Valentine’s Day Massacre

Captain Cook was killed on Valentine’s Day in 1779. Britain’s most famous explorer who first charted New Zealand was clubbed to death in knee-deep waters by a baying mob after capturing Hawaiian King Kalaniopuu. Not quite shallow waters but the protected inner course E was the scene of another massacre of the British as Prada, with all the pressure on them, performed on a stratospheric level to put Ineos Team UK to the sword and go 4-0 up in the Prada Cup Final.

There was no love lost between the two teams on this Valentine’s Day but it was a flawless performance from the Italians who were quite simply pitch-perfect all day. They sailed magnificently with more horsepower than a race-tuned Ferrari and sailed as cool as a Milanese fashionista. The Brits just couldn’t get in the game all day as mistakes and mis-judgements crept into their performance. It was shambolic at times if truth be told.

The racing pauses now. If it carried on logically they would be out in short order on this form. Update: since filing this story the Prada Cup has been paused due to a COVID-19 lockdown imposed on Auckland for 72 hours.

A pause, a time out, a reset is desperately needed by Ineos to arrest their decline to oblivion. And they’ve got it all on to try and save this. Whilst nothing has changed in terms of needing to win seven, as is the line of winners that have been this way before, it’s going to be the mother of all comebacks to turn this around. Three more bullets and Prada is off to face the Kiwis in the Match. It’s within touching distance now and they can smell a victory sweeter than a freshly-clipped red rose.

©KOS Picture Source /

The tale of the tape in race one was all about the start for the Italians as Ben got greedy and went for a hook that simply was never there. Jimmy Spithill, with a boxing kangaroo etched on his right arm, just kept the speed on to lead back into the start line and with perfect time-on-distance put Ineos in dirty air and gassed them as the gun fired.

It was an airflow that Ainslie couldn’t escape from all afternoon as we saw the first real duking match-race of the summer with Prada sticking like super-glue to the Brits all the way around the course. The racing was much tighter with the boatspeeds looking closer but Prada had the licking of the Lions upwind and down and just a click of pace through the tacks and gybes – we are in marginal gains territory now and it’s all Luna Rossa.

Once ahead it was a tactical masterclass of front-running by the Italians on a processional course that offered few passing lanes but plenty of room for error. They made none and there was little Giles Scott could call to try and force Britannia back in the game. The course was obvious. The shifts were telegraphed. There were no surprises and the delta between the teams fluctuated around between 18 and 9 seconds. Small margins but a lifetime at this level. By the finish it was another win chalked on the board and a 13 second victory. Close but no cigar for Ineos.

©KOS Picture Source /

Race two had the air of do-or-die for Ineos but they looked ring rusty and deficient of speed whilst all round their performance wreaked of desperation as unforced errors, boundary penalties and co-ordination errors thundered into their playbook. The headline grabber was in the pre-start with Ineos bucking like a bronco after a gybe at the start of the lead back drag race to the line. Memories of American Magic’s capsize flashed briefly before our eyes with the hull getting airborne as Bleddyn Mon and the flight controllers struggled to keep Britannia upright almost knocking Ben off to leeward as the mainsail was dumped as he attempted to cross the stern. The semi-crash handed all the advantage to Prada as a shaken Ineos recovered but the box seat and tactical advantage was a gift that the Italians gratefully received.

Again, the shifts were telegraphed down the course and the afterguard of Luna Rossa were in perfect phase, sailing their own race after initially keeping a tight cover. The rich got richer as a combination of boatspeed, great communication between the two helms and tactician Pietro Sibello and the slickest crew-work we have seen to date from anyone in this America’s Cup cycle just made the Italians a class act. They were virtually unbeatable and once ahead they piled on the pressure relentlessly leg after leg and by the end had a huge lead. The final delta was 41 seconds. Game over. All the aces are with Luna Rossa now.

©KOS Picture Source /

This was a day to completely forget for Ineos Team UK, compounding a truly terrible opening weekend. Winning the series from here will be an almost impossible task. The boat doesn’t look up to scratch and the crew look like they know it. They were forcing their sailing but had nothing to play with, no advantage either upwind or down, that they could leverage off. It’s a desperate situation. You feel for them.

To beat Prada they have to go two levels up from this or it’s a nailed-on whitewash. In the coming days they have to find a leap-frog or a lightbulb moment, drawing on every ounce of the team and its structure but on the evidence presented to date in this series it’s a hope against hope. We’ve been this way many times before with Ben and it’s rare that the knighted boss makes so many mistakes that he can’t extricate himself from but he looks increasingly dejected, like he knows his number is up. And we’re starting to see a little hint of anger and a deep sense of frustration in the post-race interviews. This is a struggle. It’s a hard watch.

