Victory beats Alinghi on a day when Valencia showed another side. Matthew Sheahan reports 25/6/06

 A few have squeaked a lead after being on the receiving end of some good luck, a few have been handed victory on a plate, but no one has taken a win off the Cup holders Alinghi in such a convincing display of crew handling, tactics and speed.

Just two days before, Stefan Rahm had joked to me that the team had traded some of its legendary light airs performance for additional speed upwind and in heavier airs. Yet on a day when the breeze was up in the 16-18 knot range, that’s exactly what it looked like as the Swedes avoided being OCS by the narrowest of margins at the start to then hold their slim right hand advantage up the first beat.

When it came to the first weather mark rounding, Alinghi tried to gain the advantage in a classic port tack layline approach. But quick thinking on the part of the Swedes saw them bounce the Swiss off to round the weather mark just a few seconds ahead.

Impressive, but while several teams have managed to beat Alinghi to the top mark, few have retained their lead to the bottom.

But the Swedes held their nerve, sailed the correct angles and weren’t spooked by the big boys behind them. Far from it.

As if defiantly poking the Swiss in the ribs, the Swedes through in a perfectly executed dummy gybe that the Swiss fell for.

On the approach to the leeward mark a slight problem with the kite gybe on the Swedish boat when one of the crews fingers got caught in the forward hatch, saw the hard earned three boat lengths advantage evaporate as the Swiss smoked up behind them.

Gybe dropping inside the Swedes as they rounded the mark the advantage to Victory was less than half a boat length with half the race still to go. Surely no one survives this?

The Swedes held their nerve again and once more approached the top mark with a slender lead. This time the Swiss tried to luff them above the starboard layline. The first attack didn’t work as planned so they had another stab, but this simply gave the Swedes an overlap and guaranteed an inside passage around the weather mark.

On the last downwind leg Alinghi had chosen to sail deeper with a symmetrical spinnaker while the Swedes had the more tricky A-sail up and had to believe in their own performance to sail the correct angles and not get spooked into covering the Swiss by going deep.

Another dummy gybe and a perfectly planned lay line into the finish and there was nothing the Swiss could do as the Swedes slipped over the line to take the most well deserved victory of the entire season. Alinghi has only suffered five defeats from 51 starts, the Swedes scored the fifth.

” It’s great to get that nail out of your body of losing all the time to the same team,” said Victory traveller trimmer Santiago Lange. “We’ve been working very hard on how to cope when we’re under pressure and it was great to see how cool and calm the crew stayed.”

Today at least, the Swedes’ new sponsors appear to have given the team wings.
The breathtaking performance was one that had repercussions for Iain Percy aboard Plus39 in his second match of the day – You don’t want to be next up after the Swiss have suffered a loss.

Despite trying to take it to the Swiss, Percy took a pasting on the start and never recovered, not that you’d expect the oldest boat in the fleet to beat the Swiss.

“We know we’re slower and there’s tremendous pressure to do something different at the start, ” said tactician Ian Walker. “We try and be overly aggressive against people who are the best in the world. If Iain isn’t aggressive, we’ll just start alone and watch them sail away or we have a go and it doesn’t come off for us.”

Presumably that wasn’t a race you expected to win?

“That wasn’t a race where there was any way we could win!”

The Swedish performance had repercussions for the Kiwis too, launching Dalton’s team to the top of the table by the end of the day, a fitting finish to the most improved team of the month.

Aside from the racing, today was particularly notable for the weather as well which proved how little has to change to turn a light sea breeze day to one where the breeze pumped in at a steady 18 knots plus for much of the day.

Typically, the gradient breeze is from the northeast, delaying the development of a sea breeze. Today a weak low pressure system lined up to produce a north westerly gradient, setting the sea breeze up early and boosting it to provide superb conditions as well as proving that Valencia is anything but a one trick pony.

Tomorrow is a reserve day. Tuesday sees match racing resume for the final matches of the round robin when the fleet split into groups of three depending on their rankings. See you then.

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