From fleet race to match race

In Marseilles, the Louis Vuitton Act 1 continues with the start of the boat-on-boat racing reports Anne Hinton

Thursday September 9th 2004, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: France
The first day of match racing in Act One of the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup again saw southeasterly winds in Marseille, France. This time conditions were somewhat lighter than for the fleet racing, with 8 to 14 knots the norm, accompanied by the seemingly unending warmth and sunshine of the Mediterranean resort: perfect conditions for match racing.

One round robin between all of the six boats is to be held, with 6 points awarded to the winner of each match and 0 to the loser - making potentially huge differences to the overall scores. As usual with match racing, two windward-leeward legs form the race. For the first time the America’s Cup class has introduced a gate at the leeward end of the course, giving the competitors a choice of which buoy to round. In a difference from the fleet racing of the last few days, the top marks are rounded to starboard.

Perhaps surprisingly for this level of sailing, it was a day when the boat that won the start, won the first cross and got to the top mark first did not necessarily win the match.
Murray Jones of Alinghi pointed out that “people gave away races. They lost races rather than the other boat won them. The boats that were in front should have really stayed in front, but they made big mistakes and that’s why the lead changed. It wasn’t because the conditions were particularly tricky.”

The first match offered Shosholoza of South Africa against K-Challenge of France. The South Africans continued to impress, leaving their opponents stalled head-to-wind in the start box to sail off across the start line 42 seconds in front of their opposition. Skipper/helmsman Geoff Meek has done some match racing in the past, including the now defunct Lymington Cup, but Meek said that having Britain’s Andy Green aboard as tactician helped the re-learning process for this type of sailing. Regrettably for the South African team, a poor kite drop at the leeward gate let their opponents through to win the match. Commenting on the first race against K-Challenge, Meek said, of Shosholoza’s performance, “We were ahead for half the race, but we’re slower, so we can’t be unhappy.”

“The best thing about it is that we are right in there”, said tactician, Andy Green. “I think there’s a little bit of disappointment around [after today’s results] and I think that’s a very, very positive thing. We’ve shown that we can be in there in the fleet racing. We did good work in the start.” Green is just sailing with the team for this year’s Acts in Marseille and Valencia.

The second match of flight one was definitely “match of the day” with BMW Oracle Racing pitted against Emirates Team New Zealand. It was noticeable in the pre-start that BMW Oracle Racing was keeping the momentum up, but, with a split-end decision on starting, with Emirates Team New Zealand going right by the committee boat and crossing the line just two seconds ahead of her opponent, things were still pretty even. Being on the right side paid off for the Kiwis and, although both boats occupied the left hand side of the course, Emirates Team New Zealand continued to defend the right hand advantage with a series of tacks and counter tacks, to have a 19 second lead at the top mark.

Downwind, however, things changed. “Up until today I’ve been acceptant of ‘we’ve just arrived’, but today we had that one cold and there’s no way we should have lost that and I wasn’t happy about that. We were three lengths in front and we should have gybed with them on the run coming down and just covered that side of the course and we didn’t. The boys were calling more pressure on the left downwind, and there wasn’t. They are quicker than us downwind”, said Grant Dalton. BMW Oracle Racing is clearly the fastest boat present downwind, with low drag appendages.

“Pleased with how the boat went, how the team went, crew work especially”, said Chris Dickson. “We had a good day. We had some tough races. We had to come from behind against Team New Zealand. The come-from-behind races are always the toughest ones.
We’ve never raced Team New Zealand in our life before. We get to race Alinghi in a match race this week also. Le Defi did a fantastic job. Our boys had their work cut out to come from behind again.” Bertrand Pace was helming against the French team in the second race. In the first race, Gavin Brady was driving against the Kiwis.

Amazingly the last boat from the fleet racing was leading the first boat at the top mark first time around, when BMW Oracle Racing sailed against Le Defi, showing that in match racing they are more of a force to be reckoned with. Explaining how BMW Oracle Racing got past Le Defi, to take the win in the second flight, bowman Jean Marie Dauris said, “We chose to take the right marker on the downwind leg. They went to the other one. They were a bit faster [downwind]. There was just a bit of right pressure on the second beat. After that we had a small problem with the ratchet on the sheet. Then we had a problem with the spinnaker”, he said. Déjà vu for Le Defi.

“We were pretty happy with our pre-starts – we had control and got what we wanted”, said Murray Jones of Alinghi. Alinghi had two comfortable wins, certainly the easiest victories of the day, against Le Defi and K-Challenge, but has yet to sail against her two main rivals here.

The net result was that both Alinghi (comfortably) and BMW Oracle Racing (after coming from behind on both occasions) took two wins out of two starts, Emirates Team New Zealand and K-Challenge had one win apiece and Team Shosholoza and Le Defi took two defeats.

Looking at some of the changes to the boats, it appears that BMW Oracle Racing has made some changes to their appendages since the last Cup, although Chris Dickson would only say “we’ve looked at all areas”. It is possible that they also have a new bulb, although that is less easy to determine.

For Emirates Team New Zealand, sked if they would take the hula out to update the existing boats to version 5 for racing next year, Dalton said “We’ll have to if we sail this boat, but we wouldn’t bring this boat back anyway, we’d bring 81 because it’s gone together a lot better with the new deck. [NZL 81 also has a hula at present.] It’s a lot lighter [i.e. NZL 81]. This one, when the deck went on it didn’t go on that well and it cost us a bit more weight than it needed to. [This means that weight had to be taken out of the bulb in compensation, reducing stability.] We’ll either bring 81 in its version 5 form or 68 [to the events next year]”, he confirmed. Emirates Team New Zealand will just bring their boats up to Europe each year, but remain based in New Zealand until the Louis Vuitton Cup starts in 2006.

Another two flights of match racing are planned for each of the next two days, weather permitting. The first Act, in Marseille, concludes on Saturday.

Results today

Flt One
K-Challenge beat Shosholoza (1:06)
BMW Oracle Racing beat Emirates Team New Zealand (0:42)
Alinghi beat Le Defi (3:28)

Flt Two
Emirates Team New Zealand beat Shosholoza (2:59)
Alinghi beat K-Challenge (1:01)
BMW Oracle Racing beat Le Defi (1:55)

Overall Results to date
1. BMW Oracle Racing, 34pts
2. Alinghi, 32 pts
3. Emirates Team New Zealand, 24 pts
4. K-Challenge, 17 pts
5. Shosholoza, 8pts
6. Le Defi, 5 pts

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