Now there’s a headline that every Italian wants to see. ‘Ma scusa’ to my Italian readers, it’s not the America’s Cup headline that you want to read (just yet) but on this pause in racing in what feels like the most stop-start regatta since records began, it’s the quite stunning photos coming in from the Bacardi Cup in Biscayne Bay, Miami that have captured my attention. Give me even a tiny excuse to put up photos of Starboats in crystal blue waters and the fact that Bruno Prada crewing for former Finn guru Mateusz Kusznierewicz is heading the fleet and well, I couldn’t resist it.
The Bacardi Cup not only has the coolest name courtesy of the coolest brand sponsor but it’s one of those regattas that you promise yourself you’ll do one day when the five balls and the bonus number come in. What started out as the ‘Trofeo Bacardi’ in Havana, Cuba with just 10 boats in 1927 forming a mid-winter championship known as the Cup of Cuba, the regatta blossomed until 1957 when political unrest forced Bacardi to leave the island.
In 1962, the regatta found a new home in Coconut Grove at the Coral Reef Yacht Club, and it has been one of those perennial calendar entries that you read at the back of Seahorse and promise yourself ‘one day, one day…’ So it’s great to see it flourishing in 2021 amidst such strained times with Melges 24’s, J70’s and Stars in good numbers attending. It’s an ‘invitational event’ – now just how do you get the invite? And as I say…I don’t need any excuse to put photos of the grande dame of keelboats on this blog.
Predictably the vacuum of no racing is filled with the gossip from the opening day of a fabulous America’s Cup Match that is everything and more that we could wish for. To be honest, the Kiwis are stunned that this is looking like a back street dust up rather than a ceremonial procession to glory. The Italians are equally stunned, but definitely not admitting it, that they are not just on the pace but almost certainly quicker, sharper and faster in quite a few departments than New Zealand and what’s more, the improvement runway for the Kiwis is so short that unless afterburners can be found quickly, it could well be an Italian Tarantella.
If this is going to be a starting contest then it’s all on the Bruni/Spithill combo to put this regatta quickly to bed. They’re match-fit, and they’ve got the eye of the tiger right now. Team New Zealand have got a serious contest on their hands and if they have one of their customary off-days that seem to haunt them in Cup matches then very quickly the scoreboard could get mighty ugly for them. The Italians just need now to eat, sleep and repeat. Live like monks and lay it all down like their lives depended on it.
What strikes me is that Luna Rossa has Te Rehutai’s number. They know how to sail against them and they know what the Kiwis are going to do. Imagine going into a boxing contest knowing that your opponent whinces at left leads – you’re going to be throwing those leads until kingdom come. The Italians know that Team New Zealand are slower out of the tacks so that’s got to be the gameplan. Nail them to a boundary and get in a duel.
The curious thing that gets me is the covering game. Time and again, Luna Rossa didn’t accept the full cross and slam dunk on the Kiwi air. They preferred instead to tack just a little early and sit on that slightly leeward track that forced Te Rehutai to sail in a high slow mode. It’s a devastating move in these foilers and one that the rest of us used to displacement sailing find hard to appreciate. It’s the Alekhine’s Defence in Chess or the turn-around jump-shot in basketball. At the top level, sport is made to look easy but try this move in your club race and you’ll be sorry you did. Great to watch.
One thing’s for certain, the Kiwis will come back fighting. That second race was lost in two seconds. The first race was lost by the same margin by the Italians in the blink of an eye but now that the opening salvos are out of the way and both sides have a feel for each other, as spectators we can settle in and expect to be thoroughly entertained. The two teams sailed utterly magnificently on the opening day and we can expect more of the same.
It’s huge testament not only to the sailors but also to the shore teams that have prepared them so well. There were no breakdowns, no broncos, no problems. It was the greatest pleasure to watch and there just isn’t anything else in our sport that compares. Sure we have spectacles like the Bacardi Cup, the Olympics, a few glamour Rolex regattas and the International Moth worlds but come on, the Cup is the Cup. The intrigue. The technology. The politics. The characters. The focus. The scale. It’s a breathtaking event and when you get a final like this, it’s almost heaven-sent.
The winner is going to be the one that executes and that’s how it should be in sport. Very often in the Cup it isn’t about performance execution, it’s all about design and sheer, raw pace. In this Match we have a sporting contest between the two best sailing teams in the world and daft as it sounds, that’s rare.
Believe in sport. Believe in contest.