Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Americas Cup: The Plot Thickens

Just when we thought the Kiwis owned this regatta, the Yanks stepped up. As I mentioned previously, team Oracle is still on the steep part of the learning curve. They apparently took a giant stride forward over the last few days and the race results show it. Of course they still have a very steep hill to climb if they want to keep the Cup, but they are definitely improving their boatspeed, tactics and boat handling.

In race 8 team Oracle showed improved upwind boatspeed, but more important than that, they tacked much more efficiently than before. In previous races Oracle lost out to the Kiwis on nearly every tack but this time they held onto them on leg three. Near the top of that leg ETNZ, on port tack could not cross the starboard tack Oracle and attempted to tack under them, nearly capsizing in  the process. This rare boathandling mistake cost them the race and came near taking them out of the regatta altogether. No one knows if they would have won this race if not for the blown tack but the key point of this race is that Oracle managed to up their game and breathe some life into their chances.

With the next race canceled due to high winds, both teams retired to their respective corners, one to review what went wrong, the other to continue their climb up the learning curve. When race 9 got underway the next day, the Yanks showed that 8 was not a fluke. They won the start and led ETNZ at every mark.

Race 10 was a spectacular display of yacht racing. The American boat won the start but couldn't quite slam the door on the Kiwis at mark one and trailed on the run. It was on the next beat that we were treated to a tacking duel that no one prior to the event would have predicted. It was an awesome spectacle of high speed sailing, split second timing and superb boathandling. Rounding opposite marks at the windward gate the two boats split to opposite sides of the course and jibed back toward each other with ETNZ on starboard. This was a situation that has never happened before, two boats hurtling down the course at 40 knots, approaching each other on a collision course. Oracle opted to slow down and take the stern of the Kiwi boat. At this speed, the result was a 200 meter advantage for ETNZ and that was all they needed to take the race. Was the slowdown the right choice? I think that, given the situation, it was probably a better option than gybing on top of the Kiwis and getting pinned outside at the leeward mark. The question is how far ahead does the tactician have to think in order to make this the right decision. At 40 knots, the Kiwis were a long way off thirty seconds before the cross, but that's about when the decision to take their stern needed to be executed. This is sailing on a whole new level, the ultimate high speed chess game where the stakes include putting the lives of the crew on the line. Intense!

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