On the eve of America's Cup Act 8 in Trapani Sicily, the skippers air their views

As the America’s Cup road show gets underway for Acts 8 & 9, the Sicilian town of Trapani has wound itself into a carnival spirit. Even at midnight two days before the first race, getting through the dockside crowds to board the ferry boats that take us out to our accommodation on a ship moored in the centre of the harbour, was a struggle. Already, throughout this small Mediterranean town, roads are closed and barriers up as spectators stream into the America’s Cup park and around the basin that will become the AC arena for the next 10 days.

So seriously does the town take the event, that all the local schools have been closed for the duration of the event. A neat way perhaps to garner support for yacht racing among the young, although the real reason has more to do with reducing the urban traffic congestion.

Yet whatever the reason, with each step that the new generation Cup takes, the impact seems to gather momentum and support. And it’s not just media types, keen to experience somewhere off the beaten track, that are singing the tour’s praises. Despite the hassle of packing a big boat and a long list of kit and personnel, all the teams have been genuinely excited about the prospect of racing in new territories. Few, even among the three Italian teams have any serious experience of these waters and the varied conditions that are said to prevail.

Among those talking enthusiastically of the event was BMW Oracle skipper Chris Dickson, more usually known for his guarded, considered, almost mechanical responses. Yet when asked whether the Acts would continue when the American team won the Cup, his enthusiasm for future of the Cup on tour was clear.

“Our team loves to go racing,” he said. “Our objective is to win and I believe we are on track to win it [the America’s Cup]. In the future we would like to build on what’s been established so far. To travel more, visit more venues and continue racing on a more regular basis.”

Confirmation from the top perhaps that the Act format is here to stay. Yet not everything Dickson said today made complete sense, at least not to me. The Kiwi skipper is well known for talking about his team rather than individuals. Starting with the familiar line, ” We have 120 people in our team, we have a huge amount of depth in our sailing team and our afterguard and when the going gets tough as a helmsman it’s a fantastic feeling to rely on the team to pull you through,” he said.

But then went on to say, “Pre-starting, as with every part of a match race, is about a team getting a boat around the race track. The helmsman in the pre-start has a lesser effect on the performance of the boat than in any other part of the race.”

Over the next few days we will watch with interest.

Others interesting comments from today’s skipper press conference included some apparent confusion following a question as to how the Spanish team was getting on with it’s new mast. The press corps seemed to know that a new stick had been stepped, but the Desafio Espanol skipper Karol Jablonski was less certain.

“Do we have a new mast?” he retorted. “We are trying something different. Let’s see when the races start. We can’t say a lot now about our boat speed performance. We hope, like every team that makes changes that we will be faster.”

The Swedes however knew exactly what was stepped in their boat, a replacement mast, after they broke SWE63’s mast earlier in the week when they tried to launch the boat without untying the halyard from the container. Fortunately, their poor performance in Malmo saw them with two boats in Trapani after they had decided to ship their favourite boat, (Orn SWE63), to Trapani separately while SWE73 went on the ship with the rest of the fleet. The result was that they had a spare mast on site to step.

Aboard Alinghi, Ed Baird gets to drive for Act 8 as part of the team’s well versed policy of crew rotation. In a lighthearted response to a question that sought to expose the pressure that must be upon him with Alinghi’s unbeaten record, he said, “For me it’s incredible to be allowed to sail an America’s Cup boat at all.

“If you remember, the last time I sailed an America’s Cup boat we broke it in half which probably has a lot to do with why I’m sailing in the last Act rather than the first one, because they wanted to make sure that the boat made it through the year!”

But perhaps it was his shortest comment that was the most revealing.

“Sometimes you learn the most by not winning.”

For others, like United Internet Team Germany’s skipper Jesper Bank, the, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach’, seemed to be the one his team has adopted for this Act.

“We were struggling at the first two events just to get on the water,” he said. “In Malmo we struggled to get the modifications through and didn’t have any time to sail the boat. Now we will do things completely differently.

“What we ended up with in Malmo seemed to be a step forward so we’ve left everything and just gone sailing. It’s been a very different approach for us, don’t touch anything, just go sailing.”

Tomorrow morning will see all twelve teams do just that, as the first flight of the match racing gets under way at 1240 local time.

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