As the possibility of a Kiwi victory builds, so does concern among some of the Challengers. Matthew Sheahan reports

 It would have been churlish of either of their opponents in the semi finals and finals to do anything other than congratulate the eventual winners of the Louis Vuitton Cup. Exercising what is a familiar gesture in sailing, even at this level, the Luna Rossa crew were the first to offer their congratulations to Emirates Team New Zealand shortly after they had crossed the finish line. In the press conference afterwards the Italians even offered to race some more against Barker and his crew in the break between the LV Cup and the America’s Cup match.

At the time, such a gesture looked more about saving face for the Italians than it did as providing really useful practice for the Kiwis. With or without the pressure of corporate visits and sponsorship commitments, to be accepted as useful opponents would at least help to restore some pride for a team that believed they could go all the way.

But why would the victors want to race the team they had just hammered? The Kiwis need to move on and ramp up their game another notch or two if they are to become strong enough to take on Alinghi. One argument could be that, no matter how good their ‘B’ team is, they haven’t had the benefit of live races and they aren’t as race hardened as the big guns on the ‘A’ boat. Presumably racing the Defender at this stage would be out of the question, so perhaps Luna Rossa would be the next best thing.

The Italians are a good team with a boat that excels in the breeze. The Kiwi boat is believed to be best in the lighter wind ranges, so given the right conditions, there might be some merit in racing the Italians.

Earlier in the week, tactician Terry Hutchinson had said that the Spanish, even though they had been defeated by Emirates Team New Zealand 5:2, had offered their views on the Kiwis’ strengths and weaknesses. Clearly the spirit of the Challengers clubbing together to ensure that the eventual winner was the best prepared to wrestle the America’s Cup from the Defender, was still very much alive.

Or was it?

As the Kiwis were busy going head to head against the Italians in the finals, the Spanish were squaring up to Alinghi in a series of practice starts. A few days later, while the Kiwis recovered from their post-win hangover and took a few days off afterwards for well earned break, Luna Rossa had also offered its services to the Defender.

But why?

The most obvious theory would be that their Challenger spirit doesn’t stretch to the next event and neither the Spanish nor the Italians want to see the Cup go down under.

Despite having won the LV Cup, Kiwi boss Grant Dalton must be feeling as if the team is becoming ‘Jonny No Mates’ with many teams expressing concerns as to whether they could mount a campaign for the 33rd America’s Cup if it were to take place in New Zealand.

But the Kiwis aren’t here to make friends. Winning the Cup is their goal. They have a fast boat, a slick crew and a stack of impressive results behind them.

But there is one other question that has been dogging Cup watchers in Valencia. How did the Italians manage to keep the racing so close on the first day when the race between the two boats was never greater than 12 seconds with a finishing delta of just 8 seconds and then get hammered on the next two days? What is the true performance of the Kiwis, rocket ship or lucky?

We now hear that the needle-match race on the opening day was a result of a poor mainsail selection by the Kiwis. Expecting the breeze to build to 18 knots, Barker’s crew had selected the code 3 mainsail, the most up range sail of their three mainsail wardrobe. Unfortunately the breeze dropped down to 10 knots which would have been the code 1 mainsail.

A mistake, but perhaps further evidence that the Kiwis have a fast boat. Whether it is fast enough for the big deal is the biggest question of all.

Related/previous features:

One Step Away from the America’s Cup Match 
Third in a Row for Kiwis 
Kiwis Take Second Win 
Kiwis Take First Win 
America’s Cup Match Preview? 

America’s Cup Shopping Spree Starts 
America’s Cup Double Whammy 

Dickson Off America’s Cup Boat 
America’s Cup Confidence Trick 
Wheels Coming Off America’s Cup Dream? 


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