AC34 is Oracle's to Lose
AC34 is Oracle's to Lose
The cards are stacked in Oracle's Team USA's favor, but the New Zealanders are polished. Oracle, however, starts two down, making it a long hard series.
Wake up sailors! We are going to see a unique, and most likely, one-time sailing event that I think will be an unbelievable spectacle. So far, the blown out races, breakdowns, one-boat contests, and weather delays marred the Louis Vuitton Cup. But we should all put that in the past. Beginning Saturday, September 7 this battle is going to be emotional, hard-fought, fast and exhausting. Can the tiny nation of New Zealand reclaim the America's Cup, or will business titan Larry Ellison hold on to the Cup in his home waters?
As always with the America's Cup, the stakes are high. The winner chooses the next venue, boats, format and date. The actual Deed of Gift was envisioned to be a challenge-driven event, however the defender ends up making the rules. We can be sure both New Zealand and the USA have future challengers in their hip pocket that will be pulled out just after their boat crosses the finish line when, and if, they win. The future look of the 35th Defense is certainly an open question. But, right now, we will see a lot of sailing before anyone can talk about the future.
I have been in a good position to watch both the defenders and challengers this past month aboard the race committee boat, Regardless. On the water I also use the AC LiveLine graphics and television pictures to help me with my part of the NBC commentary team along with Todd Harris and Ken Read, who are back on shore. There are a lot of interesting things to see on the water. These include subtle differences in boathandling, speed and maneuvers. I also pay attention to pre-race warm up routines. Proper tune up is important in sailing, just like every sport.
Like everyone else here in San Francisco, I am wondering who will win the match.
The truth is no one has any real clue, and that will make this regatta so much fun to watch. I am sure both boats will get their share of wins. It's easy: Just get a better start, sail faster, cover when ahead, and don't make any mistakes. Nothing to it, right? No, of course not. This will be a hard event to win. There is no doubt both teams are hungry for victory.
Emirates Team New Zealand is a well-prepared team. They have more time on the water than the other three teams here. New Zealand is a joy to watch. The crew is a choreographed unit on nearly every maneuver except during Race One of the Louis Vuitton Cup final, when NZL nosedived while rounding the windward mark. Two crew were washed over the side. It was a scary moment. New Zealand had a hydraulic failure in Race Two, and was unable to finish. Since then the Kiwis have been flawless.
New Zealand skipper, Dean Barker, will have to sail the series of his life to win. Around the waterfront he seems calm and ready. On the racecourse he faces Jimmy Spithill from Oracle Team USA. Spithill is a ruthless competitor and fearless helmsman. He will push his boat and crew to the limit around the racecourse. Historically, Spithill has finished ahead of Barker more often than not. The battle during the two-minute pre-start sequence will be epic. Both helmsmen will be well-coached on each other's tactical moves. Both crews will have to flawlessly execute their boathandling. There will be very little time to gain an advantage. The boats will have to enter the starting box precisely on time, and get their boat in a position for the final sprint to the line. The AC72s can sail one length in one second. If you are late by three seconds, you are in trouble. It will be close, and I expect frequent protests by both boats. The Umpires will have their work cut out to make the right calls. I also expect most of the protests will be waived off with green flags (no foul, keep racing). If we see lots of protests, you will know the emotions are running high.I predict in ten starts, Spithill will win five, draw two, and lose three. We will see.
In the one unofficial scrimmage between NZL and USA two weeks ago, the speeds seemed to be about even on a downwind leg. During one simultaneous jibe NZL appeared to gain more than a length. The defending team has had good in-house racing. Spithill has the advantage of sailing with the varsity crew, and is always on the newer boat. He wins many of the races, but trial horse skipper Sir Ben Ainslie has won his share, and always pushes hard. These races have helped the USA improve. New Zealand looks more polished while maneuvering than the American boats. In this area I give the Kiwis the edge. However, their advantage will diminish as the races progress. The Cup final is a best-of-17 series. Both teams will learn with each race.