Team New Zealand back on form as they win Act 12, but what does it mean? Matthew Sheahan reports
Taking it all the way to the wire, Emirates Team New Zealand has won Louis Vuitton Act 12 as well as the season’s racing. Going head to head with the America’s Cup holders Alinghi in a best of three series, the Kiwis took the first win but lost the second match on the last half of the last downwind leg. Until the finish, the delta throughout the race was never more than 9 seconds. Overall victory hung on the final race.
In a tricky decaying breeze, the first leg was a tight one to call for the tacticians but the Kiwis kept it cool, played the middle of the course and rounded the weather mark with less than a boat length advantage. By the bottom mark the deep red kite of Emirates Team New Zealand had extended a shade more, but by the final weather mark, their lead had increased further to 36 seconds, after which the Kiwis looked solid.
A straight forward defeat for Alinghi perhaps, but in a sport where conspiracy theories are common, some may ask whether there was more to the three race final of Act 12 than at first met the eye.
From Alinghi’s point of view, perhaps there was more to be gained by pressing the Kiwis than dealing them a thumping 2-0 defeat given that the this would the last time Alinghi would see the Kiwis in a full on match race before the Cup. Surely there would be more to be gained from pressing the Kiwis hard to make them reveal as much as possible.
Finding themselves 1-0 down after the first race, a win by Alinghi would ensure that the best of three series would be pushed to the limit, guaranteeing another look at the Kiwis in the final match.
Furthermore, Alinghi have admitted that in recent months the team has been focussed largely on their boat development programme, at the expense perhaps of some of the emphasis on crew work. Being able to compare asymmetric spinnaker configurations against symmetrical ones in the heat of battle, close to the wind speed crossover point may have been one example of how the testing programme was taking place on the race course.
Being issued a new measurement certificate shortly after their win against Luna Rossa in the semi finals may be another clue as to some of the changes and experiments that may be taking place.
Shortly after the finish of the Act 12, Alinghi’s skipper Brad Butterworth was playing the defeat down.
“We didn’t have the firepower to beat Team New Zealand in the end, but boy it was close,” he said. “We sailed SUI-75 but I don’t see that as any excuse that we didn’t win, that would be a soft excuse. We’ve got a lot of development that’s going on and that’s been our focus.”
But whether you subscribe to this theory or not, Act 12 was about more than the final between the big boys. Throughout the whole series the Kiwis have looked good and restored much of their former spirit and performance. Their boat speed was good, their handling superb and their nerve rock solid. In Division 1 you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d disagree.
But Emirates Team New Zealand’s tactician Terry Hutchinson was quick to put their victory into perspective.
“We feel very good about the progress that the team has made but we’re also very mindful of the fact that Alinghi were sailing a three year old boat. We have used a boat to catch up with Alinghi and they have a brand new one in the shed. It would be a huge mistake to look much beyond the fact that we beat a guy in a three year old boat?.. barely. We felt like somebody had put a flame thrower on us but the team didn’t crack. You have to feel happy with that.”
But had he felt that the team had been pushed hard and forced to reveal more than they would perhaps have wanted?
“I’m not really a firm believer in sand-bagging, but that might be a mistake. But at the same time, in order to learn as much as we can about NZL 84 we need to put our best foot forward all the time. Until we can take races off the Cup holder on a more regular basis, there’s still a lot more to learn.”
The same would surely be the case for the Cup holders, but for them at least, apart from the fleet race next year, time for this kind of observation has run out.
FINAL RESULTS ACT 12
1 Emirates Team New Zealand
3 BMW Oracle Racing
4 Luna Rossa
5 Desafio Espanol
6 Mascalzone Latino Capitalia team
7 Victory Challenge
8 Team Shosholoza
9 Areva Challenge
10 Plus 39 Challenge
11 United Internet Team Germany
12 China Team