Act 12 Day Two: Parity Fading in Early Racing

On-site reporting from Valencia, Spain.

Act12Day2: Emirates leads Mascalzone
Chris Cameron/etnz

VALENCIA, Spain-There's an unsettling atmosphere enveloping the America's Cup arena, one which doesn't bode well for next year's Louis Vuitton Cup. It's one of uninteresting racing. Call it boring or irrelevant if you want, but we're not trying to slam it. It's just that the chasm between the strong teams and the weak teams is becoming wider than the Grand Canyon, and the weak teams are losing any hope of catching up. Today marked the official one year countdown to the 32nd America's Cup. T-365 and all's not well along the watchtower. No reason to get excited The thief he kindly spoke There are many here among us Who feel that life is but a joke But you and I we've been through that And this is not our fate So let us not talk falsely now The hour's getting late, Hey During last month's Acts 10 and 11 it appeared the fleet was tightening up. The number of matches decided by less than 30 seconds nearly doubled compared to Act 4 in June 2005, and the number of blowouts, those with a delta of more than 3 minutes, was halved. The sailors reasoned that happening several different ways. There were the new boats for the top three challengers, which hadn't been shaken down yet. There was the light wind, which evens the playing field because it takes away the speed differences. Then there was credit thrown to the lesser teams for raising their game over the winter. The Louis Vuitton Cup will officially begin next April, but it's hard to believe one of the lesser teams will rise up and thwart the top challengers. You can pretty much punch tickets to the Semifinal Round for BMW Oracle Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Challenge. They're the owners of the biggest budgets, unlimited resources and (by New Year's Day 2007) two boats. They have excellent crews that are well-trained and well-oiled. They can get themselves out of any pickle and stand a chance of coming back. That leaves one semifinal spot for the also-ran that rises up to the challenge. Here is where you'll get the most bang for the buck racing-wise. The contestants seem to be Desafio Espanol, Victory Challenge and Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia. On the fringe are Team Shosholoza and France's Areva Challenge. It seems unlikely that United Internet Team Germany, +39 Challenge or China Team will make it. Team Germany has enough funding to play the game, but their new boat, while finished, won't be launched until later this summer. And they seem to have crew troubles. The afterguard, consisting of Danish skipper Jesper Bank and his old Soling mates, drop into Danish in close quarter situations, which is unsettling to the German crewmembers. Italy's +39 Challenge is woefully underfunded, and China Team has admitted that this challenge is meant to introduce the America's Cup arena to the Chinese public. It's hard to read the Spanish challenge. They have bursts of promise, winning four, five or six races in a row. Then they drop four, five or six races in a row. Label them inconsistent. They launched their new boat, ESP-88, last month and are racing it for the first time. The boat admittedly isn't up to speed so we'll give it a grace period. But helmsman Karol Jablonski can be erratic and unpredictable, which won't help down the line. The Victory Challenge, led by veteran Magnus Holmberg, yesterday announced it had signed Red Bull as a sponsor which guarantees enough funding to complete the campaign. They've hired master craftsman Killian Bushe to build a new Mani Frers design, but they're behind the eight ball time-wise. How about Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia, running its second campaign? Vincenzo Onorato's team has grown nicely in the past year, rising to the high praises of Cup legend Russell Coutts, who believes they have a very strong team. But the "little problem with the main traveler" that tactician Vasco Vascotto referred to before this regatta is believed to be a much bigger problem. Dockside scuttlebutt says the team creased the hull near the traveler, almost going Young America like. That could set them back indefinitely. Team Shosholoza and Areva Challenge are easy to like. They've worked hard and overcome teething problems. Shosholoza, which bills itself as the "Soul of Sailing," has made great strides. Observers of the first pre-regattas in the fall of 2004 had little confidence the crew could pull it together. But here they are with their year old boat and giving teams like Alinghi and BMW Oracle a run for their money. Funding problems are hindering their efforts for a second boat, which likely will prevent them from being a feared competitor. Areva Challenge began life as K-Challenge. But syndicate head Stephane Kandler sold the title rights to France's nuclear power company when money was drying up, hence the name change. They're building a new boat and skipper/helmsman Thierry Peponnet, an Olympic silver medalist in the 470, is affable. But, as Peponnet said yesterday, they're currently a one boat team that uses the pre-regattas as training exercises. One aspect keeping everyone in the field alive is the racecourse off Valencia. This venue was picked to host the Cup because it had a history of reliable southeasterly seabreezes of 9 to 12 knots during the scheduled Cup period. This year the winds have been light and lighter. The acts last month were raced mostly in 7- to 9-knot winds from the east. That direction opens the racecourse up to those willing to play the left side. The first two days of Act 12 have been similar. The America's Cup, first and foremost, is a design contest. So there's always a chance one of the lesser teams might rise up. And here's hoping that one, two or three do because, aside from a few instances, the racing is not particularly interesting. And that doesn't bode well for the sport of sailing or its premiere event. Results from Day 2 (Matches 1 through 3 sailed on the North Course, 4 through 6 on the South Course. The left-hand boat entered the starting box from the pin end, the right-hand boat from the boat end.) Flight 3 Match 1 Alinghi def. Desafio Español by 0:55 Match 2 Team Shosholoza def. United Internet Team Germany by 1:35 Match 3 BMW ORACLE Racing def. Areva Challenge by 1:27 Match 4 China Team lost to Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team by 1:50 Match 5 Emirates Team New Zealand def. Victory Challenge by 1:38 Match 6 +39 Challenge lost to Luna Rossa by 1:02 Flight 4 Match 1 Alinghi def. Team Shosholoza by 0:20 Match 2 Areva Challenge def. United Internet Team Germany by 1:28 Match 3 Desafio Español lost to BMW ORACLE Racing by 1:12 Match 4 Victory Challenge lost to Luna Rossa by 1:11 Match 5 Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team lost to Emirates Team New Zealand by 2:17 Match 6 China Team lost to +39 Challenge by 3:44 Act 12 Standings Through Four of 11 Flights Plc. Team Points 1. Luna Rossa 12 1. Alinghi 12 1. Emirates Team New Zealand 12 1. BMW ORACLE Racing 12 5. Desafio Español 8 5. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia 8 7. Victory Challenge 6 7. Team Shosholoza 6 7. Areva Challenge 6 7. +39 Challenge 6 11. United Internet Team Germany 4 11. China Team 4