The writing is on the wall in letters that have just got a whole lot larger. Ineos is staring at a series defeat in this Prada Cup and they have it all on to avoid a pummelling. Four rounds are over and the scorecard doesn’t lie. Ben Ainslie is on the ropes taking a punishment beating. The towel is all but thrown in. How they are going to turn this around in the timescale is the question.

The bookies have it all Prada. But is there a twist in this tale? Win the next race, whenever that may be, and everything changes. Momentum is a funny pendulum.

(Update: sadly the Prada Cup has been postponed due to a COVID-19 lockdown in Auckland. Wednesday racing has been cancelled and the new schedule will be announced shortly. All our thoughts are with the people of Auckland. Stay safe. Sport matters little. It can wait.)


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10 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day Massacre

  1. Given Wednesday’s forecast it would be unlikely there will be any sailing and also Akl has just been put into a L3 Lockdown for 72 hrs with then 24hr reviews after. This could turn out to be the wildcard Ineos needs for time to sort their shit out…


  2. The weak link is Ben. Wonder if they will deal with it. 4 race starts 4 blunders. Race 1, Lay down flat – down to the wrong entry gate and the wrong move – 2 foils down killed the speed – all down to the skipper. Race 2, wrong jib – down to the skipper. Race 3 and 4 mistakes which were unforced. Round Robin they played to what strengths they had in the starts and kept out of trouble and either won the starts or were even. Making decent moves at the start which do not have to be knock out forces decision making and a response. These Prada final starts are out and out skipper blunders which gifts the opponent with obvious winning decision making. The benefit to Ineos in their previous approach was that it laid down pressure on the right decision of two or three options onto Luna Rossa. Making your opponent make real decisions in any activity slows them down in their decision making. it puts pressure on them to come up with the “right” but unknown option. Unknown in terms of final outcome. There is not much boat difference when both teams work well. The one weakness on Luna Rossa I believe is their “2 helm” approach. When Ineos gift them only the one obvious decision, then al they have to do is execute it. It does not slow them down in their decision making because they both have the same conclusion. So, having made – in Chess terms – beginners opening blunders – how can Ineos make amends? Only I again believe by appearing to force them to make decisions in how they execute their advantage. So instead of avoiding Luna Rossa tacking on top of them and avoiding being in their dirty air, Ineos should have tried sailing right up to them in the dirty air and letting Luna Rossa try to execute manoeuvres to force them down. That forces collective decision making between Spithill and Bruno about what to do and why. This is the only weakness of Luna Rossa and Ineos appear not to understand that. It looks to me like Ineos have not “wargamed” this battle to the depth they needed to. Perhaps Ben needs a coach or to trust in his lieutenants a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are sailing magnificently. Congratulations and very well sailed. The better team won the weekend and the crew work was awesome. Luna Rossa was cruising and made no mistakes. Outstanding sailing of the very highest order. The best we have seen these AC75s sailed.


  3. Very easy to criticise and become an armchair sailor. There is no where to hide with the computer graphics and time on distance. As a positive, the boat is fast enough. Simply out raced and or mistakes pre-start. These mistakes shouldn’t happen and they looked to be trying too hard pre-start, but if they win the next then the confidence will come back.

    Remember the quote “imagine if they lose from here…”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. No taking away from Luna Rossa at all. They practiced and practiced and practiced on all their weaknesses including their 2 helm dysfunction. They operate very well on the racecourse. From what is said and not said, it looks clear that their on racecourse skipper is clearly Jimmy, but if that is what it takes to win races, fair play. The rest of the public talk and fronting up of Bruno is diplomatic and unfortunately tied into the massive nationalistic and commercial interests involved, which is not to take away anything from Bruno or his sailing skill. In fact he has mastered a completely new skill set more akin to a wily successful politician or world stage businessman. There is more than a race win or a series win at stake here and I think in Bruno they have a great card to play when they are tussling for the future money and venue.


  5. A random thought, and perhaps too romantic a possibility, but since my friend and I were having a “if it was a novel you were writing, how would you have it end?” conversation— in the event of a successful NZ defense, do you think it’s possible another yacht club in NZ could create a defender candidate team to address both the “defenders don’t get as much practice racing” and “more top-level NZ talent than spaces on ETNZ” complaints? With the amount of goodwill and “you’re still one of us” sentiment he’s gotten since American Magic retired, perhaps Dean Barker would be a natural to lead it.

    (Again, probably more romantic than realistic, but it’s how I’d end the novel…)


    1. How about: Ernesto Bertarelli buys ETNZ and calls is Emirates Alinghi Team New Zealand (EATNZ) and makes recompense for his raid on the team for the 2003 Cup. He retains all the amazing Kiwi talent and becomes a national hero who ensures the longevity of the team and develops generations of new, exciting Kiwi talent. Makes complete sense to me. There would be statues of him on Queen Street. The villain becomes the hero. Stranger things have happened….


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