Another piece of the jigsaw appears. Matthew Sheahan considers the latest at Louis Vuitton Act 10

 Before the racing had started Flight 7 never looked like a day for needle matches and yet several of the races turned out to be far closer than many were predicting.

The match between Iain Percy aboard 39 and Dean Barker helming Emirates Team New Zealand turned into a tight scrap for the start, especially in the last minute when Percy and his crew managed to get the favoured end of the line and perform a perfect time on distance run into the line. Beneath them, Barker was not completely on the money and as the two boats headed out to the left hand side of the course on starboard tack it was 39 that took advantage of the right hand shift in the breeze, a change that allowed them to climb away from the Kiwis.

The advantage was sufficient to allow Percy to round the weather mark ahead of Barker but his lead was short lived as the Kiwis rolled over the top. A valiant luff from 39 provided a spectacle, but to no avail and NZL-84 led from there to the finish.

In the match between Shosholoza and Luna Rossa, the South Africans made life hard for the Italians for a while until RSA-83 were finally beaten.

The third close match was between Areva Challenge and the Spanish, Desafio Espanol, a match that was closely fought all the way around the course. But, having managed to put a penalty on their Spanish opponents, the French margin was larger than it looked on the water.

Elsewhere, the pairings appeared to be a done deal before the start gun had fired, in particular the match between BMW Oracle and Mascalzone Latino. The pre-start did little to contradict this as Chris Dickson made mincemeat of his opponents.

But what was interesting was to see how tightly the new American boat can turn without losing pace. Just as impressive is the boat’s ability to perform the America’s Cup equivalent of a handbrake turn, carving to a halt before accelerating away once Dickson’s foot is back on the gas.

Such nimble behaviour could well increase the speculation as to what lies beneath the waterline, but the clear waters off the Valencian coast are starting to reveal more and clarify part of the picture.
It seems more likely now that USA-87 has a ‘conventional’ rudder and keel configuration. The question now, is whether she has a trim tab on the back of the keel or perhaps a forward rudder.

Part of the reason for the widespread speculation is the position of the rig and the bow sprit that goes with it. But Shosholoza tactician Dee Smith believes that the reason for the difference is far simpler.

“BMW Oracle do not have anything strange under the water,” he said. “All the rigs in the fleet are further forward because of the fat top mainsails. Also, the jibs are bigger, the boats are lighter and so the rigs have to go forwards.

“Last year we saw a lot of rigs moved forwards because nobody could change them in time for the sail development. We saw that the strongest boat in the fleet last year had the smallest mainsail, so what does that tell you about balance?”

That it continues to be the biggest key to Cup yacht design?