The Shosholoza Meteor, the BMW Oracle Freight Train

By Kimball Livingston

Ninety seconds into the matchup between New Zealand and Areva, I could look up the racecourse and say, I want that boat. NZL 92. Same story in the BMW Oracle walkover of Victory Challenge. Then came Shosholoza’s upset win over Luna Rossa and BMW Oracle’s razor-thin win over that same frustrated Italian team and some of the weariness of day after day of calmed-out racing finally blew away.

So on Day 9 it finally felt as if things are under way, but I can’t help noting that Wednesday was scheduled to be the first day of Round Robin 2, and it won’t be.

A year ago I came to Valencia for one of the Acts, and I watched Alinghi come off the line on starboard, matching BMW Oracle to leeward, and carry the American boat all the way to the starboard-tack layline to secure a lead. On Tuesday I watched BMW Oracle do the same thing to Luna Rossa to open a race that was close all the way. Actually, they went a bit beyond the layline and two-sail reached to the mark.

Worth noting: Patricio Bertelli’s team was never out of it, except by a nose.

With BMW Oracle continuing undefeated and Luna Rossa taking two losses in one day, the American boat is looking good, but the bowman from Kiwi-land, Brad Webb, noted, “We’re only five races into the round robins with 15 to go; it’s early yet. It’s good for morale, though, to be back in the rhythm of sailing. We were doing gybes today that we haven’t done in a couple of weeks.”

As to having Luna Rossa pushing close from behind all the way around the course—the biggest separation was 15 seconds at the second weather mark and a freckle at the finish—Webb allowed, “When it’s tight like that, just keeping your nose in front is enough. We’d rather try to not do anything special. But we’ve been chomping at the bit to line up with these guys with points at stake.”

BMW Oracle-Luna Rossa was the nailbiter of the day, but the special excitement for a lot of people was seeing Shosholoza slip round the course ahead of Luna Rossa, which has always been regarded as one of the big players (and looked it; they sailed well and they are fast). Shosholoza strategist Ian Ainslie said, “I didn’t expect to be as happy as I was. We can’t afford to get carried away, but this idea of having a shot at the semifinals is maybe not quite the joke it once was. For once we all stayed calm. I hope the jitters are behind us.”

It was a happy day for the Shosholoza boss, Captain Salvatore Sarno, who had been unhappy on Monday with the race committee’s decision to blow off the racing at 1630. What he had to say about that: “We do not agree with the seven-knot parameter. RSA 88 is the kind of boat that performs very well in light winds. We believe the big teams are pushing the committee not to start a race. They are scared of what can happen. But no-sail days can be a big problem with smaller teams who need to race all the scheduled round robin races to put wins on the table.”

The view from Luna Rossa

Probably not the version heard in private with Sr. Bertelli, but . . .

Bertelli’s Italians have Australian Joe Newton as a trimmer, and he managed to be upbeat in the aftermath. In both races, he said, “We got the side we wanted, but what we expected to happen didn’t happen.”

Against Shosholoza?

“We’re a bit surprised to see how well they’re going, but they’re all good sailors. We’ve known them for a long time from other programs. We think if we had ever been in front, we could have stretched.”

A tacking duel between helmsmen Paolo Cian (Shosholoza) and James Spithill (Luna Rossa) had nothing in it, and the South African team was able to preserve its advantage at each corner of the course. Shosholoza was set up for the conditions if found today.

With the breeze building from 7 knots to 9-10, Luna Rossa changed mainsails between races. Newton said he was happy with the boat’s speed against BMW Oracle. “We were gaining all the time,” he said. “We just couldn’t get around them. The upwind was pretty much a speed test.”

What everyone is waiting to see: BMW Oracle vs. Emirates Team New Zealand.

The day:

Emirates Team New Zealand beat AREVA Challenge—1:55
Desafo Espaol 2007 beat Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team—0:39
United Internet Team Germany beat China Team—4:01
Team Shosholoza beat Luna Rossa Challenge—0:36
BMW ORACLE Racing beat Victory Challenge—1:18

Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team beat +39 Challenge—1:12
Emirates Team New Zealand beat Desafo Espaol 2007—1:12
Victory Challenge beat United Internet Team Germany—0:56
BMW ORACLE Racing beat Luna Rossa Challenge—0:06
Team Shosholoza beat China Team—2:05

On the leaderboard, it’s BMW Oracle with 13 points, followed by Emirates Team New Zealand (10), Luna Rossa (9), and the gotta-make-the-semis gang of Mascalzone, Shosholoza, Victory all tied (8). The Spanish team is just back at 7, and the rest is academic.

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