The English rarely show it. Parisians have it. Americans don’t know it. Australians don’t understand it. Italians live it. Finesse or ‘Finezza’ – you either get it or you don’t. Go to Italy and it’s everywhere, it’s a code of living – the girls have it, the guys exude it. “Italians know what matters is style, not fashion” according to uber designer Stefano Gabbana and you’d need to be pretty myopic not to look at Luna Rossa and admit that in the finesse stakes, it’s the boat of the century.
All summer in Auckland we’ve eyed the detailing with admiration and envy – how do they get it so right? And how do the others get it so wrong? Why does everyone else look like a poorly designed Reebok trainer with cheap, dated graphics adhered with the clumsiness of a pre-school art class whereas the Italian boat could be helicoptered into the Piazzo del Duomo in Milan and not look an inch out of place?
It’s like a new design for a Ferrari – very rarely does Flavio Manzoni, the in-house design guru for the prancing horse marque, get it wrong and by the time you see it on the road, you know it’s right. It looks right. It sounds right. Ferrari is the embodiment of Italian style but in boating terms Luna Rossa is about as perfect as can be imagined – as cool as an F8 Tributo with Dino gravitas, it’s a stunning machine regardless of whether it wins or loses. But look up ‘finesse’ in the Oxford English Dictionary and the alternative usage describes a Bridge or Whist hand as: “an attempt to win a trick with a card that is not a certain winner” and if Luna Rossa pulls off this trick it will be the most stylish win ever in Cup history. Nobody is predicting it – except the Italians themselves.
So as these latest fabulous pictures came into my inbox last night of Luna Rossa sticking in the hours out on the water finessing the new gear and honing the vital crew co-ordination and communication that served them so well in the Prada Cup Final, I’m starting to wonder what their tactics are on the water and what strategy they will play off it. We know that no quarter will be given and that every day counts. Racing is scheduled from the 10th March to the 15th March with a day off on the 11th March. That’s nine races in total. And then the Match Conditions say “racing will continue every day until completion” through to the 21st March. Now that should be easily enough but hold on, what happens if the virus interrupts play again? And there’s every chance it could.
The hard stop is the 21st March and the Italians have been clear about sticking to the schedule so the boat leading after the 21st March wins the Cup. That’s it. Winner declared. The Auld Mug either stays in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron or trips off to the Circolo della Vela in Sicily.
So again, what’s the strategy here if you’re playing this game as ruthlessly as a game of Bridge or Whist with one eye on the conditions and one eye on the public health situation? If you know you’re quicker in the light, or at least have a better chance in the light, then you’ve got to be praying that mother nature plays ball to get the scoreboard ticking over and then assess the game thereafter. The thing the Italians have to do is score early wins, that scoreboard has to tick over or it’s Mount Etna to climb. Remember how powerful they became at 2-0 and then 4-0 up in the Prada Cup Final. Suddenly the pendulum is firmly in your corner. The aces in the pack are yours. Scheduling could become key and sitting even one to the good as another lockdown occurs could be the winning hand.
And if it’s breezier, then the possibility of a breakdown or a capsize exponentially ramps up, especially in an un-match fit opponent whose only combat in over two months has been against a pretty decent Ray Davies in a chase boat. Te Rehutai has looked devastatingly fast but tricky to sail in the upper wind strengths and this is why bright minds are calling this far closer than I have it. So for Spithill & Co, it’s a case of keeping it tight, even if behind, and the pressure on. Sail your own race. Make no mistakes.
But I still come back to the gamesmanship off the water and I don’t think we’ve seen the half of it yet. “Bet on self-interest. It’s always running” was how our favourite draper from San Diego called it. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again. We hope for a straight fight on the water and history shows that a whitewash is the most probable outcome. I’m calling it so but as the calendar clicks by and vital days of learning on the water are being filed away by both teams, you can’t help but think and believe that something is in the air. The media has changed around the Italian camp. The bold claims have been replaced by quiet confidence. Something’s going down – not even a sunkissed playboy on the island of Capri is this cool.
“Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco” – not everything turns out as planned, as they say in Italy.