Amidst the itty-bitty crumbs of news emerging from the dockside as the Cup goes into yet another hibernation was the reveal that Auckland airport’s freight division had been busy over the weekend as Luna Rossa has flown in new sails and parts from Italy. An already quick platform is about to get additional horsepower in its race to bridge the gap to the rumoured rapier-fast Te Rehutai. With the measurement of the hull and foils done on Monday, just how much further they can develop that already beautiful sail-plan is an argument for those that have never sailed in development classes and it will be very interesting to see what has been allowed to flourish having secured the golden ticket to the Match. For sure, every avenue of design and improvement has been green-lighted as Patrizio Bertelli throws everything and the marble, diamond encrusted sink at this probably once-in-a-lifetime shot at the greatest prize in sailing.
However, taking the temperature over the weekend of the sailor interviews and all of them are, after considerable pushing by the interviewers, marginally falling to a Kiwi win so long as the breeze stays in. The muscular hull-form of the Kiwi boat lends naturally to that argument but with the new tiny, flat foils it now looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime up top attempting ballet with Margot Fonteyn’s pins down below. Whether the Muscle-Mary-meets-prima-ballerina combination works is one that we will find out only when we get racing and goodness me, this regatta has stretched out.
Is it just me or do you agree that racing has been thin on the ground in this regatta? If I were the chump shelling out for a team I think I would feel a little short-changed and thoroughly under-entertained – I certainly wouldn’t want to be looking at this on a cost-per-race basis. This is a problem that could have been easily overcome with more round robins amongst the Challengers with weightier points towards the business end and perhaps, with entrant numbers light, early repechage rounds that included the Defender.
With all the World Series regattas cancelled due to Covid it wouldn’t have taken a genius to work out that the schedule looked very light but stretched would have given the teams like American Magic and the other one, the chance to address performance issues and develop naturally through the round robins. The interminable scheduling and regrettable delays between racing has been a passion killer akin to wearing socks in bed. Goodwill seeps away as momentum stalls and with Covid in the air – it was unfortunately always there waiting in the wings – the likelihood of delays throughout this regatta were inevitable.
But to get to the promised land would have required consensus and it’s clear that relations between all the interested parties – ACE, COR, ETNZ and LRPP – have been fractious at best. Strong minded individuals and a clash of cultures is never going to have a happy outcome with disagreements over everything from media accreditation to podium attendance to scheduling of racing and even some barbed jibes in the measurement committee notes. At times it has felt like walking through glue but it really depends on which side of the fence you sit.
If you were to take a step back and strategise from a Defender or Challenger position for sure you would want to use your seat at the table to unsettle the opposition. In this respect, the Challenger of Record has done a magnificent job. Dennis Conner had a fine line about the Cup not being a popularity contest but Larry Ellison took it to a whole other level when he sat on the podium and admonished a journalist saying:
“Fun? You think we’re here for fun? Do you think losing is fun? I don’t. This is professional sports, not a third-grade T-ball game. Is sailing fun? Yes, if you want to sail to Sausalito and sit and do a little fishing or sunbathing out with your family, that can be fun. If you’re sailing in the America’s Cup, if it’s your job, you are supposed to work very hard. We are here to win. Winning, that’s my idea of fun.”
And that’s what it’s all about. Getting under the skin of the opposition and ripping this Cup away is the only way to do it. The dice are too loaded to play nice. Behind the razzmatazz and the dignitaries and the functions, it’s an utterly ruthless game played just as much off the water as on it. And it was interesting to see everyone’s reactions across the teams as the Challenger of Record started to play hardball, culminating in that unnecessary press conference and tit-for-tat with ACE issuing a statement moments before.
It was classic Cup politics but it gave the world a wake up call that what looked from the outside as a nicey-nicey gentleman’s regatta sailed by professional athletes with pitch-perfect back stories on behalf of generous benefactors, held amidst difficult global circumstances, was anything but. The Italians are here to win it and the best part of a quarter of a century of coming so near, yet so far, hurts. They’ve been on the other side of scheduling decisions, poor design, near misses, crew and equipment failures during their storied Cup history. This time it’s different. Good on them. Leaving no stone unturned and playing the game hard and at times seemingly unfair, depending on which lens you view it all from, is what wins you no friends but could win the America’s Cup – and that’s what matters when all is said and done.
Watch out as the schedule gets tight. A cakewalk for the Kiwis this isn’t going to be.