‘Expect to see visual changes’, as both teams modify their boats for a breezy day in the Bay

According to a friend who watched them arrive in San Francisco airport yesterday, Oracle flew five boat builders up from New Zealand. So what?
But this is a team with plenty of staff here in San Fran and a spectacularly big toy box to go with it. Having spent a good deal of time in their base they have considerable resources and plenty of staff to handle their two boat campaign. Indeed, this is one two of the serious threats for the Kiwis as they march towards a Cup victory. (The other is a breakdown but I’ll come onto that in a tick.)
As the pressure starts to build on the Cup holders so the measures to get back on track will become more extreme, why waste time with small mods now? Foils would seem to be one of the key focuses of attention if the team is addressing its performance deficit upwind. Here there are rumours of a different set of daggerboards being fitted to the boat during the lay day yesterday.
But foils take months to build and just hours to fit, so why the extra builders? Perhaps the mods to the boat have been more extreme as the team tries to balance it differently. After all, if you were faced with a boat that didn’t point I suspect one of the things you’d look at would be putting more rake in the rig. On normal boats you might get away with this but on these high powered neurotic machines the slightest change in sail plan balance can make them impossible to steer.
Whatever the changes that were made, my guess is that they were more than a tweak.
The weather could provide a change in fortunes too. Currently the expectations are that the breeze will be up towards the wind limit for the first race with an ebb tide starting to make the sea state more lively. There is also talk that conditions might get too brisk for the second race of the day. This again could provide Oracle with another slight advantage, a stay of execution and the possibility of making more changes.
So what of the second threat to the Kiwis dominant run?
A breakdown is the other big risk for the team. Yes it has another boat but it is not sitting in the water ready to go like Oracle’s. When I asked Dean Barker what the provision was for this scenario, he clearly wasn’t going to tell me the details. No one should have been surprised by that. But the way that he answered suggested that this is an Achilles heel for the team.
“We have a pretty clear plan in place of what’s involved.,” said Dean Barker. “We don’t have the resource to have the boat sitting there in a race ready state so there is a bit of work to get it back out on the water. We do have a plan but we certainly hope that’s not going to be the case.”
There are certainly plenty of jitters about the conditions today and the potential for problems.
Today’s conditions are forecast to see the breeze get to 22+ knots and with wind against tide for the first race of the day the effective wind limit will be 21.7 knots.
Another potential spanner in the works for those looking for a quick finish to the 34th America’s Cup is that both teams have requested that the reserve day on Monday be changed to a lay day meaning that no racing will take place.
“In the expectation of a breezy weekend both teams requested that Monday be a lay day,” said regatta director Iain Murray at today’s morning briefing.
Tomorrow (Sunday) is also expected to be quite breezy. Could the slow down in the schedule provide Oracle, a team with deep resources and an ability to learn quickly, the opportunity to climb back into this regatta?
Any delays won’t harm their chances and their more substantial changes just might get them back into the game.
It’s not all over yet folks, far from it.
Race 8 – 1:15pm local (-1.3 ebb – 21.7 knot wind limit)
Race 9 – 2:15 local (-0.4 ebb – 22.6 knot wind limit)