Louis Vuitton Cup: The Semifinal Round

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Events are moving fast. In the semifinal round of the challenger eliminations we have two pairings. Each pair races until somebody wins five races. That boat advances, and the other is through, thank you very much. With breaks, the semis run May 14-24. Then we have the final round of eliminations, June 1-11, to decide who gets a crack at Alinghi in the America's Cup match beginning June 23. And at last we have live TV via Versus in the USA.

The Semifinals:

Emirates Team New Zealand vs. Desafo Espaol After six races, its New Zealand leading Spain, 4-2

BMW Oracle vs. Luna Rossa After six races, its Luna Rossa over BMW Oracle, 5-1, complete. Luna Rossa advances.

You have to count it "interesting" that New Zealand won both of its round robin races against the Spanish, and BMW Oracle won both of its races against Luna Rossa. Subsequent events, however, have proved that the latter was not conclusive. In round robin racing, ETNZ-Desafo Espaol looked like this:

And BMW Oracle-Luna Rossa looked like this:

No one expected Emirates Team New Zealand to go down to Desafo Espaol in the semis, though the Spanish beat tough opponents to make it this far. By topping the leaderboard at the end of round robin racing—a 1:34 finish line delta over BMW Oracle in an anticlimactic finale—the Kiwis earned the right to select their opponent for the semis, and they chose the only opponent that looked like a sure bet.

Exceeding expectations: The local team, led by skipper Luis Doreste with Karol Jablonski (usually) on the wheel, set out with a goal of making the final four. Making it this far, not winning the Cup, was their definition of success. One high mark on the road was taking a win from BMW Oracle in Round Robin 1, but there was nothing in that to make you bet on them in a rematch; it even kicked off a wave of speculation that the American-flagged boat had thrown the race, to boost the chance of having a local boat—and local interest—in the semis. Well, theres no more of that.

By choosing to race Desafo Espaol in the semis and all but guarantee an advance to the finals, the New Zealand team pitched second-place BMW Oracle against third-place Luna Rossa, a boat it had beaten twice. And only once since.

In the long (at times painfully long) series of races sailed since April 16, BMW Oracle had the buzz. As a second-time challenger, Oracle software chief Larry Ellison reconsidered the problem and assigned Kiwi Chris Dickson to run the show. Instead of involving himself in daily decisions, the big guy has turned all the problem solving over to someone else. That in itself has caused some head-scratching—some people claim that Dickson was overexposed as a combination project manager and boat driver.

Theres one thing for sure: the boats now are different from the boats in the round robins.

The top teams measured a minimum number of sails for the Round Robins, reserving the best of their arsenal for the semis and finals. They've expected all along to be racing in light air early on and more breeze as the season advances. They have weapons to address those changes. One easy example is bulb design. A perfectly round bulb has minimal wetted surface; that's a good bet for light air. But if you flatten the shape, you can move additional weight lower, within the allowable maximum depth, increasing stability at the price of added surface area and drag. That's a basic example of the "re-moding" that sailors talk about.

None of the top three teams sailed their newest boats in the fleet racing of ACT 13; all sailed their newest boats in round robin racing and returned with their newest boats (re-moded) for the semis—KL

Emirates Team New Zealand
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, New Zealand
Grant Dalton
Dean Barker
Terry Hutchinson, tactician
Kevin Hall, navigator

BMW Oracle
Golden Gate Yacht Club, USA
USA 87 & USA 98
Larry Ellison, team initiator
Chris Dickson, skipper and CEO
Gavin Brady, Bertrand Pac, Eric Doyle, Ed Smyth; afterguard
Peter Isler, navigator

Luna Rossa
Yacht Club Italiano
ITA-86 & ITA-94
Patrizio Bertelli, The Boss
Francesco de Angelis, skipper
James Spithill, helmsman
Torben Grael, Charlie McKee, afterguard

Desafo Espaol
Real Federacin Espaola de Vela
ESP-88 & ESP-97
Agustn Zulueta, Head of team
Luis Doreste, team captain
Karol Jablonski, Santiago Lpez-Vzquez, Jesper Radich, helmsmen
Laureano Wizner, Matt Wachowicz, John Cutler, afterguard

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