this a few times you start to build a pretty good picture of what is going on.”
Presumably precisely what the Cup holders Alinghi would like the fleet to do, although during the last two days they’d frequently have to look backwards to do it.
The only really interesting view in front of them was that of BMW Oracle and Luna Rossa’s transoms in the second race of the day.
How much did they glean?
If there’s one thing that’s for sure, you won’t get an answer to that one.
CURRENT STANDINGS ACT 11 (NDIVIDUAL RACE SCORES)
1 – Alinghi (6,1,1,3)
2 – Luna Rossa (10,2,11,3,1)
3 – Emirates Team New Zealand (4,7,2,11,5)
4 – Mascalzone Latino (2,10,5,4)
5 – BMW Oracle (9,6,4,2)
6 – Shosholoza (5,5,6,8)
7 – Areva Challenge (7,4,8,7)
8 – Plus39 (3,12,7,6)
9 – Victory Challenge (1,8,11,10)
10 – Desafio Espanol (8,3,10,9)
11 – United Internet Team Germany (11,11,9,11)
12 – China Team (12,9,12,DNF)