What separates the nearly good from the very good? In golf it’s the six inches between your ears. In boxing it’s your heart once you know you can take a punch. In motor sport it’s calculated risk at extreme moments. In almost every Olympic discipline it’s dedication, mind-numbingly dull dedication, to a niche craft. In sailing it’s the ability to simply never give up. That’s the closest I can manage to explaining sporting athletes at the highest level in short, sharp, crisp sentences that we can all understand. But what I can’t work out in sailing is how the truly great pull off the magic trick of digging themselves out of impossible situations, fighting through the fleet as if everyone’s a chump and marking up a result that in anyone else’s book would be their finest day on the water. Ever.
This week’s Bacardi Cup is giving us everything. And most importantly, it’s proving to be anything but a slam dunk. It’s inhuman to show up at the Bacardi and trounce the fleet. That’s Boy’s Own stuff. That’s in the fiction section. It doesn’t happen…but oh it’s mighty close to a whitewash as Mateusz Kusznierewicz and Bruno Prada pulled the most giant rabbit out of the Biscayne Bay hat today in a never-say-die race that had them buried right up to the very last leg.
But this team is pure unadulterated class. You don’t win gold medals at the Olympic Games by luck. You don’t win multiple Bacardi’s by being fortunate. No, you win with consistent boatspeed, tactical brilliance, racecraft borne from 10,000 hours of dedication, attention to detail, determination by the bucket-load, muscular force over every wave and an ability to handle big-time pressure. Boy were they good today.
On those attributes, the Polish / Brazilian team came through with straight A’s on their gradecard. Posting an astonishing second place when all was lost puts them head and shoulders above a fleet going ‘what the hell happened…’
This is nothing short of brilliance on display. You can’t take your eyes off them. It’s Ayrton Senna in the wet. It’s Ali at Madison Square Garden in ’71. It’s Boris Becker at Wimbledon. It’s Killian Mbappe on any given Saturday. How Mateusz and Bruno did it today is a lesson that should be taught to every Opti kid and held up as the poster for our sport: Never. Ever. Give. Up.
And so on crystal blue waters beneath warm skies with a fresh breeze, the 58 Stars came to the line all eager, mid-regatta, to post a good one. You know that feeling. You’ve been knocking on the door of a good result, maybe even top 20, you just need to get off the line well, phase into the shifts, not go to sleep down that first run, get the tweak and tune onto that setting you remember when you were oh so briefly up in the hunt. It’s classic mid-week stuff. Hardest race to win is race three. Everyone’s upped their game, chemistry is happening between helms and crews and finally you’re coming out of the coma and fog of those opening races that whistled by in a blizzard of woulda, coulda, shoulda…mid-fleet are black belt in karate yachting at this point. The blitzkreig enacted by the stars of the Stars in the opening races is over. Great isn’t it.
With everyone lining up – and just how impressive does a fleet of Stars look arced up on a lengthy line? Tell me a more impressive sight in sailing. I haven’t seen it. And you’ve got the top guns really firing. This is competition of the highest order. In such a big fleet, you make a mistake, one daft mis-calc and you’re toast. History. Good night. May as well go and order an Old Fashioned and make it a double Bacardi please barman. But the good ones…well the good ones, they just don’t know when they’re beat.
Up at the sharp end of the fleet, real talent was rising. Britain’s Ed Wright, the former Finn genius, was laying it all down in conditions that suited his muscular style. But the Star is like doing an MBA in boatspeed with a module in tweak and the Brits were soon losing ground. The stand-out performer of the day, on a memorable, never-to-be-forgot moment in their sailing lives were the USA/Brazilian duo of Jack Jennings and Pedro Trouche sailing the aptly named Pied Piper who established a lead at the first leeward gate and hung on tenaciously. You can see the photo below and I can almost hear the words that Pedro is whispering to Jack: “Yup he won an America’s Cup. He’s a double world champion. Oh wait, let me just count how many gold stars…1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…and you’ve just beat the lot mate! Easy. Walk in the park. Woooo-hooooo!”
What a feeling. Win a race at the Bacardi Cup and I think you can retire a happy bunny. For years to come in that yacht club armchair, you can wax lyrical of ‘that day’ as denizens whisper knowingly at the bar. Bacardi cocktails will arrive without asking. They know, you know. Terrific result for Jack and Pedro. Outstanding.
But the writing is writ large on the wall. With three races down, Mateusz and Bruno are sitting pretty and it must be galling for the likes of Eric Doyle, Diego Negri and Peter O’Leary to see the charge and be the victims of a definitive mugging on the last leg. When you see talent, you feel it. This is one of the great sailing performances of our time and few would begrudge their march to the title once again. Long way to go but the hard part of the mountain is safely navigated. Now it’s the Hillary Steps to the summit and the betting is all one way. Brilliant to witness.
And what of the Coral Reef Yacht Club, the peerless hosts of the Bacardi Invitational Regatta? Well, I spent a happy time last night looking at the website and what a club it is. Absolutely top drawer. I’m moving to Miami.
And the way they’ve approached this whole jubilation of a regatta, embraced its history, advanced its progress and hosted in the most magnificent fashion, is just exemplary. You want to see how to run an international regatta – go to the Coral Reef and drink the Kool Aid. Welcoming, progressive, professional – a club you’d walk over hot coals to join. Well done to the people that really make this event happen. Terrific job.
Day four promises much. Who’s going to challenge Mateusz and Bruno is a tough question. My outside money is on the current world champs from Italy – Diego Negri and Sergio Lambertenghi – who are slowly putting it all together but I can’t help but think that Paul Cayard is due a good one sooner rather than later. What a fleet. Throw a towel over the top ten and you have sailing genius in abundance.
Oh to be at the Bacardi Cup…