The Cup, the Cup, the America's Cup

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THE 32ND DEFENSE OF THE AMERICA'S CUP
Alinghi The Defender
La Socit Nautique de Genve
Emirates Team New Zealand The Challenger
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron
Best of nine: First to win five races takes the Cup
Race One: Saturday, June 23
First gun: 1450 local time; enter the box at 1455

By Kimball Livingston

Yep, old George Schuyler caused a heap of bother. He could have followed the custom of just melting the thing down—that gaudy silver trophy that the schooner America won in England—but ooh no, not our George. As the last surviving owner of America, he went and donated the thing under a Deed of Gift as "a perpetual Challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries" and thus created the America's Cup. So now, 156 years later, we're here in Valencia, Spain where the old saw about yachting as, "standing under a cold shower tearing up thousand-dollar bills" has been escalated to million-dollar bills, and in late June it's hot enough that you could use about three cold showers a day.

At one level, America's Cup 32 is a battle for the future. The America's Cup is in Europe now because a Swiss billionaire hired a bunch of Kiwis—the same ones who won the Cup for New Zealand in 1995 and defended it in 2000—to win it for him in 2003. That went against the grain of traditionalists, and it greatly offended the Kiwi Nation that someone could walk in and buy a winning team, much less theirs. And having won the Cup, Ernesto Bertarelli then went even further, putting the venue out to bid instead of proudly defending it at home (given an agreeable challenger of record, Bertarelli could have defended on a lake in Switzerland, but then, it probably would have been a lousy regatta). By adding pre-event competition, and dropping all nationality requirements save for building the hull in the country of challenge, Bertarelli took giant steps toward turning the America's Cup into the nonstop, grand prix parade that professional sailors want, for obvious reasons. If Alinghi wins, expect continued development on the same character arc.

If the Kiwis win, well, that's less clear. Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton shows no sympathy for the end-of-the-worlders who are certain that sending the Cup off to the antipodes would kill the golden goose. If I read between his lines correctly, the comeback is: How golden is that goose, really? At the same time, Dalton has a stable full of crack sailors who draw their salaries out of making boats go fast, as does he, so you might figure they will find common ground somewhere.

Playing the Odds

The Notice of Race, finally agreed upon, says that the course will be 12.6 nautical miles long, yielding a measured distance of 3.15 miles per leg, meaning that the races are still too short for a technical advantage to be readily exploited. Meaning: Win the start and the first cross, or commence saying your prayers.

Everyone came into this knowing that, statistically, the seabreeze gets stronger and more reliable as Valencia goes deeper into the heat of summer. To that end, the Alinghi design effort focused on creating a hull with more volume forward to support more horsepower aloft throughout the rig (for a fuller account, click here) for the Hart Jordan interview. Something like 14-16 knots is the popular notion of Alinghi's preferred range. As the defender, they didn't have to sail through a three-month trials series, so they could afford to design to the statistics for late-June, early July.

But, statistics are statistics. Spots of rain persisted into mid-June, and at midweek there was heavy cloud cover inland with clear skies over the sea and a healthy seabreeze.

The New Zealand hull is biased toward lighter winds, though it is reasonable to figure that they've thought long and hard about this, and they have an appendage package ready to go if their weather team forecasts more average breeze in the America's Cup match than they had in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger eliminations. They haven't done any surgery to the hull (I'm pretty sure, short of watching the shed through binoculars for the last week, which I certainly have not done), but there are bolt-on options in bulbs and fins, and there's always room for development in sails.

New Zealand has been blooded and hardened in a long eliminations battle. Alinghi has had its in-house competition between two boats and two skippers, and they believe in what their training has produced. The other side of that is remembering the higher-up at BMW Oracle (it really doesn't matter who), as they were being picked apart in the semis by Luna Rossa, saying, "Up to now, I thought we had the best in-house racing in the world."

Contrasts

Alinghi on Friday will announce a designated helmsman. Bertarelli ran a genuine in-house competition between Americans Ed Baird and Peter Holmberg to select a driver. The selection has been made, of course. It's only the announcement that is waiting until Friday; one of those made-for-media moments.

New Zealand in this campaign has never had any designated driver except Dean Barker, the man who was on the wheel in 2003, easily the worst meltdown in the history of America's Cup racing. The boat simply came apart, part by part, in more wind and wave than the team had practiced in. What was expected to be a stout defense was instead an 0-5 rout, which cannot be laid at the doorstep of Dean Barker. Nonetheless, there is no one else in the arena of America's Cup 32 with as much to prove. And even with British Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie in the wings—driving the B boat—and even against public questioning of his judgement, Dalton stood by his man, steadily, like a rock, much in the way that he has managed the team. Asked how he handles such a welter of big talent and big egos under one roof, Dalton responded, deadpan: "They're working for me."

Alinghi probably has the biggest budget of all the 12 teams that set up camp here.

New Zealand has a medium-sized budget and even needed financial help from Alinghi, early on, to keep the wheels turning. Bertarelli provided it, on the argument that it would hardly be an America's Cup without a Kiwi team. After fielding boats in 1987, 1988*, and 1992, New Zealand has participated in every America's Cup match since:

1995: Black Magic defeated defender Stars & Stripes, 5-0, in San Diego

2000: New Zealand defeated challenger Prada, 5-0, in Auckland

2003: New Zealand lost to challenger Alinghi, 0-5, in Auckland

* May or may not have been an America's Cup match

Important points from the Notice of Race, taken from AmericasCup.com:

• The ‘no-change’ period begins 24 hours before the first match, at 14:50 on Friday.

• Racing is scheduled to begin with a warning signal at 14:50 each race day, as in the Louis Vuitton Cup Semi Finals and Final. No warning signal will be given later than 17:00 (an earlier cut off than during the Louis Vuitton Cup). All racing will be on the Northern race area.

• As in the Louis Vuitton Cup, there are no ‘hard’ wind limits, but the Race Committee “intends to conduct races when the approximate average true wind speed is between seven and 23 knots…six metres above the water.”

• The teams are permitted just one change that would require a new measurement certificate. This differs from the Louis Vuitton Cup, when more changes were allowed. Any change has to be completed by 08:00 on the day of the next scheduled race.

• Either team is allowed to substitute its boat, but ONLY if its original race yacht has been damaged seriously enough that it can not compete in the next scheduled race. The Measurement Committee and Jury will determine this. And, if the Jury deems the damage intentional, it may not allow the substitution at all. This is more restrictive than during the Louis Vuitton Cup, when a boat could be substituted for any reason at the cost of one win. The Jury will decide whether a further penalty is imposed.

• The race course will be 12.6 nautical miles in length. This is the maximum length of the course in the Louis Vuitton Cup. The time limit for each leg of the course if 40 minutes.

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