Act 12, Day Seven: Emirates, BMW Tied in Semifinals, Alinghi Advances

On-site reporting from Valencia, Spain.

EmiratesReport
Chris Cameron/etnz

VALENCIA, Spain-Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker described choosing an opponent for the Semifinal Round of Louis Vuitton Act 12 as picking your poison. His prophecy was spot on. Barker-who received the right to choose his semifinals opponent after winning the round robin with a perfect 11-0 record-knew it was a loaded choice. Nevertheless, the Kiwis chose to face BMW Oracle because they believed that beating the Americans in the semis, and thus relegating them to third or fourth, would help them in the challenger rankings system for the Louis Vuitton Cup. That plan is on hold, however. Barker and his crew aboard NZL-84 dropped their first match to BMW Oracle Racing before rebounding to win the second. They'll sail a third and deciding match tomorrow, with the winner advancing to meet Alinghi in the final of the regatta. Alinghi defeated Luna Rossa 2-0, winning the first race by 15 seconds and then staging a huge comeback from OCS in the second to advance to the final. "We're starting to put together some races," said Alinghi navigator Mike Drummond. "We're a big step from where we were three weeks ago. We were mostly testing then. Now the intensity's up. We're still making mistakes, but we're starting to come around." Alinghi helmsman Peter Holmberg started the first match to the left of counterpart James Spithill, both on starboard tack. Holmberg was tight to leeward of Spithill, which forced the Italian boat to tack first. Alinghi followed suit and moments later had opened a 60-meter lead, according to race animation. Luna Rossa made inroads at various points during the race, particularly on the runs, but the scenario largely went unchanged. Alinghi led by 22 seconds at the first mark, 15 seconds at the second mark, and 23 seconds at the third mark before the final 15-second delta. "They came at us consistently downwind," said Drummond. "They're a solid team and make few mistakes." The second race was much more fretful for the Cup champions. Holmberg was deemed on the course side (OCS) at the starting signal. Although his bow was no more than three feet over the starting line, he had to restart. It was an unforced error because Holmberg was to leeward of Spithill. He just pulled the trigger too early. That gave Spithill and Luna Rossa an early advantage of 100 meters, according to race animation. "OCS is a hazard of starting," said Drummond. "You don't want to be gun shy." Alinghi scratched its way back into the match and by the first mark had whittled the deficit to between 70 and 80 meters, or 23 seconds. The Swiss team continued to claw back on the run and at the leeward mark trailed by just 13 seconds. Spithill and Luna Rossa vigorously protected the left side of the second upwind leg, and it paid early. The wind had shifted left and they extended their lead back to about 80 meters. Alinghi stayed to the right and waited for an opportunity. The team made significant gains at the top of the leg when the wind shifted back to the right, and it trailed by 21 seconds beginning the run to the finish. On the final leg Alinghi jibed to starboard and the left side of the racecourse (looking upwind), beating Luna Rossa to the maneuver. Luna Rossa defeated BMW Oracle Racing earlier this week in a very similar scenario, and today it proved the team's undoing. Halfway down the leg Alinghi had closed to within two boatlengths. Later Alinghi had its bow forward and won by 29 seconds. "Sometimes you've got to be lucky," Drummond said. "We watched that [match earlier in the week] and learned from it." BMW Oracle Racing won the first race against Team New Zealand by 33 seconds. Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker got a slightly better start and led the match early on the first leg. But BMW Oracle got to the left of Team New Zealand and gained the lead. Late on the first leg BMW Oracle skipper Chris Dickson luffed Team New Zealand and was able to gain some breathing room. They rounded with a 26-second lead that they would largely maintain en route to a 33-second win. BMW Oracle seemed on its way to closing out Team New Zealand halfway through the second race. Dickson led Barker by 9 seconds at the leeward mark rounding, but Team New Zealand got to the right up the second beat. A slight windshift and better boatspeed allowed Barker to attack and halfway up the leg he had pulled ahead. Barker relentlessly attacked on starboard, forcing Dickson out to the port layline where his options were shut down. Barker led by 28 seconds beginning the run to the finish and would win by 1 minute, 9 seconds. Elsewhere in the fleet, Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia advanced to the final for fifth and sixth by crushing Sweden's Victory Challenge. Mascalzone's starting helmsman Jes Gram-Hansen won the day for the team, giving it a huge advantage in each pre-start before handing off to helmsman Flavio Favini. In the first race Gram-Hansen left Victory's Magnus Holmberg dead in the water outside the committee boat end for a 25-second lead. The Italian team would win the race by 15 seconds. In the second race Gram-Hansen forced Holmberg into an OCS that translated to a 14-second advantage for the Italians. They would win the race by 47 seconds and the match 2-0. "It was a very good day for Mascalzone," said Gram-Hansen. "I probably sailed more freely today than earlier in the regatta. If you get it right things just fall into your pocket." Gram-Hansen credited afterguard mates Rasmus Kostner and Nacho Postigo for help in the pre-start, and also his coach, John Bøge, who arrived in Valencia earlier this week. "He's been my coach for quite awhile," said Gram-Hansen. "He's a dinghy sailor. It's nice to have someone you can talk to freely." Desafio Español and Team Shosholoza are tied 1-1, with the winner of the next match advancing to race Mascalzone Latino. Team Shosholoza won the first race by 4 seconds when it rolled over the top of the Spanish team within 250 meters of the finish. The South Africans also led up the first leg of the second race. They tacked to port and were on a lift with pressure and crossed to the right side. Normally such a move would give control to the leader, but anything can happen in Valencia, and this time the Spaniards reclaimed the lead. Desafio Español went on to win by 35 seconds. "It's so shifty out there," said Shosholoza tactician Dee Smith. "You go out and play a boat race, hit the shifts and get launched. Then you switch to match-racing mode and because it's so shifty, if you don't do it in phase you lose." In the third division, France's Areva Challenge will race Italy's +39 Challenge for ninth and 10th. Areva defeated China Team 2-0, the same score by which +39 Challenge defeated United Internet Team Germany. Results from Day 7 (The left-hand boat entered the starting box from the pin end, the right-hand boat from the boat end.) Semifinals Division 1 Match A-1 Emirates Team New Zealand lost to BMW ORACLE by 0:33 Match A-2 BMW ORACLE lost to Emirates Team New Zealand by 1:09 Match B-1 Luna Rossa lost to Alinghi by 0:15 Match B-2 Alingi def. Luna Rossa by 0:29 Semifinals Division 2 Match C-1 Team Shosholoza def. Desafio Español by 0:04 Match C-2 Desafio Español def. Team Shosholoza by 0:35 Match D-1 Victory Challenge lost to Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia by 0:15 Match D-2 Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia def. Victory Challenge by 0:47 Semifinals Division 3 Match E-1 Areva def. China Team by 0:58 Match E-2 China Team lost to Areva by 1:30 Match F-1 +39 Challenge def. United Internet Team Germany by 0:39 Match F-2 United Internet Team Germany lost to +39 Challenge by 1:16