Brian Hancock breaks down the AC so far and manages not to piss anyone off!
With four days of racing down in the America’s Cup there are some patterns emerging. First off it’s clear, to me anyway, that Oracle Team USA are going to be extremely difficult to beat. Of the six teams in Bermuda Jimmy Spithill and his merry band of men have dominated in all areas from boat speed to boat handling as well as picking the right side of the course on most occasions. True they suffered a humiliating loss against Artemis Racing who earlier in the day had suffered their own humiliating loss against the French on Groupama, but overall Oracle Team USA seems to be cleaning up on the Great Sound.
The second and perhaps more interesting thing to emerge is how slow the Brits are. I think most people will admit that they were thinking that it would be the French who would be packing up their boat and bags this week and heading home as the first to be eliminated, but it may very well be the Brits. Sir Ben and his team have been less than stellar and I am not sure why. The real AC pundits will probably know better than me but it looks like they have a boat speed problem and we all know that a little bit of extra boat speed can make you look like a tactical genius.
By the same token less boat speed can make you look like a tactical nitwit and Ainsley, the most decorated Olympic sailor in history, is no nitwit but even he admits that they are struggling to find their groove. It must have hurt bigly when the French came from a real deficit to pass them and go on to win the first race on Monday. Ben Ainsley did confirm that “there had been some pretty frank conversations later that day” and it might have helped. Land Rover BAR managed a decisive win over Artemis racing on day four and let’s not forget that Land Rover BAR have those two extra points going into this series from their win on the world circuit last year.
As far as picking out who the likely challenger might be, it’s not that easy. I am a fan of Dean Barker and feel that he was robbed of the last America’s Cup but he and his Japanese team have been consistently inconsistent. They did put the French away in the last race on Monday and yes they did provoke the most exciting few seconds of racing so far when they crash banged Sir Ben before the start of the last race on Saturday, but they don’t seem polished enough to be the Challenger. I had my money on the Swedes on Artemis as the likely challenger but they too do not look that slick so from where it stands right now I think I am going to move my money from Artemis to Emirates Team New Zealand. Their skipper Peter Burling seems to have ice in his veins. Is there nothing that rattles this guy?
On day 4 they face-plant in spectacular style allowing Artemis Racing to extend a decent lead, but their skipper acted as if nothing had happened and very quickly clawed back the lost distance. Then on Leg 4 in one of the most dramatic moments of the racing so far there was a port starboard incident. ETNZ on starboard, both boats closing at a combined speed of over 50 knots when Artemis decided they could clear ahead of the starboard tack boat. They couldn’t, they were penalized and ETNZ took another win. While all of this looks good on paper for the Kiwi’s we need to remember that ETNZ and Oracle went head to head on Saturday and the American’s dominated.
There is still a lot of racing to go and one thing is for sure, all teams are still learning how to sail their boats and they are all improving each week. After this first Round Robin the Americans will no longer be competing in the Louis Vuitton Series. They will go off and play in their own sand box and one of the challengers will go home leaving just four boats in the second Round Robin. My question is this. Will the US team still be able to maintain a steep learning curve with no one to compete against?  I think not. They may plateau while the others continue to improve, honing their skills in very real hand to hand (well boat to boat) combat. Time will tell I guess and I do know one thing, it’s going to be very exciting to watch how this all plays out.
One last point, and I don’t mean to gripe, but can we all just admit that there were no huge crowds there watching the racing. There is no need to pan to the stadium to see the same few people waving and spilling their drinks. There will not be huge crowds for a couple of reasons. Bermuda is a tiny island. It cannot accommodate that many people and besides the racing is best watched on television. Bermuda was chosen for it’s turquoise water and beautiful scenery and I for one really loved the television coverage even more so because of the turquoise water and beautiful scenery say nothing of the amazing racing and incredible flying sailboats.
Brian Hancock.