For the winners champagne. For the losers, a consolatory beer. That’s sport. Waking up this Monday morning, the Luna Rossa team will have earned their dusty heads. The compound will have the sweet fug and funk of acrid Mumm fizz filling the air as the team re-group on the first day of the rest of their lives. Now the ‘lavoro duro’ – the real hard work – starts for the Italians in earnest and it’s all systems go for the designers, analysts, sailmakers and technicians charged with delivering even more performance from an already outstanding platform. The America’s Cup never stops. Pause for a moment and rapid-fire moss wraps around your rolling stone as the competition silently whistles by. But the Italian momentum crescendoed to unimaginable heights on Sunday evening and it was heartwarming to see the families enjoying the dock-in celebrations. Everyone was welcome. What a feeling. If only you could bottle it.
In contrast, the saddest place is a shed where hope has been extinguished. I remember the scene at the Stars & Stripes base on Halsey Street in 2003 the day after the Americans had been knocked out and it was so eery to be almost haunting. Gone was the security, the base doors were wide open. The sounds of parcel tape being judiciously wrapped on air freight and the beeps of forklift trucks resonated beneath the tin shed and plastic dustbins filled with Budweiser and Coors Lite empties lay before a long-since burned-out barbecue.
The spirit and soul of a campaign drains faster than Niagra Falls in full flight. The rockstars left hours ago on first class tickets back to reality or stayed for low-paid, high-profile media work whilst crew and shore team members chose a vacation in the Bay of Islands to re-connect with loved-ones who had sacrificed so much for their partners’ dreams. All that was left was the hulk of a losing vessel facing an uncertain future. That’s the harsh side of the America’s Cup. Teams disintegrate quickly. Life goes on beyond the Disney fantasy-land that you inhabited so diligently as a devoted team member willing to die for the cause. Reality kicks in as the time-of-your-life concludes. It sucks.
But for the Luna Rossa team no such concerns. Hope fills the air. Possibility and solution-solving is rampant. Everyone is buzzing. The shop opened early. The chefs smiled as they made their umpteenth espresso and baked the third dozen croissants. The feeling is electric. Victorious smiles are worn on battle-etched faces but it’s back to business. As much as Team New Zealand were gathering data on the course yesterday, valuable telemetry was seized by the Italians. Analysis on mode, height, tacking angles and outright speed will have been taken and filtered into highly encrypted latin laptops across Auckland. The construct of a picture of the scale of the task ahead of them will take shape and the high-profile team members can huddle and start to form a media offensive play that, by necessity, has to be different to take on the Kiwis.
What awaits them is daunting. The black-shorn, no-nonsense, deeply competitive and intensely proud All Blacks of world sailing who have seen it all before and know every trick in a book they wrote is one of the hardest summits in sport to overcome. To do it, you have to earn it. Every boatlength, every gybe, every tack, every peel-off is hard fought. In short, the Kiwis don’t give an inch but will take a mile if you falter or have any weakness. This isn’t for the feint-hearted now. And all the signs are there that this Cup could be a classic of gamesmanship.
Emails, texts and messages have pinged in all day. Who’s going to win? Well that’s very easy on one level. New Zealand as a country and as a nation of people wins this regatta hands down for me. Did you see the spectator fleet out for the Prada Cup Final? You could almost barrel-walk down the length of the course with every boat, craft and floating thingamajig imaginable out to catch a glimpse – and Team New Zealand wasn’t even racing. It’s remarkable. What a terrific job the fabulous Kiwis have done to embrace the Cup and hold it so dear. Sailors are united and grateful for the welcome our pinnacle event has received.
But that’s not the answer you were looking for. The answer as to who’s going to win is wrapped in the unknown of a billion bits of physics and could all come down to conditions. Mother nature could decide the Cup’s future and she’s a cruel mistress. There’s no question now that Jimmy Spithill has figured out starting and time-on-distance and as we saw in the Prada Cup Final, once ahead on an even course there are no passing lanes. But what we don’t know is the inherent speed that the Kiwis have fired into Te Rehutai.
Every video I’ve seen, and I’ve watched a lot recently, shows them with power generation forward but sitting back on their transom momentarily in the tacks and gybes. That could be a clue. It could be the reddest of red-herrings but a tacking duel has to be high on the early agenda for the Italians. Te Rehutai looks powerful and rock solid in flight, of that there is no doubt, and there are snippets of data and anecdotal whispers pointing at speeds never seen before in these AC75s in certain conditions. But against a match-fit brawler with a boxing kangaroo on his sleeve and an ice-vein heart rate, it’s going to take every ounce of that inherent boatspeed and low-down sail horsepower to pull through the Italians.
At the end of the day the fastest boat will win. We’ve just seen that and it was ever thus in the Cup. A slow better never wins. We will know everything within two minutes of the start gun at 4.15pm on March 6th. Mark the date in your diary. Set the alarm now. I’ve warned the dog but this time I won’t be hiding behind the sofa. What a fascinating tussle this is going to be.