John Casey, part of our SA OTWA team in Valencia weighs in with these observations…
After putting off the inevitable for two race days, Alinghi finally had the conditions that they waited for. With all of the prestart maneuvers aside (Genny’s specialty), the two boats drag raced up the course on port. As USA17 powered up, the difference was so severe Ernesto must have put a brown smudge inside those pretty white salopettes. Coming from underneath and behind, the wing hooked up and the tri was higher and faster. I wasn’t surprised after the Cocktail Hours we spent with the wing designers and engineers. It’s amazing how much confidence the team has in their product. A relaxed James Spithill and crew just followed the cat and rocked right over the top of them a few minutes after the start in what looked like a slight left pressure shift. Or was it? Of course, with the wind LIDAR Doppler technology plugged into the helmsman’s heads up display, BMW/Oracle knew there was some favorable action at least a kilometer out, so they just kept getting after it on the same tack.
It was impressive at this point how Jimmy steered the boat straight and the wing was trimmed properly, just like Glenn Ashby coached them. When the pressure built a bit, they twisted the jib in and pulled away from Alinghi. Every time the boats came into the same pressure, USA accelerated faster and sailed higher. Meanwhile, a flat, underpowered Alinghi did a headsail change to the Code 0, which cost them dearly. The amount of sail Alinghi threw up made no difference anyway. The efficiency and power of the wing put the soft rig to shame. Bertarelli and crew did have a moment of hope when they hooked up in pressure underneath USA 17 to come within around 150 meters, but it was not enough to gain contact. It didn’t last long, and the black tri popped back out quickly. Would the “S” boards have helped upwind? Probably not. Would the friendly waters of RAK have helped? Nope. Would a little less breeze have helped. Hell no!
When USA 17 arrived at the top mark, Alinghi had not even tacked over on the layline. The tri unrolled the gennaker with engine power and started flying downwind. Again, BMW/Oracle steered straight and true downhill with the leeward banana board pulled up about one-third. After a long period (3:21), the Swiss cat rounded and set the gennaker. During this second and last leg, EB kept searching for power and drove the boat all over the map, losing valuable speed. It was clear A5 sailed a higher line downwind. The mainsail looked really strapped in at all times as well. Come on, no twist coming out of the gybe? There goes the thought that Alinghi is lighter and would perform better downwind.
In a last ditch effort, A5 went into a painfully slow gybe to try for left side leverage. In the maneuver, they didn’t furl the headsail and it appeared almost backwinded as the boat almost stopped. The turn and the trimming looked all wrong. It took them about 30 seconds to get powered back up. I almost felt embarrassed for them, but then I remembered they don’t give a damn about us at SA (Oh, you can bet they give a damn about us, as in "god damn SA" – Ed.), so a small smile was in order. USA covered with a quick gybe with the headsail furled up enough to clear the wing. She was back flying two hulls faster than Butterworth ran to the complimentary post-race buffet. The difference in maneuvers made me wonder if the engine, gearing or ability for the winch system to do multiple tasked at once is better for USA 17.
After all the talk about Alinghi’s possible illegal sails, I thought they’d have a stellar shape, but the gennaker freaking motorboated! If I was Larry I wouldn’t care so much anymore, because flappin aint fast. Tighten up that leech line or swap it out.
In the end, technology was the headline. So far, it looks like the Swiss missed the design boat for this AC. I hope Alinghi brushes up on their prestart skills because I don’t see much more of an option than attack and hope Spithill and company have some problems again……….
Stick around for more Layline 33rd America’s Cup On The Water Anarchy, with another Cocktail Hour tomorrow. JC.