Webb Ellis

We start with an apology. An apology to everyone in New Zealand for some pretty dumb reporting in the British press that has been picked up like William Webb Ellis at Rugby School in 1823 with a ball in his hand. Our esteemed organ, The Times, described yesterday’s capsize as an ’embarrassing setback’ and not only do I take issue with each of those words, more to the point Team New Zealand came out today and smoked everyone just to ram home the point that they are a country mile ahead of the Challenger pack.

It’s annoying journalism but it’s understandable. The chances are that if you read this blog, you’re a sailor. And the chances are that you sailed dinghies at some point. Equally, therefore, the chances are that you’ve done exactly what Te Rehutai did yesterday albeit at a far slower pace and without helicopters, chase boats and the eyes of the world on you. And you weren’t sailing against Ben Ainslie with fire in his belly.

But you know, as I do, that coming out of a gybe, usually with your spinnaker up, you get a little hot, a gust hits, the front loads up and before you know it you’re in Davy’s locker going “what happened?” You and your mate are catching your breath with big grins on your faces and you’re swimming to the safety of the centreboard to get the boat upright again.

‘Embarrassing’ – No. A ‘setback’ – No. You just get the mast pointing skywards again, sort out the mess that a capsize elicits and the tangle of ropes, your banana floating in the bilge and off you go again. Team New Zealand were back on their bum four minutes after splashdown and I’d suggest that’s quicker than you righted your dinghy.

It’s a racing incident. It’s not an ’embarrassing setback’ and saying as such says more about the journalist writing the piece than it does about the facts of the matter. Team New Zealand in typical style, just brushed it off and if any of the Challengers thought ‘ oooh they might be rattled’ well sorry, that’s fools gold. The team came out on the water today and by all accounts, although full details are thin on the ground, put American Magic to the sword in devastating fashion on a short course. My friend from the excellent Sail World reckons they were around 23-25 seconds ahead by the finish – and that’s a lifetime.

Bet against Team New Zealand at your peril.

Probably of more concern though to my UK readers was Ineos in the light. They didn’t look great again. But the racing was very close with Prada, and that’s saying something, right up until the wind dropped and Ineos fell off its foils. The boat is a struggle to get going again and it almost feels like Stars & Stripes in ’87. Dog slow in the light, a weapon in breeze.

Can everyone in the UK please start doing a wind dance from now until Friday – the Wheatley family are performing an en masse ceremony and we might have to livestream it to drum up support. This boat is Red Rum in a breeze. Unfortunately it still looks like a Brighton beach donkey when the puff runs out. Pray for wind.

© Richard Gladwell – Sail-Worlds.com / nz

American Magic is the one that puzzles me though. Everything I have seen points towards them moving forward on development but the results and the performances aren’t shining through. A massive ‘sandbag’ perhaps but I’m not so sure. What is going on there? The Batwing (pictured above) sail that they surprisingly showed yesterday looks to my eye like the development of the tournament in a breeze and is typical Terry Hutchinson on the ragged edge of the rule book. Fabulous piece of kit. But the team don’t seem to be translating development into performance. It’s early days and we’re not racing for keeps yet but just by going what we can see and analyse, they don’t seemed to have moved through the gears as expected.

Friday will be the day of truth. Is anyone else as excited as me?


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4 thoughts on “Webb Ellis

  1. Hey Magnus, Since hearing you on TFE LIVE I have read all your missives. They have been informative and enjoyable. I grew up in Canada, traveled the world, and sailed a bit of it. I have been living in the USA since the 1983 cup, where I got addicted to this event. Out of curiosity since I have always been a big reader are you related to Dennis Wheatley?



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