With a marginal and slow-motion win over Groupama Team France in the final race of the day of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers, Land Rover BAR advances to the Challenger Playoffs, with the benefit of two bonus points earned by winning the America’s Cup World Series. For a team scraping to get by to get some wins in Bermuda you’d think the win would be a cause to celebrate, or even fist-bump. But no such thing onboard BAR’s Rita in the moments after their 23 second win.
“A bit embarrassing, really,” quipped Ainlise. “But a win is a win and that’s not our conditions, clearly.”
Given the average wind speed in Bermuda in June is 10 knots, and this race was sailed in as much as 8, there is much work to be done in the BAR camp if they intend to continue to past the Playoffs.
Yes, they better pray for breeze in the coming days. Not only did they almost lose this one to the French, who themselves were less than flash in the conditions, and at times handed the race to Ainslie and his tactician Giles Scott, but they continued to struggle in maneuvers. Collectively, the British crew hung their heads after racing, for they too, had witnessed Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand think nothing of the conditions.
The off-the-water takeaway has got to be the visible strength of the AC34 defender and challenger. Against Emirates Team New Zealand, Ainslie never had a chance after it’s shockingly bad jibe following Mark 1. The audio commentary caught his frustration best: he was in the race for barely 2 minutes before it all came crashing down with a growl and a rhetorical question: “What went wrong?”
The New Zealanders sailed gracefully around the track, a full lap ahead toward the end of the race, and the humiliation was too much for the Brits to bear. As the Kiwis notched another win, their sixth straight, Ainslie informed the race committee they were retiring, just as the French did earlier in their lopsided match against SoftBank Team Japan.
Clearly, in the conditions of the day, it was a case of the haves and have nots, with Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA sitting with riches. For all intents and purposes, the final race of the day was one for the loser’s bracket and while Land Rover BAR comes out on top, there was no real satisfaction. At this stage, unless Land Rover BAR make dramatic improvements their presence in the regatta will be short lived.
The biggest take away, however, remains the precision of Oracle Team USA. They dynamic between skipper Jimmy Spithill and tactician Tom Slingsby is strong, there are multiple modes in which they’re seemingly able to sail their boat (as well as dictionary full of lingo to boot: there’s the “Eagle” and “Albatross” and “Motorboat”).
In their match against SoftBank Mr. Spithill pooched the start (and later admitted so), allowing SoftBank to exit from the start 20 knots and jump into what should have been an insurmountable lead given the conditions. But there they were, right back into, chipping away, getting the split, sniffing out the big shift, and taking control. SoftBank tactician Chris Draper admitted to missing the critical shift, while Mr. Slingsby happily noted they were “in perfect phase” going up the beat.
So while the frantic foiling of previous days went away today, the racing felt a bit more like traditional sailboat races in displacement boats. You still need to win the start, nail the shifts and sail the boat as fast as possible around the track. Granted, that’s always easier said than done, something Mr. Ainslie knows full well.
He’s got a day off tomorrow to mull it over and figure out a way to get in the hunt.