In the bag
Wednesday June 6th 2007, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selectedFor more photos - click here
Dean Barker and his team on board Emirates Team New Zealand scored their fifth consecutive race to take the final of the Louis Vuitton Cup against James Spithill's Italian team Luna Rossa by an emphatic 5-0. In a series that most people thought would go to the wire, the Kiwis perpetually looked dominant and while they didn't win every start they led at every mark rounding, making Luna Rossa, who had only recently dispatched BMW Oracle Racing 5-1, look decidedly average in the process.
After three heavily one sided matches, fortunately today's final match was finally a race. One of the reasons, aside from perhaps making better weather calls, was some small technical changes to the boat. Today Luna Rossa sailed with a light weather mainsail with a large flat top and it is believed they may have changed rudder too. Torben Grael later would neither confirm nor deny. Racing was delayed briefly to give the wind time to settle and the start was held in 9-10 knots initially from the ESE, but veering southeast and dropping fractionally over the course of the race.
At the outset the right seem favoured and with Emirates Team New Zealand coming in from the left the two boats went into a dial-up just back from the line. Once the boats had lost way, the Kiwis were the first to sheet on, backing their jib and expertly performing the 'steel balls' move, bearing away on port tack inside the Italian team. With no steerage Spithill was unable to react to counter this and the Kiwis managed to get away with this risky manoeuvre speeding away into the box to take the right. However they gybed around and were passed by Luna Rossa and on the run back towards it was they who set up to weather. Once again Spithill bore away hard towards the Kiwis seconds before the start, but was unable to get any contact, both boats starting at speed on starboard with the Kiwis close to leeward.
Luna Rossa got off the line a nose ahead and almost immediately tacked off to the right. On the drag race out to the right Luna Rossa slowly pulled ahead but it was never quite enough to get the necessary leverage on the Kiwis.
"We didn’t want to be on port tack any sooner than two minutes off the line," explained Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Terry Hutchinson later. "So if we started in the position we started in we needed to get rid of them in the first two minutes because we thought the bottom right hand side next to the spectator fleet was going to be light. We sailed upwind there a couple of times there on port and kept checking and it just didn’t feel right. We knew the breeze was going to go right and that the right side was going to be strong, so it was simply a matter of how you were going to get there. Potentially if the spectator fleet is not there we are fighting that much harder for the weather end and if we are going off the line on port. But it is a little bit of the subtly of the start. We had a nice wrap-up and got our bow out pretty quickly so he was only going to live there for 30 or 40 seconds, but once they tacked it was 15-20 seconds of leverage, pick a nice spot of pressure and tack. Interestingly enough, three quarters of the way out on that port tack he looked pretty strong for about 45 seconds and he missed his opportunity to come back at us. And from that moment on I knew we were going to be close enough to be bow out and get a reasonable leebow to stick. These boats are so sensitive to all the little subtlies and if you can’t put your bow down and press and build speed when you want to then the other guy is going to impact you."
On the second tack just inside the starboard layline, the Kiwis benefitted from a shift and slowly pulled ahead. From here they shovelled Luna Rossa off out some way beyond the starboard layline (as they did yesterday) from where, after they'd tacked, they were able to lead the Italian team into the weather mark rounding 20 seconds ahead.
"It was close, really close," continued Hutchinson of how they had moved ahead. "We could have made it a little easier on ourselves by tacking a quarter of a length sooner, but at that point its Dean call and he goes to leeward and takes a look and we all encouraged him to go as close as he felt comfortable that he could tack and still have our bow out on starboard. But the interesting thing was that there were a couple of swells and rolling waves and they surged – one time I looked up and I thought ‘ohh, we’re potentially going to have a bit on here’. And we got the same surge and we screwed it out and off we went and so I took a pretty deep breath once we got rid of them and we just picked a nice spot to tack back on port and get them out beyond the layline."
After both boats had set off down the run on port, Luna Rossa pulled a superb dummy gybe that sent the Kiwis scuttling off to the left of the course (looking upwind), eventually setting up 600m away from the Luna Rossa. Here Luna Rossa once again gained every time she took a hitch out to the right, but the Kiwis also made gains and come the leeward gate rounding the delta remained the same as it had at the top mark.
The Kiwis rounded the RH gate mark and headed off to the right. Luna Rossa followed round the same mark, immediately tacking. The Kiwis followed. Realising it was high time to instigate some different strategy, Luna Rossa tacked back at the Kiwis instigating a tacking duel. Once again Luna Rossa seemed to be eating into Emirates Team New Zealand's lead this time with every tack. But despite getting within a boatlength and benefitting from a final lift into the mark, it still wasn't enough and the Kiwis managed to maintain control.
After a third 20 second delta at the top mark, Luna Rossa tried to mix it up on the final run gybing away early. Again this strategy seemed to work with the Italian team eating into the Kiwi lead. Oddly the Kiwis didn't cover as they have done in past races allowing for some nerve wracking close calls. At one point as the two boats converged Spithill heated up ITA 94 and looked like he might roll past the Kiwis, but Barker and his afterguard were smart enough not to respond by coming up and went on to cross the finish line 22 seconds ahead.
So why we Luna Rossa allowed so much separation? "The separation was just going breeze behind," explained Terry Hutchinson afterwards. "The separation was the minimum amount of leverage we could get to go breeze behind which in those conditions because your apparent wind is so far forwards, you go two minutes and you get breeze behind. Again we sailed from a tactical perspective a starboard advantage - make them sail around you on the left hand side and gybe in good pressure lanes for us. And it was tricky. I know I am going to get brutalised by coach, because we should have just matched them out of the top and just be done with it. But you’ve got the guy breathing down your neck so you are always balancing between that and just making a nice gain and unfortunately the nice gain wasn’t really there for us that time – but it was enough.
Thus Emirates Team New Zealand go 5-0 up, the first occasion this has ever happened in a Louis Vuitton Cup final. They are the winners of the Louis Vuitton Cup - presented to the Kiwi team in its entirity in great pomp and circumstance outside the Veles et Ventes after some 'looping' skydivers had landed to deliver it. They also get to race Alinghi in the America's Cup on 23 June. This will of course be a rematch between the two teams albeit in reversed roles. More contemplation this subject in due course.
"I’m just ramped," commented Barker clutching the silver trophy. "I can’t say enough about the guys on the boat - the whole team. It’s been a very tough journey. The Round Robins didn’t start well obviously and the way the team has bounced back and grown as we have gone through. The Semi Final was great and I think on reflection we will look back and say that racing Desafio and dropping those two races to them has actually made us a much much stronger team and much better for it. I don’t think anyone on the team ever dreamed or believed that we would be able to get through the Louis Vuitton Cup Final against a team like Luna Rossa in the way we did – the scoreline was flattering but I don’t feel it was the way it was. We never ever felt it was a comfortable series. It was always very tight and I think the first and last races showed exactly the type of racing we were gearing up for.”
|W1||Emirates Team NZ||
|L1||Emirates Team NZ||
|W2||Emirates Team NZ||
|Finish||Emirates Team NZ||
|Luna Rossa Challenge||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Emirates Team New Zealand||1||1||1||1||1||5|