On the eve of Act 5, there's an air of nervous anticipation at the prospect of tomorrow's fleet racing
Behind the shrugs and the smiles there’s a nervous tension around the Darsena Harbour in Valencia tonight. Tomorrow, twelve fragile America’s Cup boats will line up for the first two fleet races of Louis Vuitton Act 5. During the next three days there will be no dial-ups, no reason to be late at the start and no pressing your opponent way beyond the lay lines.
Instead, the international fleet will aim to be at the favoured end of the line when the gun goes, at full speed and with clear air. They will round the weather mark to port and reach to a spreader mark around 300 metres to the left hand side of the course before bearing away into a spinnaker hoist. Last year the fleet racing was spectacular with the weather marks providing the best of the action. But last year the fleet was only half the size it is now.
The word from race management is that the start line will be easily long enough to accommodate 12 AC boats, but a biased line is a biased line, be it 10 or 100m long and the skippers and crew know it.
“I think if we can finish the event with 12 boats it’ll be good,” said Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. “There’s potential there that’s for sure. You can imagine what the top mark will be like with half a dozen boats arriving at the same time. It’ll be interesting, a great spectacle and will be great to watch but it’ll also be about protecting the boast as well.”
Alinghi’s strategist Jochen Schuemann was also perfectly aware of the risks.
“It’ll be very exciting and very challenging but there’s also a considerable risk and hopefully everyone will see this the same way and hold back a little bit as nobody can risk that they break the boats here or the rigs,” he said.
But saying that you’ll hold back to ensure a clean start is one thing, doing it quite another, especially for crews whose careers have been focussed on always scrapping for the best position.
Others appeared to take a more light-hearted approach.
“Our boatbuilding team is on the night shift and prepared for some carnage,” said Victory syndicate head Hugo Stenbeck. “I think with all these egos in the same start box, it’s going to get pretty hot.”
Xavier de Lesquen of China Team took a similar view.
“Fleet racing will bring a lot of attention and a lot of excitement and we’re happy to have two boats,” he said.
Grant Dalton continued the thread saying, ” We’re used to having holes in our boat but we can’t fly up any more, we’re running out of boats!”
Meanwhile on the streets this evening, Valencia is preparing for the Fiesta de San Juan. Thousands of people are expected to flock down to the beaches alongside the Darsena Harbour in a midnight festival where rushing into the sea symbolises the baptisms of John the Baptist. According to legend, anyone who washes his or her face with sea water at the stroke of midnight will conserve eternal beauty. There is also a tradition of jumping the bonfires that burn during the night to cure diseases of the skin, cleansing body and soul.
Salty faces and singed shorts on the race course tomorrow could tell their own story.
The first warning signal is at 1400 local (1200 GMT) with the action following shortly afterwards.
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