10 July 2007

Fourth and Final America's Cup Commentary by Ricky of California

Dear ZEN’ers,
we have for you, somewhat after the fact, the second of a series of posts from a friend (if I may), a man I’ve corresponded with through our passion for Truth, and the Floyd Landis case of unproven Tour de France doping, which you can trace through these posts (one, two, three, more).

Ricky hails from the USA, and loves sailing as much as we both love cycling.
Ricky has permitted me to archive some posts, which he began providing to answer questions from some of us land-lubbers!

They are impressively well-written, I’ve slightly reformatted and edited them for precision. I believe this first post covers the third regatta.

Take it away, Ricky from California!:

Another AC is in the books, although no one could have predicted what a wild race the last one would be. If you didn't watch it you missed a race that will go down in history as the wildest, most unpredictable and craziest race in cup history. The impact of race 7 of the 2007 AC cannot be overstated. Here's a brief summary:

NZed is in a do or die position: if they win today they still have a chance, if Alinghi wins, the party begins.

The entire crew of NZed is nervous, twitchy and jumpy. Even his mirrored shades can't hide the nervousness on Terry's face as they boats enter the starting box.

Brad, not to be outdone, sports his own pair of mirrors and stares across the water as the two boats converge. Neither wants to incur a penalty in the starting box so the pre-start maneuvers are careful.

The gun goes and NZ leads them out of the box by inches. Both boats drag race out toward the right side of the chessboard, where Alinghi attacks. NZ, ahead by a few meters, lee-bows the Swiss and the tacking duel ensues. Every time the boats converge Alinghi is a few inches closer.

Terry eventually breaks off the duel and hightails it toward the port layline and Alinghi is forced to tack under them. Until now Ed and Brad have been pretty civil toward the Kiwis, but now the gloves come off and Ed suddenly luffs his boat head-to-wind, forcing the Kiwis to turn hard to avoid hitting the Swiss boat, and killing their forward momentum.

Ed bears off and the result is another five or six meters gain for Alinghi. The Kiwis bear off and begin to accelerate toward the mark and Ed throws another sucker punch at them, forcing them to swerve once again to avoid contact. This time the Kiwis have a hard time getting back up to speed and Alinghi rounds the weather mark half a boatlength in front.

Then Brad suffers another stupendous brain-fade as he allows the Kiwis to get on top of their wind and roll past them. Ernesto (Bertarelli, the billionaire owner of Alinghi) manages to maintain his cool, but clearly, things are tense on the Swiss boat.

In the overall scheme of things it is rare that one boat passes another in AC racing. Usually the boat that get the first jump on the other wins, and while they are beautiful to watch, AC match races are usually fairly un-thrilling to anyone but die-hard sailboat racing fans.

That was not the case today. The TV announcers were hoarse and all but spent as NZed rounded the leeward mark well in front of the Swiss.

As the boats settled into another drag race out to the right side, Alinghi slowly chipped away at NZ's lead until, unbelievably, they had caught the Kiwis once again just this side of the weather mark.

Deano, still shaken from the bare fisted thrashing he got the last time they were here, tried to avoid the same scenario and land a punch of his own, bearing off hard as he tacked toward the mark, but Ed, not to be intimidated, held his course and forced the Kiwis to swerve yet again to avoid a collision.

This time the Ernesto and the boys cried 'foul' and the umpires ruled in their favor, handing the Kiwis a penalty. A penalty means that the offending boat must do a turn, we call it a ‘360’ in sailing parlance (for AC racing it's a modified 360), before they finish the race. The Swiss relaxed and began congratulating themselves on wining the 32nd America’s Cup. For all intents and purposes, there's no way the Kiwis could catch up and pass them, then gain enough time to perform their 360 and finish ahead of them.

So the Swiss sail along as if it's Sunday and they're about to get out the beer n sandwiches.

Brad, being Brad, lets the Kiwis jibe away and sail off toward what he thinks is oblivion while he ponders the mega-offers he's already gotten from Ernesto and his old pal, Russell Coutts. The boys are so busy thinking about the post race festivities, they don't notice the change in the weather.

All of a sudden the chute's collapsed and “WHAT THE FUUU...THE BLOODY KIWIS ARE STILL RACING!!!”

In a matter of seconds, it seems, the wind has shifted a good 150 degrees, and the peripatetic Terry Hutchinson not only saw it coming, but maneuvered his boat to take full advantage of it, hoisting the jib and rolling down toward the finish, gaining precious seconds on the frantic Swiss who, in their haste, muff the spinnaker douse and stumble around trying to get a jib up.

Meanwhile on the Kiwi boat, spirits are lifting. Three minutes ago, the weight of losing the race, the regatta and the Cup was weighing on everyone from Terry and Deano, to the sewerman, who toils in solitude down inside the boat, organizing sails and lines in the black confines of the hot, narrow, noisy carbon fiber cave he calls home while the boat is racing. He hears the excited shouts of the crew above and sneaks a peek out the forward hatch.

Holy mother of yacht racing, he thinks, the Swiss can't get their jib up in time. "My god", he shouts in amazement, "we're f'ing passing the bloody bastards!!"

The Swiss finally find the gas pedal and Alinghi starts to move forward again. But in the new wind, just a light breeze, they accelerate ever so slowly while ZN, romping in better winds to their right is rambling down to the finish line.

Christ, what a race!!

Terry and Barker have to time their penalty turn perfectly if they want to win, but god, if they do, it'll be the greatest comeback in sailing history. Nervously they watch and listen as the navigator counts down the distance to the finish line. Patience, patience.

Terry squints through his mirrors and says tightly to the crew, "Boys, we can do this." And he outlines his plan.

They all listen intently, sweating, focused on what may be the very last maneuver of their Americas Cup careers. "Now!" shouts Terry, and Deano spins the wheel. Men jump to their posts, sails flap as the boat turns head to wind and slows almost to a halt.

Alinghi, in the distance is rolling now, sweat also on the brows of her own nervous crew. Can they just finish this now, or will they have to sail another tension filled race tomorrow??

Slowly, the Kiwi boat bears off and Barker points the bow toward the finish line. They're still ahead but time is running out, can they accelerate enough to cross the line ahead of Alinghi? The seconds tick by as twenty five tons of carbon and kevlar begins to move in the light wind. They're coming on fast, but Alinghi's faster, the meters turn to inches and suddenly Alinghi's bow moves forward of the Kiwi boat just before they reach the line.

The Swiss win, but by the narrowest of margins, their bow crossing the line not more than two feet ahead of NZ.

The billionaire smiles, elated at his victory, but it's bittersweet because he knows that this crew, that worked so hard for the last four years to win this regatta, will be gutted tomorrow. The best of his crew has already been claimed by the man who stood in the shadows of this regatta, but who also cast his shadow on it. Russell will have his team back, and Ernesto will have to find a different way, somehow, to fend off the world's best in the next AC.

(This is PART FOUR, of FOUR America's Cup posts, featuring commentary by Ricky of California: click here for Part ONE, Part TWO, Part THREE)

Thanks Ricky - Premier Guest Commentator at ZENcentral!

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