When they remove their secretive boat skirts at 9:00 a.m. Sunday, the 12 America's Cup syndicates will have very little standing between them and Act 13, which starts on Tuesday. Depending on their place in the pecking order, the teams are approaching the event from vastly different tacks. Act 13, a fleet racing event, is the final stage before the Louis Vuitton Cup (LVC), the winner of which faces Alinghi in the America's Cup. For the defender, which doesn't compete in the LVC, the fleet racing of Act 13 represents a last chance to sail against the 11 possible challengers before the Cup Match. And for top contenders like BMW Oracle Racing, Act 13 is essentially a Louis Vuitton Cup warm-up, a chance to see which challengers have progressed over the winter months."It's a great opportunity for us to check in a week or so before the Louis Vuitton Cup starts," says BMW Oracle Racing's skipper and CEO, Chris Dickson. "It's a very efficient way for us to get a handle on the competition.""It's kind of a pre-season opener, if you like," continues Dickson. "Yes, we'd much rather be winning than losing
but we try not to lose track of the big picture. Being in good shape for the Louis Vuitton Cup is most important."Looking optimistically toward the Cup, Dickson sees Act 13 and the LVC as prime time to gain momentum on Alinghi. "At this stage it's more important for Alinghi to check in with the challengers than vice versa," says Dickson. "We've got plenty of good racing ahead of us, but Alinghi doesn't." For syndicates with slimmer chances of reaching the finals of the LVC, Act 13 provides another benchmark in the long-term development process. Victory Challenge strategist/tactician Morgan Larson hopes the team's new boat, SWE-96, will launch his team into the top third of the fleet. "I think the boat has the potential of making us a top-four team as far as equipment," says Larson. "We struggle a little bit still on the sailing program and with the boathandling
[but] if we can get through that then I think we'll make the semifinals."An interesting dynamic this time around, as opposed to the LVC in Auckland before the 2003 match, is the condensed racing schedule. With shorter gaps between rounds, there's little time for teams to dramatically alter their boats. For the most part, whatever teams bring to the table now is what they'll have throughout. "This is a whole different ball game this time," says Andy Horton, sailing with Luna Rossa, which in the last LVC built an entirely new bow between rounds. "Even for the teams that have all the resources there's simply not enough time, but you will see teams changing bulbs, wings, and other appendages."As for Alinghi, the playing out of Act 13 will supply the blueprints for last-minute adjustments to SUI-91 and SUI-100. "We've designed a boat and developed our equipment to what we think is the right mix for what we expect in the Cup, but we only have to be good relative to the other boats," says Alinghi afterguard member Murray Jones. "So [after Act 13] we may shift the emphasis of where we want to be because others are better in the lighter range or the heavier range.""Each boat will have different strengths than the other," Jones tells us. "One will be a little better in lighter conditions, and the other better in the stronger conditions." No matter what their take on Act 13, whether they're treating it as pre-game warm up, a reality check, or a reconnaissance mission, each syndicate will have its full attention on the waters off Valencia come Tuesday morning.