Act 12 semi-final is under way and the squeeze is on. Matthew Sheahan reports

 Having been graded according to a team’s ability and with the leaders of each group choosing their opponents, the racing got considerably closer for the first two matches of a best of three semi-finals today.

The first team to post two victories and progress to the finals was Mascalzone Latino who exploited two poor starts from their opponents Victory Challenge. The first saw the Swedes pinned out to the starboard side of the committee boat as the gun went. The second saw them over the line at the start. Both mistakes handed a significant advantage to the Italians on a day when the Mascalzone Latino were sailing at their best.

As if trying to drive a point home and prove that they didn’t deserve to be in the lowest of three groups, Plus 39 took two clean and unchallenged victories to beat United Internet Team Germany convincingly on both occasions. Shortly after the pairings had been announced, the Italian syndicate filed a request for redress after the groups were revealed. The request was declined.

“Everything went well for us. Iain [Percy] got the start I wanted and he executed perfectly both times,” said tactician Ian Walker.” “We had good starts and we can race against Germany, we are the same speed or faster than them. We had a spinnaker in the water at one point but we recovered from that. We had a few breakages, the primary winch broke on the first beat so the guys did a great job of tacking using the winch in the cockpit. We had a few things to deal with, but we dealt with them.”

Meanwhile United Internet Team Germany skipper Jesper Bank was having a tougher time accepting defeat.

“I hate to lose. I could see in the first race that we got everything we wanted. If we get all the shifts right we might stay in touch, but as soon as we get one slightly wrong we can’t hold on to them,” he said. “We will have to get through the next two days and then find something more interesting to do. We have to live with it and try to move on, but I look forward to Sunday. We tried to do everything we could, but now I’ve had enough.”

Another easy 2-0 win was that of Areva Challenge against China Team which sees the final for the battle of Division 3 start as soon as racing resumes tomorrow.

But of the close matches nearer to the top of the tree, the South Africans sailed their hearts out to squeek a well deserved and fiercely fought win against the Spanish in the first race by just 4 seconds, only to loose in the second race of the day. The decider gets played tomorrow. Whichever way this match finally goes, the South African performance is yet another indication of how far this team has come and a demonstration that sheer determination can force you a long way up the fleet.

In the top group, Alinghi stamped its authority all over the match against Luna Rossa and punched the Italians out of the final, beating them 2-0. However, the high profile pasting did little to reward the crew work aboard the Italian boat which appeared flawless throughout the day. Nevertheless, as the Act has unfurled there are those that point to a possible balance issue as being a possible source of problems for the Luna Rossa team.

No mention of this from Torben Grael aboard Luna Rossa as he described their close match in the second race.

“We defended the right side of the course but we didn’t find good windshifts so they caught us up,” he said. “Our new boat has great potential to be developed, but the old Alinghi boat is still very impressive.”

No such problems appeared to dog either the Kiwis or BMW Oracle who had two very close races indeed right from their entry into the starting box. The day’s result was 1-1 leaving a single race shoot out tomorrow to see who will go up against Alinghi in the Final. If one was to draw any conclusions from today’s head to head it would be that the Kiwis have grown hugely in confidence, particularly in the pre-start while the American team delivers a more volatile performance, but has the boat speed to get out of jail at times. A very exciting pairing to watch and straightforward proof of just how even the racing is becoming among the big boys at the upper end of the fleet.

So with such tight racing and having chosen BMW Oracle Racing in the pairings, was Barker still happy with the choice?

“We chose them because we felt we’d be able to beat them in a semi-final,” he said.

Yet perhaps what strikes most as we head towards the end of Act 12, is how the Acts have closed up the margins between many of the boats while accelerating the development of the smaller teams. On a day when getting the weather right counts for as much as getting your boat design and crew work right, the racing that that’s on display is no freak show. Predicting which matches are going to be close is often more difficult than you might think and when it happens, the final delta measured in a few seconds.

The big squeeze is on.


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