Perfection in sailing is rare. I can count it on one hand. Paul Elvstrom – the ‘Mozart of Sailing’ – came close at Melbourne in 1956. Rohan Veal – the ‘Lord of the Wings’ – was astonishing in that Bladerider at Lake Garda in 2007 and the Tight Five were pure straight aces for Alinghi down in Auckland in 2003. Dennis Conner had records to drool over. Ben Ainslie was nigh on perfection in Athens.
What we’re seeing down in Miami at the moment could, just could, be a new high point in our sport. The marker of all those I have just mentioned is a deep rooted fear factor that they engendered in their competitors and at the Bacardi Cup that sense is creeping in. So fast are Mateusz Kusznierewicz and Bruno Prada in the Star, and so consistent are they in their decision making and boat handling that a one-design masterclass of precision, aggression, clear-thinking, genius is unfolding before our eyes.
Take race two as a classic example. Hanging out left up the first beat, they made the usually fool’s gamble to completely change strategy mid-way and career out to the right as if they’d seen beyond the horizon. Oh how many of us have done this in a one-design fleet and sat wallowing in fat last?
If you’ve done big fleet racing with the talent we all possess then you know that sinking feeling. But no so for Mateusz and Bruno who accurately, rapier like, saw, sensed and felt the shifting Biscayne breeze and sailed into the lead whilst the rest of the fleet overstood remarkably on the port tack layline.
If you’d had a drone on the course, sat at the top mark, it wouldn’t have been obvious. But when you’re arguably the best sailor on the planet today, things happen. Extraordinary things happen.
Watching the videos of the Polish / Brazilian team in action is to watch silky smoothness through the water and muscular determination downwind. Mateusz is stroking that rudder like the rest of us stroke a cat. It’s devastatingly effective and the slap slap of the waves on the chines upwind seem graceful in comparison with the rest of the fleet. That boat is floating effortlessly where all about are forcing the issue.
He joked yesterday that downwind they ‘pressed that special button’ on the boat and like all super-heroes, the after-burners were lit. Again, at the Bacardi Cup, they de-pressed that button and showed a clean pair of heels, a country mile in one-design terms ahead of a stellar fleet. Sail like this and the Bacardi Cup is just a stepping stone to the Star and 5.5 Metre Worlds on Mateusz’s schedule this year. It’s dynamite to witness.
But you’d be a fool, a certifiable madman, a sensationalist blogger (perhaps all three?) to predict a clean sweep at the Bacardi Cup in the Star Class, the fleet is just way too good, but on what I’m seeing now, I’ve bought the popcorn and I’m waving the Polish flag.
I’m a real fan of this team but when I analyse it, I’m actually a fan of sport enacted at the very extreme, at the very highest level. Seeing brilliance in action is addictive and inspiring. When I sat a few feet behind Alinghi in Race One of the Match in Auckland in 2003 as they eked back that deficit inch by inch, it was a moment that has never left me. Seeing it happen in your favourite class of all-time (and let’s be honest, the Star Class has, throughout its history, thrown up absolute legends and sporting brilliance) then it’s very special. I genuinely fear for the rest of the fleet.
But make no mistake, this isn’t easy. The fleet are charging. Paul Cayard found the ‘on’ button after yesterday’s travails, North Sails’ Eric Doyle is sailing like a God in the podium places and Ireland’s Peter O’Leary is keeping the leaders very, very honest. Italy’s hugely popular World Champion Diego Negri is trying desperately to put it all together whilst Norway’s ex-World Champ, Eivind Melleby is so, so nearly there. Any of these could win at a canter and disrupt, de-rail the Kusznierewicz / Prada train on a given day but you have to think that the title is right there at their mercy.
What a regatta. What a class. What a performance. The Bacardi Cup is the only sporting event that truly matters right now.