Cup or no Cup, losing an America's Cup race is no fun when you see it for real
By the time the crews get to the mixed zone for their interviews and grilings from the press they’ve had time to relax, reflect and prepare their answers and reactions. Sometimes, as a journalist when the cynic in you comes to the fore, you just can’t help thinking that they’re hamming it up a bit for the press. Talk of extremely close racing between apparent mis-matched teams and a few crocodile tears could be a few of the areas where we’re all encouraged to believe that things are tougher than they really are. At least that’s what you might think.
But today I saw the other side of the coin on the workmens’ side of the fence. Real disappointment in a match that frankly didn’t matter, at least I didn’t think it did.
Riding on the back of the French boat Le-Defi while commentating live on the web in a race against Andy Rice aboard our opponents Plus39, was a thrilling experience in itself. You just can’t get closer to the action without signing your life to a team. Neither of us could have asked for a closer match, with the lead changing on every one of the four legs and the whole race conducted within a couple of boat lengths of each other.
We watched every move, every wind shift and every change in the boat speed as the two teams wrestled with each other. There were protests, appeals for penalties and some very near misses, all of which spiced up the action and piled on the pressure.
In the end both boats sat in a wind hole just two boat lengths from the finish, just metres apart from each other like two flagging wrestlers that have been at each other all afternoon. For Le-Defi, the final act saw Iain Percy’s Plus39 slip over the line in a zephyr that would hardly snuff a candle.
Yet despite the fact that we were just a few metres away the final delta of 2min 39sec betrayed a race that was close as it can get.
As we crossed the line Le-Defi’s skipper Philippe Presti was gutted. His body language was no Oscar over-reaction, he was genuinely depressed. Head down, voice low and eyes looking the other way, the normally buoyant and bubbly Presti was gone. The rest of the boat was silent.
“When you’re a sportsman you always want to win, it’s never a friendly game,” said Presti, later on the shore. “We were cross and upset because that was a race we both wanted and knew we could win.”
Yet there’s another pressure in the background for many of the teams here and while each race loss might not notch up black marks, performance counts when you’re looking for financial support in the future.
“We need more money right now,” said Pierre Mas, a sailor on board and one of the members of the team that front the syndicate. “But for us the real deadline is the 29 April, we can keep going until then.”
“It has been very difficult for us until Marseille. Up until then we’ve been making many promises about how the America’s Cup will change and how good it will be. We have to be here to demonstrate to the media, the public and potential sponsors and these kinds of events are very, very important.
“The America’s Cup is now, not in three years time in 2007, it’s right now.”
Adding to the pressure, the second of the two French teams K-Challenge has already committed to the Cup in 2007, formerly announcing their intentions during Act 1.
The skippers and sailors may put a brave face on it, but when you consider the details behind the scenes, it’s little wonder that the long faces appear when things don’t go according to plan.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the day’s racing there were some very close calls between some of the most unlikely pairings. Most exciting and potentially upsetting was the match between Shosholoza and BMW Oracle when the South Africans rolled the Americans not once, but twice on two downwind legs. They nearly beat the American’s across the finish line too but were unlucky as the wind died on them in the closing stages of the last leg.
After the event and at the mixed zone, there were smiles on both sides. Geoff Meek, skipper of Shosholoza could do nothing conceal his delight at getting so close, while BMW Oracle’s tactician John Kostecki was smiling with relief.
Both had had time to think about their reaction and decide what to say, but sometimes what you see, really is what you get – at least it was today.
Round Robin Two – Flight 2
Match 1 NZL 81beat FRA 57, delta 1:09
Match 2 USA 71 beat ITA 59, delta 1:45
Match 3 ITA 74 beat SUI 64, delta 0:14
Match 4 FRA 69 beat RSA 48, delta 0:58
Round Robin Two – Flight 3
Match 4 SUI 64 beat FRA 57, delta 3:23
Match 2 NZL 81 beat ITA 74, delta 6:18
Match 1 USA 71 beat RSA 48, delta 1:24
Match 2 ITA 59 beat FRA 69, delta 2:39
Round Robin Two – Flight 4
Match 3 USA 71 beat FRA 57, delta 2:06
Match 2 SUI 64 beat RSA 48, delta 1:17
Match 1 ITA 74 beat FRA 69, delta 1:08
Match 4 NZL 81 beat ITA 59, delta 3:17
Team Name: (Points) Matches Won / Sailed
Emirates Team New Zealand (10) 10 11
Luna Rossa (9) 9 11
BMW ORACLE Racing (8) 8 11
Team Alinghi (8) 8 11
LE DEFI (4) 4 11
K-Challenge (3) 3 11
39 (2) 2 11
Team Shosholoza (0) 0 11
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