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Alinghi Comeback Pushes LV Final to Match Point

January 16, 2003
Stuart Streuli

On the verge of being outsailed for the third straight race, Alinghi put together two of the most impressive legs in this Louis Vuitton Cup and earned a 13-second win. The loss was especially hard to swallow for Chris Dickson and his Oracle/BMW Racing crew because it puts them one defeat from the end of their America’s Cup campaign, because they led by as much as 28 seconds, and because the crucial pass came on a downwind leg, where, to this point in the series, Oracle has looked to be the stronger boat.

Unlike the previous two days, the southerly showed up almost as predicted today. After a short delay, the race started in a 9-knot wind from 180 degrees, which built to near 15 knots at times while oscillating through a 25-degree arc. The two boats hit the line at 1:30 p.m., Alinghi claiming the pin with Oracle tacking away on to port just before the gun and crossing in front of the committee boat a few seconds after its opponent. Alinghi flopped on to port and followed, taking a small lead that would allow them to cross ahead when Oracle tacked to starboard after nearly three minutes of sailing. With Alinghi on their hip, Oracle streaked out toward the port layline, slowly erasing Alinghi’s advantage and then building one of their own. A left shift right near the layline built the lead to nearly five boatlengths and they rounded with a 28-second advantage. An uneventful first run saw Alinghi take a second out of the lead.

The second beat was where Alinghi made up most of its ground. Coutts engaged Oracle helmsman Peter Holmberg in a tacking duel, taking a small chunk of the lead every time the boats changed direction and closing the gap from over 100 meters to less than a boatlength. “The leadership on our boat one of, ’never get upset, never get out of it,’” said Alinghi pitman Josh Belsky. “They were just talking about how we’re going to manage the rest of the race.”

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| After a stunning downwind leg, Alinghi crosses ahead of Oracle on the third upwind leg en route to a 13-second win.* * *|

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The Swiss team rounded right on Oracle’s stern, the lead now down to 10 seconds and then jibed in unison, taking the windward position. With both boats on a tight reach it was Alinghi that showed the better performance, rolling over Oracle. “I’m feeling worse and worse here,” said helmsman Peter Holmberg, who for the third straight race stayed at the wheel for the entire time. Eventually Oracle was forced to jibe away. Alinghi turned in unison and then powered away down the reach, negating any advantage Oracle should’ve enjoyed due to its windward position. Oracle pulled back slightly toward the mark as Alinghi struggled slightly with its douse and jib hoist, but now the advantage was 9 seconds to Coutts.

While it looked like the breeze was better on the right, Oracle seemed intent on taking the left and Alinghi was happy to let them go that way. Halfway up the beat, Alinghi was still waiting for their choice to pay off. “It still looks right on the right,” said an exasperated Murray Jones, who spent a good deal of the day up Alinghi’s rig calling tactics. Eventually their decision did pay off. A nice right shift near the top of the leg gave them a controlling position as both boats approached the mark on port. The lead there was 16 seconds and while Oracle did appear to threaten slightly down the run by sailing lower and as fast, Coutts and Butterworth never blinked, covering loosely from in front, nailing the shifts, and crossing the line 13 seconds ahead.

Race Statistics, Race V
Breeze: Started at 9 knots from 180 degrees. Shifted through approximately 20 degrees and built to as much as 15 knots. Flat water.
Oracle approached from port, Alinghi approached from starboard
Course Deltas:
Alinghi won the start by 2 to 3 seconds
1st mark: Oracle by 28 seconds
2nd mark: Oracle by 27 seconds
3rd mark: Oracle by 10 seconds
4th mark: Alinghi by 9 seconds
5th mark: Alinghi by 16 seconds
Finish: Alinghi by 13 seconds.

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