Alinghi Takes Control of a Shifty First Day

On-site reporting from Valencia, Spain.

Act11Day1
Stuart Streuli

VALENCIA, Spain-When people say the breeze in Valencia is consistent, they're talking about the big picture. The seabreeze has blown every day from an easterly direction at between 5 and 12 knots. However, on the small scale, like on the 2.8-mile course for today's first two fleet races of Act 11, the breeze can be maddeningly difficult to nail down, especially when it hovers in the single digits, like it did today, the first day of Act 11.Victory Challenge won the first race by hammering the right corner on the first beat and extending from there. In the second race, Alinghi went left, launched into the lead, and was never challenged. Those two boats hold the top two positions in Act 11, the only fleet racing regatta of 2006, and behind them the results are as mixed up as the breeze was today.BMW Oracle Racing, sailing with its new jumperless rig-basically an unsupported carbon tube above the hounds-is ninth after two difficult starts. USA-87 never displayed the speed or acceleration it showed often in Act 10, mostly because it never got the chance, spending so much of each race in dirty air.In third is Team Shosholoza, the only team in the top half of the standings to show some consistency with a pair of fifths. There's a three-way tie on points for fourth involving Desafio Español, Areva Challenge, and Emirates Team New Zealand. Tied on points for seventh is Mascalzone Latino and Luna Rossa Challenge, each of which had a 10th and a second today. From there it's BMW Oracle Racing, +39 Challenge, China Team-which finally beat someone after losing 11 match races and finishing last in the first fleet race-and United Internet Team Germany.In the first race Victory Challenge won the boat and tacked for the right corner, followed by United Internet Team Germany, which had been boxed out of the boat end. On the other side of the line it was Luna Rossa and +39 Challenge taking the pin and heading left. Halfway up the beat Luna Rossa was winning the left, Victory the right and the two teams were practically dead even. In many races, they might've converged bow-even at the windward mark. But it seemed the breeze would strongly favor one team, while giving the other the sailing equivalent of a sucker punch. By the time the lead boats were three quarters of the way up the beat it was apparent that Victory was going to live up to its name. The Swedish syndicate was on the starboard layline and quickly expanding a sizeable lead. For Luna Rossa the news wasn't so good. Unable to find a favorable shift to work back toward the middle, they rounded the first mark in the cheap seats. What really smarted about this placement was that +39 Challenge, which had bailed out of the left side halfway up and crossed the racecourse, rounded third. "It doesn't always go the way you plan it," said Victory skipper Magnus Holmberg. "We'd seen some signs at the weather mark, far right, actually outside the course the wind had gone quite a bit to the right and there was more pressure out there. We had Santiago [Lange] up the rig before the start and he saw the same thing. We were quite confident. But at the same time you never know. A lot of times you can be confident and it doesn't work out. So you need a bit of luck as well."Sometimes even luck isn't enough, especially when your stuck with a older, slower boat in its least favorite conditions. For Iain Percy on +39 Challenge, Race 1 was a bittersweet third. The Italian team started down by the pin, took advantage of an early left shift to cross to the right-taking some sterns in the process-and were positioned perfectly for the big right shift at the top of the beat. "It just shows, we got that beat," said Percy. "You couldn't have got it more right. And we still didn't lead around the windward mark. We had probably a knot worse VMG that the top guys in that wind. It's just the worst conditions for us, big waves and light wind."In the second race, things didn't go quite as well for +39. They struggled off the line, and went hard right. By the first mark they were 4:25 behind the leader and 1:26 out of 11th.Like Victory Challenge in the first beat, Alinghi played a corner, building a 13-second lead by the first mark. The defenders stretched away from there, eventually winning the race by nearly two minutes.With a sixth in the first race, and no other team putting together two top-four results, the win bumped Alinghi into the lead."It's a tough day for yachting when you've got light air and then the big waves to go with it," said Alinghi mid-bow Matt Mitchell. "It certainly makes it tricky to get the boats around. It was patchy at times. The first race was a bit of a battle for us, we weren't so good out of the start. Then in the second race we got a good start, and got to the right side of the first beat and it make a big difference.After struggling to 10th in the first race, Luna Rossa Challenged rebounded with a second, trailing Alinghi, but leading everyone else around the track."We did a similar start, not quite as close to the pin. We were halfway down the line," said Luna Rossa's pitman Tom Burnham. "Had a really good start, punched out. We stayed sort of on the left side, eventually crossed over the finished on the top right. It was probably what we should've done in the first race."Given how close the match racing was, no one was surprised to see the results today vary greatly from the final rankings in Act 10, especially in light and shifty air. However, seeing BMW Oracle struggling in both races was definitely not expected. The team was racing for the first time with a new rig, which doesn't have jumpers struts. But pitman Jamie Gale said the poor results had nothing to do with the rig."We just couldn't seem to get out of our own way," said Gale. "Everything went wrong. We got bad starts, were forced the wrong way. In light air, it's just terrible going the wrong way. Two minutes after the start you look up and you're a quarter mile behind. We had it all today. Both starts we were just a little bit late getting up to the line and got squeezed from below and rolled from above. It was so light and lumpy that having bad air for that long was painful."Two more races are scheduled for tomorrow and then Act 11 finishes with one race on Sunday.Act 11Overall resultsTeam Points1. Alinghi 192. Victory Challenge 173. Team Shosholoza 164. Desafio Español 155. Areva Challenge 156. Emirates Team New Zealand 157. Luna Rossa Challenge 148. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia 149. BMW Oracle Racing 1110. +39 Challenge 1111. China Team 512. United Internet Team Germany 4Race 1 1. Victory Challenge 1:26:102. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia 1:39 back3. +39 Challenge 3:10 back4. Emirates Team New Zealand 3:13 back5. Team Shosholoza 3:40 back6. Alinghi 4:18 back7. Areva Challenge 5:22 back8. Desafio Español 5:33 back9. BMW Oracle Racing 5:50 back10. Luna Rossa Challenge 6:27 back11. United Internet Team Germany 6:47 back12. China Team 6:59 backAct 11, Race 2 1. Alinghi 1:23:002. Luna Rossa Challenge 1:52 back3. Desafio Español 2:37 back4. Areva Challenge 3:55 back5. Team Shosholoza 4:26 back6. BMW Oracle Racing 5:46 back7. Emirates Team New Zealand 6:33 back8. Victory Challenge 7:17 back9. China Team 7:36 back10. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia 7:50 back11. United Internet Team Germany 7:53 back12. +39 Challenge 10:07 back