Two flights of two pairs, the race for the Cup is about to change gear. How do the teams feel? Matthew Sheahan finds out

 Such is the frenetic and relentless pace of this event that when a day off, (first in 40), finally happened, the Cup city felt like a ghost town for 24 hours. Here, a day off can feel like a week. But for the four remaining teams, time off means more time for preparation the key to success as the competition ramps up to a new level. In an unusually playful mood, BMW Oracle Racing skipper Chris Dickson outlined how tough the break had been.

“It has been a very busy time for us since the end of round robin two,” he said at the opening press conference for the semi finals. “Some of you will appreciate just how hard it was to get through the amount of champagne that we all did at the Louis Vuitton party. We got a little sunburnt on the beach and like the other teams we’ve been studying videos very hard during this period and the local video rental shop has been doing very well out of us.”

But as Dickson made light of the situation, the reality is that for these four teams, crunch time is approaching. Racing starts tomorrow (Monday) with the first flight of the semi finals. Having emerged as top points scorer in the round robin phase of the event, Emirates Team New Zealand had chosen the fourth ranked Desafio Espanol as their opponents leaving BMW Oracle to race against Luna Rossa in a best of nine semi final.

Having had the benefit of two days to ponder the pros and cons of this decision, the consensus, (unlikely I know), among Cup observers is that by choosing the Spanish for themselves, the Kiwis have put more pressure on BMW Oracle by making them slog things out with a strong team. If the dockside chat that Dickson’s team has used more of its sail allowance than the Kiwi is correct, such a move might help to soften the American team up before the Kiwis meet them. If indeed they do. It’s difficult to imagine that the BMW Oracle super-power hasn’t already considered this eventuality and made a plan for it, but it’s a neat theory nonetheless.

Aside from final preps for the teams, today was about selecting which end of the start line to enter from on the first match, a procedure that is sorted with the toss of a coin – a duty that falls to the skippers of the teams at the press conference.

But today Dean Barker couldn’t lend his hand to this role. When it came to the opening press conference where the all important toss is made, why was Dean Barker the only skipper missing? In his place was team tactician Terry Hutchinson. Was Barker ill?

No. Apparently, Dean feels that he is unlucky with coin tosses and preferred to send someone in his place.

If you know a bad call is going to upset you perhaps this was a shrewd move, especially as Hutchinson got his first call of the semis spot on and picked the right hand entry (yellow) for the first match. Or perhaps this says more about a potential frailty of the skipper. If the team shows a potential weakness, it is in the pre-start where an apparent lack of ruthlessness has seen the team come off the line on the back foot on a number of occasions. In the round robins, a fast boat and good tactics hauled them back into the race each time, but will this cut the mustard in the semis when the competition gets tougher?

The irony is that when it came to choosing heads or tails Barker wouldn’t have had to make a call anyway as the choice was given to the lower placed team in both pairs.

While Desafio Espanol is the weakest of the four on paper, it is a team that has been making a steady climb up a steep learning curve. With little to lose and everything to gain in this round, Karol Jablonski’s team could throw a spanner in the works for the Kiwis. He’s certainly planning on it.

As the only skipper happy to talk openly about his opponent’s style during the press conference he said, “I know Dean’s style very well and I’m going to try to put some more pressure on him in the pre-starts.

“The pressure will be all on them and perhaps that’s one of the small advantages I have. I know those guys are prepared to handle pressure but let’s see how well they are prepared.”

Given how important some of the teams seem to take the first result, this is precisely what we’ll all be looking out for tomorrow leaving the video store to wonder why sales have dropped in 24 hours.

Racing starts with a warning signal at 14:50 and the first start at 15:00. First up will be the Kiwis/Spanish match with the Americans and Italians following behind. Both pairs will race on the same course.


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