The northernmost outpost of New Zealand, Raoul Island, has a radio station and a hostel for conservationists and one heck of a lot of dacitic explosive eruptions that have been commonplace for thousands of years. Yesterday however, an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the richter scale occurred, along with several further earthquakes, threatening to cause widescale tsunamis. Everyone near the coast from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei, from Matata to Tolaga Bay, and Great Barrier Island were instructed to immediately move to the nearest high ground. Scary stuff. Thankfully the localised tsunami threat has abated but, just for safety, the America’s Cup crews stayed ashore. Let’s hope everyone is safe and sound.
As we go into final preparations for the main event, it’s interesting to look closely at the media noises emanating from the teams to get the tale of the tape. Luna Rossa have completely switched their combative stance of the Prada Cup Final and Round Robins with praise being offered to the skill of Pete Burling with an acknowledgement that he’s the “best in the world” from Spithill and that the coming days are going to be hard and “that’s why we do it – to challenge ourselves against the best.” That’s the classic underdog position to take but behind the patsy parry is the iron fist follow-up that the Italians are going to be damned hard to pass especially on the limited courses available to Iain Murray’s team under Covid Level 2 restrictions.
Luna Rossa have been keen to confirm this saying on their website: “During level 2 of the Covid-19 alert, the racecourses B, C and D, closest to the coast, will not be included in order to avoid crowds. All courses will become available for racing only when Auckland drops back to alert level 1.” And this snuffs out the possibility of the North Head and Rangitoto Island courses where the big shifts come at the top and bottom of the course that effectively open up the runway to passing lanes. It’s clear that Luna Rossa will be putting it all on the start and then making it as hard as possible for the Kiwis to break through.
We’ve seen Team New Zealand trial the dual helm system and we all assume that’s for the pre-start. I’d suggest that is one option but not the only one. A boundary tacking duel to try and break through the Italians is highly, highly likely, especially if Burling isn’t as match-fit as he hopes and makes mistakes at the start. We know Spithill and Bruni have nailed their pre-start routines and the time-back to the line and let’s be honest, there aren’t many moves that you can pull in that box that aren’t telegraphed from a mile back. Especially with a team that has not only done the simulator work but also been pushed hard on the water. The Italians will win starts, no question. And then it’s effectively a medal race in the Olympic Games. Stick to the opposition like glue, tack them to death and gas them to leeward on that first beat. If Spithill can nail Burling to a boundary then expect a Fremantle ’87 style duel. 20 tacks – you heard it here first. You don’t want to be a grinder in this Match.
There’s also an interesting narrative coming back regarding conditions. Luna Rossa are pretty sure that sub-12 knots they can compete and also above 18 knots, they are quick. This is fighting talk. It’s narrowing the band where they think the Kiwis are quick and puts the pressure on. Never believe a word of it. The Kiwis will have a wry smile on that and are too cool to respond. I don’t quite buy the lower wind limit comment looking at the Kiwi foils but at the top end, yes I can see it. The Italians might have a point. Te Rehutai looks mighty but is she prone to skittishness and a lack of control? Famous last words here, but if it blows hard then the old mantra of “to finish first, first you have to finish,” could be apt.
Personally though I see this as a Kiwi win and some frightening deltas. The team look too strong and have that inimitable ‘get the job done’ look and feel. They play the media so well. Everything coming out is wrapped in a humility and down-to-earth attitude and they exude a quiet, calm confidence. The team videos show a real excitement to get racing and to do their talking on the water. They are an awesome unit and everyone in the grinding brigade have just recorded personal bests in their anaerobic tests – peaking at the right time, just when it matters is the mark of this marine All Blacks pack and they look like they are about to do something remarkable.
The key man, to my mind, is Glenn Ashby. He needs to keep Burling calm and focussed so he can perform and hit his marks. Spithill will be doing everything to rattle in the pre-start and those first few minutes out to the first boundary will be telling. Has Te Rehutai got the pace that everyone is thinking or has Prada made another leap forward with new gear and new sails? If it comes down to a straight speed race, then it’s another boring AC cakewalk for whichever team found the “on” button but if these boats are close, then we’ve got something that could be the series of a lifetime. The Italians have got to get the scoreboard ticking over with a win on the opening day and then all bets are off.
I’m calling it Team New Zealand but I’d love to see a fight to the final race.