Minefield off Malmo

BMW Oracle takes the lead after one race is completed at the opening of Act 7 of the America's Cup

Saturday September 3rd 2005, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: Scandinavia
Light winds and a gloomy Friday afternoon made for slow progress for the 12 yachts competing in the first fleet races of the 32nd America's Cup Act 7 fleet racing. The first race saw a tense finish as BMW Oracle Racing scrapped through within the time limit for the final leg while Alinghi wasn’t so lucky in the second race.

Light, shifty conditions, with streaks of wind interspersed with very light patches saw a race course that must have appeared more like a minefield to the tacticians and strategists. Racing started in eight knots of wind, but the breeze dropped to near nothing over the course of the first race.

The final leg of that first contest became a race against the clock for the leaders, BMW Oracle Racing, who had to beat the leg time limit of 40-minutes to make the race stand. According to Principal Race Officer Peter Reggio, the Race Committee was timing the boats from the offset mark and the American team just squeezed in ahead of the rapidly expiring time limit.

For the start of the second contest, the wind was up again, with the fleet starting in close to seven knots of wind. But as with the first race, the breeze eased off over the course of the match, with the leading boat, Alinghi, feeling the sense of urgency that engulfed the American team in the first race. The Swiss weren’t so fortunate however as time expired with Alinghi adrift, less than 200 metres from the finishing line.

Fleet Race One

It may have been a light air race, but the huge changes in fortune up and down the race course made for compelling viewing.

After a perfect start for the fleet in seven knots breeze, the oscillating win made for regular place changes, the lead going first to Emirates Team New Zealand on the right, then to +39 on the left. At the windward mark, Luna Rossa tacked in from the left to take the lead, just inches ahead of Alinghi. These two played a game of cat and mouse down the first run, but ignored +39 who came into the leeward gate at a hotter angle and seized the lead.

+39 maintained that lead out to the left of the course for some time, until Emirates Team New Zealand found more wind further to the right. Desafío Español also gained from this right-hand shift, and the race for the lead was now nip and tuck between four teams - Luna Rossa, Spain, New Zealand and +39. These four rounded the final windward mark in close formation, while Alinghi had dropped off the back of the pack.

Meanwhile, BMW Oracle had held sixth place for most of the race and had never been in touch with the front pack. Over half a kilometre behind at the final rounding, Chris Dickson’s crew had little to lose by trying an alternative route down the last run, and they held on to starboard gybe while the leaders had gybed off to port. By this stage the breeze had died to virtually nothing, but the Americans found the slightest sniff of wind to draw level with the Spanish, who were still leading the original gang of four.

A bad gybe and hour glass spinnaker by the Spanish allowed BMW Oracle to sneak away, but the new enemy became the time limit, with the Americans looking nervously at their watches as time was ticking down. With a maximum time limit of 40 minutes on any single leg of the course, the American boat crossed so close to the limit - a matter of seconds - that many spectators were unsure whether they had won or not. There were no celebrations aboard BMW Oracle, just relief after a tense two hours. Behind them, fortunes had altered dramatically, with Alinghi rescuing a second place while former leaders +39 plummeted to 9th across the line. It was a memorable race, but one that the Swedish will choose to forget, with Victory Challenge trickling across the line in last place.

At the time of BMW Oracle's finish many though that they had finish outside of the time limit. "The first race rubbed me the wrong way because I suspected that Oracle was within seconds of not making the finish," said Emirates Team New Zealand's Terry Hutchinson. "Based on our computer we figured they were a boatlength shy of making the finish, so when we saw a placard go up on the back of the race committee boat showing the cancellation and we heard the first horn and then we saw the placard come down, and I was thinking that was kind of odd.

"The race committee is good enough that they - Luigi and his guys are right on top of it. When we got to the finish I asked Harold about it and they said we were just getting the placard into position just in case. Those guys are as professional about what they are doing as we are about they are doing.

Later PRO Peter Reggio explained why the confusion had arisen. "The time limit is 40 minutes on the leg of a course, when the boat passes the line through the two buoys down in the prior leg, in this instant the weather mark to the offset, as defined in the Notice of Race. When they go across to the windward mark and turn, as they turn the bow is going through that line. The numbers that were given out to the Virtual reality people were the times from the weather mark and the times should have been from the offset."

In the event BMW Oracle were 19 seconds within the time limit, while if this had been measured from the weather mark they would have been 21 seconds outside it.

"Request for clarification has been filed by K Challenge and Victory Challenge which will be heard tomorrow night relative to interpreting the time limit of 40 minutes. There is no time limit end. They are trying to get an interpretation about how that time limit is applied, only to the first boat or all boats," said Reggio.

Fleet Race Two

This race appeared to belong to Alinghi who started with good pace near the middle of the starting line. The Swiss, led by Jochen Schuemann, were able to use that fabled Alinghi boat speed to just poke their nose forward of the rest of the fleet, and used the clear air they earned to extend away from the fleet. Alinghi dominated this race, with Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa, Desafío Español, and Shosholoza all exchanging the next four places amongst each other.

However the Swiss couldn’t beat the 40 minute time limit for the final leg, as Peter Reggio was obliged to abandon the race with Alinghi within several boatlengths of the line. Both the Spanish and South African teams will be encouraged by the day, despite the abandonment. Both teams punched above their weight on the day, finding themselves among the leaders in both contests.

Racing is scheduled to resume on Saturday beginning at 12:10. The forecast is for 5-10 knots tomorrow and less wind than today for Sunday.

Another feature of today's racing was the use of Bruno Trouble's large inflatable weather mark, that is like a giant paddling pool, allowing people to stand within it. Trouble was on board today sporting a pirates hat.

"It is hard to concentrate going round the weather mark when you see Bruno with a pirates’ hat on," said Terry Hutchinson. "From a media perspective, the best thing going on with all these Acts is that they are thinking outside of the box."

As to the criticism that has been raging recently over the America's Cup Hutchinson added: "Personally I think it is people who don’t know what they are talking about. One of the comments came from a guy who was an editor of Cruising World magazine. He needs to stick to what he is doing well which is a cruising magazine. Anyone who criticizes this and doesn’t see the bigger picture for what it does to sailing is just narrow minded and naïve. I would have anyone who doesn’t think that this thing is the best thing going for sailing should come and check it.

"I have to believe that if you are a sponsor you are really happy with all the exposure you are getting and reading all the stuff about how the event is taking a little bit of a pounding - it couldn’t be further from the truth. If there is anything the America’s Cup in Europe is going to be stronger and better than it has ever been and that is a testament to ACM and Bruno and to all the people who have thought outside the box to make this thing as good as it could be."

Malmö-Skåne Louis Vuitton Act 7 Results

Team Race # 1/pts
BMW ORACLE Racing 1/12
Alinghi 2/11
Desafío Español 2007 3/10
Emirates Team New Zealand 4/9
United Internet Team Germany 5/8
Luna Rossa 6/7
Team Shosholoza 7/6
Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team 8/5
+39 Challenge 9/4
K-Challenge 10/3
China Team 11/2
Victory Challenge 12/1

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