Form guides and guesswork at America's Cup Act 12 aren't always correct as Matthew Sheahan discovers

 Some matches promise to be close when you consider the form guide, others develop out of nowhere and develop into surprise needle matches. Today was a day when both were on show, a pair of comeback kids keeping the action hot to the end..
The match between BMW Oracle and Luna Rossa looked like being the closest with two of the big four going head to head. Chris Dickson’s team has demonstrated on several occasions this season that it is the new improved version, while Luna Rossa still looks like it needs to make the next subtle step into the superleague.
When it came to the pre-start the action was fairly tame with both boats making a clean and simple start on starboard. As the boats worked up on the first beat it was BMW Oracle that squeezed out the advantage. By the bottom mark little had changed, yet by the second windward mark Chris Dickson and his team had managed to pull out a 30 second lead. A win was surely in the bag.
Well it might have been had BMW Oracle managed to protect its position, but allowing the Italians to split gybes on a day when the breeze was shifting back and forth like a nervous goalie in a penalty shoot out, Luna Rossa managed to come back and take the lead in the final few hundred metres into the line to take a win.
Earlier in the afternoon the match between the Kiwis and Team Shosholoza looked like a done deal before the start given the new improved recipe that has been stirred into the Kiwi mix.
But the South Africans have improved as well and appear to do best when under pressure and refused to let go of the Kiwi shirt tails.
Throughout the race the brightly coloured South African boat pushed the Kiwis hard, a fact betrayed by a delta of 30 seconds at the end. Things were far tougher than that for most of the race.
The day had started with a delay as the race committee waited for the breeze to build and settle after early morning cloud cover slowed the development of a sea breeze. As a result, only one of the two planned flights was run leaving a few of the more critical matches for tomorrow.
Aside from the action on the water, one of the topics that seems to be popular onshore and in the bars at the moment is that of the latest teams to launch, christen and announce new boats.
Although not officially announced, Mascalzone Latino have recently let it be known that they would be building a second new boat later in the year with a view to having the new steed ready to sail in January 2007. Interesting timing you may think, given that the team were unable to use their most recent addition to the family after the mainsheet track pulled out and damaged the inside face of the hull. With various rumours doing the rounds, the vivacious and hospitable Italians invited me to their base to reassure me that things weren’t as serious as some of the chat suggested.
Indeed, the point was also made that it takes a long time to get things ticking properly as they know better than most having bought Dennis Conner’s old Stars and Stripes and turned it into a red rocket in the right conditions.
Of the new other new boat launches to draw the crowds, the arrival of Plus 39’s new boat pulled in the crowds to their base party a few nights ago.
As the Champagne trickled down the bow, designer Giovanni Ceccarelli talked me through the background to the new design.
“We tested 110 hull shapes and 210 keel and appendage configurations. It was important for us to validate the every aspect and not just rely on the ideas from the minds of the design team,” he said.
“We wanted an innovative hull. We started by reading the America’s Cup Class rule and saw that there was not enough space on the structural side to develop a significant advantage, so we went down the route of investigating the shape of the canoe body and the appendages. This is where our research focussed.”
Given the Mascalzone issue, how close to the wire are the latest generation of AC boats. Are designers and builders pushing the limits even harder?
“You have to be very careful when you work with the structure. As these boats have developed, they have become more slender which means that you have to be very careful with the structure of the hull,” he said. “In this area we have taken some risk but overall we’ve been conservative.”
Early days perhaps, given that there are still several months to go before ITA 85 hits the water, but having produced one hull what are the prospects of a second boat?
“Our campaign at the moment is a one boat campaign,” he said. “I don’t know if it will become a two boat campaign. It’s not easy to make comparisons with such an old boat but I am working with Luca Devotti to find ways that we can develop the new boat further. In the America’s Cup the boat’s potential performance has to be validated in the water while the development must also continue. On the one hand you need time, but you also need money to develop the boat. This may be the limit of our chances in the future.”
So, with just one boat, how much use would the old boat be in tuning up the new?
“I can’t see us doing much two boat training with the old boat,” said Plus 39 skipper Iain Percy. “The new boat is going to feel very different to sail and it will take some time to get used to. We need to get out as soon as we can to get out there and learn how to sail this boat.”
As well as not having a contemporary trial horse, having just one boat also leaves smaller teams at a disadvantage when it comes to crew training and Percy is quick to acknowledge this.
“On one of the days that we did get to sail against another team we sailed against Alinghi and it was fantastic,” he said. “In one hour we did six starts and I was amazed. The teams that get to do that for three hours, six days a week, makes you realise how quickly you can improve. You get to work on boat handling, lining up for the starts and the close encounters. The smaller teams really miss out on that.”
But, as the South Africans showed today, grit and determination can haul you a long way up the league.

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