What a difference a weekend makes. It quite literally could not have been more dramatic for all the right and wrong reasons. Whilst American Magic takes Patriot into intensive care and we all hope for brighter days for them, the other two Challengers for the Prada Cup are busy analysing a frenetic three days of racing across the wind ranges.
Prada is the one with the most concerns. The protesting Italians are really on the rack despite having a platform that looks like it should deliver and a skipper, in Jimmy Spithill, that has almost too much fire in his belly. Against Magic they looked at sixes and sevens with the commentators at a loss to explain some of the tactics. Communications onboard, once again, sounded deficient and whatever electronics gremlins have crept back in as they did pre-Christmas, they need to sort those out fast.
Prada is curious as it looks such a rapid, beautiful boat. They look like they’ve got it right from a design and detail perspective but the results aren’t flowing. The innovative dual-helm system that is probably now too late to change, simply isn’t working and that’s a mystery as having two world-class sailors calling the shots sounds like a winning formula. But against the ‘B&G’ show with Giles focusing 100% on the tactics, the theory has come apart at the seams like a delaminating mainsail. When the really big calls needed to be made, Giles was five steps ahead of them and as a watcher, it was dreamland tactics. The sort of stuff you know yourself in your heart of hearts but, let’s be honest, just can’t execute in your club race.
For years the British Olympic Sailing Team has been sneered at by competing federations with the complaint being that they throw more money at the game than anyone else. Yes in part. Lottery funding helped massively. But it was the structure underneath from Jim Saltonstall in the youth teams from the 1980’s through to the full Olympic Squad that was key and it took generations to find the likes of Ainslie, Robertson, Goodison, Percy, Scott, Rogers, Ayton, Webb, Wilson….I could go on. But combine talent with huge attention to detail on the whole programme from boat mods to nutrition and gold medals flow.
From gold medals, you get performance like we saw in the Prada/Ineos match. It was bread and butter to Ainslie & Scott. These tactical calls are hard-wired into their DNA. Spithill can count his AC defences, Checco can count the Congressional Cup and a host of big boat wins but neither has a gold medal. Ben has four. Giles has one. Gold shines.
Prada and Ineos are close, for sure. And we will have a thrilling two races next weekend. Prada has to try and throw everything at Ineos now and it will be tight. Of more concern to Prada will be just how far ahead Magic was before the capsize. Frankly it was a horizon job. Magic had speed to burn. Prada will be scratching their heads ahead of this weekend against Ineos and on to Magic in the semis. I’m expecting some changes – the Italians are never shy of big changes in the Cup. If they don’t, they will get out-sailed, out thought, out-gunned and will be out of the Cup in short order.
And whisper it quietly but on that performance, Ineos would have been concerned about Magic’s outright speed. It may be academic now. Whether Magic can come back and get up to that pace again is the big question. If they can, they will smoke Prada, dump them from the Cup and then it’s anybody’s guess in the final against Ineos. If it’s an Ineos/Prada final well on current form, there’s only one winner.
But the Brits have got to keep pushing like fury and I have no doubt that they will. Getting the boost in performance – Ben says it’s 10%, I would suggest it’s higher – from sheer hard work in changing literally everything and the kitchen sink is a rewarding experience. Did it need to be that hard though? Pushing through to another performance gain is well within their capability and with their tails up, these lions are going to be roaring.
There is a lot of chatter about those holes along the hull below the waterline and speculation suggests they are laminar flow breakers. Riblets on speed to aid flight and stop the hull sticking. My suggestion that they were exhausts for the F1 engine they fitted was met with derision, quite rightly. But it’s these little things that are starting to sow giant acorns of doubt into the other Challengers. Prada was on red alert with the outhaul arrangement. Everyone is looking at Ineos now.
Where Ineos goes next is going to be fascinating. I think sail development is going to be crucial – and they have done a terrific job in that area in this Round Robin series. Aero around the deck could be something to look at and tidy up but in the big winds of Sunday, they actually didn’t look too bad. Finding a seat for Bleddyn Mon behind Ben could be a game-changer. And I still think that skeg could do with some refinement. But what do we pundits know? The results are flowing and you really can’t get better than four wins from four races.
We just want more. And if they can keep developing, the sailors will deliver. And the words “Bring the Cup Home’ should be banished from all lexicons until the last downwind leg of the last race against Team New Zealand with a 10 minute delta. Seriously.
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