One race, three victories and a thrilling finish to Louis Vuitton Act 9 in Sicily

 For several minutes after the white bow of BMW Oracle and the green bow of the Spanish Desafio Espanol boat had crossed the line for the last time in Trapani, not even the race committee could say who had won, so close was the finish. Yet the result was crucial, not just in concluding what has been the most closely fought fleet racing Act of the season, but to establish which team was the overall winner of the 2005.

When the news came through, there were three teams who had cause for varying levels of celebration. The Spanish had won a hard fought race and levered themselves into the fourth placed slot overall, displacing Shosholoza as they did so. BMW Oracle could slap each others’ backs on a job well done in giving Alinghi a lesson in fleet racing and taking the top slot in the 2005 Challenger series.

“On paper Alinghi won the last three regattas and also on paper we tied with them,” said BMW Oracle’s skipper Chris Dickson. “Good on them, I’m not trying to take that away from them, but we’re knocking and they’ve probably noticed.”

They probably have, but for the time being, Alinghi had another success to celebrate, an overall win in Act 9. But few would dispute that this win had been harder to achieve and there’s little question looking back on the season that the fleet has compressed and learned a great deal from each other in both formats of racing.

Today, Dickson and his team proved how eager they were to wrestle Alinghi into submission when, at the top mark, the American boat pinned the Swiss out onto the port lay line, and left them there to find their own way back into the starboard tack pack. It was the move of Act 9.

In the big seas that had built at the top mark, watching these 24 tonne beasts bury their bows under some serious and potentially boat breaking waves was an impressive sight. To see them thread together at the windward mark with centimetres to spare was breathtaking.

Earlier in the proceedings Emirates Team New Zealand had made their last race of the season a memorable one too, but not for the right reasons when they found themselves over the line at the start. With a slim chance of being able to move up into second overall, today was not the day to be turning back to dip the line.

“We were all relaxed and loose when we went out and felt pretty good about the day,” said Terry Hutchinson, the Kiwi’s tactician, “so it’s a little disappointing to end the season on that kind of note.”

Another team who must surely be disappointed at their performance was Luna Rossa who finished a lowly sixth, simply not good enough for a team that considers itself one of the top four.

Acknowledging this Francesco de Angelis said, “From a sporting point of view, the fleet races that just finished were a bitter way to end the season. We didn’t sail to our potential. I know what we have to work on, however. And I’m happy that we’re among the leaders in the match races.”

One place behind them the local Siclian team was trotting out a very different tune and reaping huge applause from the thousands of spectators lining every wall of the harbour.

“Overall, our season has been very positive. We’ve had some results that we didn’t expect at the beginning of the year,” said 39’s team leader Luca Devoti. “The results have shown that we made good selection with the crew we have. I’m very proud of these guys.”

But for many, aside from the top dogs, the biggest story of this Act has been that of Shosholoza, who proved that they can get into and run with the pack. Yet Paul Standbridge was keen to keep their successes in perspective.

“It’s important for us not to be too over confident. We were very nearly seventh or eight which is a reminder for us,” he said. “Today we didn’t sail very well and we didn’t get a very good result. It’s a reminder of who we are and where we are.”

So after 198 match races, 33 flights and 13 fleet races which saw each of the boats complete around 500nm each, the 2005 Cup season drew to a close, a resounding success for the new format which, among many other things, has confirmed the strengths and weaknesses of the boats as well as proving just how important crew work is.

For all the talk of technology, it’s good to see that smart crew work can still make a match for a bad boat. The reverse certainly isn’t the case. A point to remember perhaps as we head towards the 2006 season and the new boats that will be launched.


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