I don’t know about you but the night before a regatta is a nervy time. You’ve spent the day getting the boat into being the best it can be, you’ve passed measurement, weighed in and you’re privately hoping that splice on the kicker that you learned off the internet holds and the new cunningham arrangement that you dreamt up works. Fingers are crossed. The forecast is a breezy affair on your opening day and you’re looking around the crew who seem oblivious to your nerves, laughing, having a beer and definitely not taking it anywhere near as seriously as you. You fake enjoyment and joviality but this is the pits. And you do this for fun? Your stomach feels like someone’s tied a monkey’s fist inside.
And as the regatta progresses, it gets worse. I remember going into the last day of a European championships with an outside chance of winning. It was a snowball’s chance in hell if I’m honest. A hurricane would have needed to have blown through the fleet, masts would need to have snapped, but mathematically it was possible. That night was awful. Thoughts of headlines in Yachts & Yachting ran through my mind and naturally, being the creative sort that I am, dreams of an inevitable golden pathway to America’s Cup glory were being laid. It was nailed on. A dead cert. Just win tomorrow and the world is my oyster.
And what happened? From the off, I totally messed up the gate start, sailed like a newbie and rounded the top mark in 113th place. I fought like hell and got to about 77th. I finished 43rd overall. Ben Ainslie, Paul Elvstrom, Russell Coutts I am not. At least I knew that then. It still rankles to this day as you can probably tell. Those losses engrave on your memory – why do I struggle to remember the wins? A psychologist would have a field day.
But for Ben Ainslie and the Ineos Lions they can sleep well ahead of the Prada Cup final. They know the process that they invested so heavily in, works. Nothing can be thrown at them now that they can’t handle after the comeback of all comebacks post Christmas. Go 2-0 down after the first day. No sweat. It’s the Kevin Keegan football philosophy – they score three, you score four. The series isn’t won until someone nails the magnificent seven, the magic number, and both teams will be fighting like cats in a sack to get there.
So what do we all hope for? A really close contest between two closely matched boats pitting two of the finest sailors of their generation (or is it three?) in an all out battle on the Hauraki Gulf with more twists than a tangled ball of wool? Nope. Privately I hope it’s a 7-0 whitewash by the Brits and that Mercedes found the “on” button that will smoke them away to the horizon with higher point, devastating generation-ahead boatspeed and crew work that would put the Royal Philharmoic Orchestra to shame.
But in the interests of sport, and the likelihood of that scoreline being next to none, I guess the close contest will suffice. If we are all honest, another thumping like the Prada/Magic match-up would be a snooze-fest and not wholly enjoyable (I don’t know who I am kidding here) and in the interests of the future of the competition and the Cup itself we sorely need a titanic battle.
I’ve booked my place behind the sofa. I have no fingernails left to chew anymore. The dog looks at me strangely and with deep suspicion and I will have no vocal chords by about 6am tomorrow morning. I expect you are the same. As the legendary Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson said after winning in Europe by a late goal in extra time: “Bloody football eh?” That’s rather what I expect to be saying after this series.
“So just do your best. That’s all you can do.” Those haunting words your parents told you as you went off to face a school examination at the end of the summer term. They were lying. They were wrong. It’s about winning. This is not about taking part. It’s not about putting up a good show. Winning is all that matters. And if you had to put your house on this, who would you pick?
I’m all in on Team Ineos UK. Go the Lions…
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