We’ve all experienced the utterly deflating feeling of hauling a boat that is at least two clicks slower around a racecourse. You come off the line and use your talent to get the first two shifts right but in the drag race to the layline you just can’t keep up. For most of us that’s our honest story week in week out. It’s depressing. You don’t have the sails, your hull is covered in a week of weed (at best) and that kicker block that you’ve been meaning to replace for months just gave up the ghost. Your crew are great and loyal but they are a mix of estate agents, accountants and your family and let’s be honest, they are only here for the swift ale in the bar afterwards or to chat up that blonde who does foredeck on the boat way out in front. It’s nice to be on the water, you kid yourself. At least you’re not gardening or putting up those shelves in the spare room. But let’s face it, you will never win apart from that one race at the end of the season where you lucked-out and put a half decent performance together that ensures you’ll be back.
Well, imagine how you’d feel if you’d just blown £120 million of someone else’s money and have an absolutely balls-out racing machine laden with some of the best sailors on the planet, a supercomputer or two to measure a billion points of data a day and you’re still way off the pace. The first time you take it to a racecourse, it breaks. You then scuttle back to base, close the doors and silently weep. The management are all at each other’s throats and the billionaire owner is breathing, heavily, down your neck. You don’t even have a blonde in the bar to chase. It’s depressing. Well that’s what’s happening in New Zealand right now with Ratty’s Rita looking like the lamest of lame ducks and the rest of the fleet and commentators dumbfounded as to where it has all gone wrong.
It’s dark times as they scratch their heads over the speed conundrum they face and i’m hearing the first rumblings of discord in the team with morale at rock bottom. To be honest those rumours have been around since the start and the take-over of BAR way back when. There are some dark characters at work in this team unafraid to throw colleagues under the bus and shift the blame relentlessly but something has gone terribly wrong and the clock is ticking. They didn’t compete in the first tune-ups and were resolutely in the shed today trying to fix issues with the mast but it’s their on-the-water performances whilst tuning up that have set the alarm bells ringing. Team Ineos sail the boat differently to the others – and some would say they are stuck in a set of procedures that other teams moved on from some time ago. And they are slow. Possibly not even at the pace of American Magic and a million miles from Team New Zealand and Prada.
It’s a familiar story being played out – the only difference is that this time, they really should have no excuses. I fear that the team is being swamped by internal politics, as is so often the case with British challengers, and that the big voices in the team have railroaded rather than collaborated. The pressure being exerted from the sponsors will, I imagine, be pretty unbearable. Far from the cuddly image he likes to portray, Ratty and his machine are hard-ball players. You don’t get to be one of the world’s richest men by being a nice guy and he is surrounded by hard-as-nails goons who will be asking serious questions. This is not a nice place to be for Ben and the sailors. Not nice at all.
December 18th could be a horrible day for Team Ineos. Two races against Team New Zealand – the All Blacks of yachting – who will take no prisoners. They are a ruthless killing machine as evidenced yesterday in their cruise to victory over Team Prada. To get anywhere close to their level will be nigh on impossible not just for Team Ineos but for the rest of the Challengers. They look like they have speed to burn all around the course and remember they will be sandbagging, easing off the throttle at every opportunity. The only unknown for TNZ is Ineos but I don’t see any cause for concern from the Kiwis. They are up for the challenge and remember, when you have a fast boat, you become a tactical genius.
Hard times for the Brits. Hard times.