The Outdoor Life Network made a good call when they selected the Stars & Stripes vs. Team GBR as their first featured race of the Louis Vuitton Cup. The racing was close and the outcome uncertain until halfway down the final run. The canny team of veterans aboard USA-66 sailed a perfect defensive race, holding off GBR-70 just enough to score a 20-second victory. Both teams executed maneuvers with aplomb, and from our view, there wasn’t a crew work mistake made by either team.
If there was any edge, it was tactically. From the first time the boats crossed tacks and USA-66 squeaked across Team GBRs bow, Tom Whiddens calm voice could be heard giving key information and encouragement to Ken Read; “We look better so far. A loose slam dunk right? Now you can go where you want, lower and same speed. No problem on your bearing, I like your height.” and a final; “Nice job everybody.”
Whiddens soothing tone disguised the fact that Team Stars & Stripes went straight for Team GBRs throat early, took the lead, and fiercely held it. Even though the mark rounding deltas never exceeded 16 seconds, the race only appeared close when Whidden allowed GBR-70 to tack or jibe away, which he didnt do very often. No matter how close GBR-70 came, there was never a point where USA-66 showed vulnerability tactically. On at least two leeward mark roundings, GBR-70 was forced to give USA-66 room, and they took plenty of it.
Another advantage for Team Dennis Conner was the crew work; while neither team erred, Ken Read and Tom Whidden pushed their crew very hard on the corners. On the first leeward mark rounding, the crew of USA-66 completed a jibe, got a headsail up, dropped the kite, and headed upwind within three boatlengths.
Ed Baird, a commentator on OLN, with extensive matchracing and Americas Cup experience, did have some interesting comments on comparative boatspeed, indicating that he thought that USA-66 had good straight line speed but that GBR-70 was able to accelerate out of tacks and jibes quicker. Baird also noticed that on downwind legs, GBR-70s mast was extended much further forward than USA-66s.
If theres any bad news for Team Stars & Stripes, its the persistent rumors heard before the LVC that Team GBR was slow. Since S&S; hadnt practiced with any other team, their boatspeed was a mystery. If the rumors about GBR are true, than Read and Whidden could be looking towards a long few months of using tactics and crew work to defeat faster boats, a scenario familiar with those who remember the Liberty/Australia II races in 1983.
For Team GBR, even in losing the race they gained value. Their crew work was crisp, and the crew stayed pumped even though they spent the afternoon looking at USA-66s transom. The young team can now see that they will probably be sailing at least through the quarter finals. “We sailed pretty defensively all race,” said GBR skipper Ian Walker. “Our game plan was conservative. We aimed to keep asking questions of the opposition in the hope that they would make a small mistake. Stars and Stripes didnt make any mistakes, so our game plan wasnt good enough today.”
On the other courses, the next closest race was the Prada-OracleBMW racing matchup. Rod Davis started Luna Rossa and Peter Holmberg USA-76. The pair split tacks off the line with Luna Rossa on port at the boat end and USA-76 on starboard at the pin end. USA-76 quickly tacked to port and a long drag race ensued up the beat. Francesco de Angelis took over the helm of Luna Rossa after the start, but USA-76, inside of the Italian yacht, seemed to be advantaged by a lifting breeze and within five minutes of the start had opened a slight lead over Luna Rossa. USA-76 kept extending that lead up the 3.25-mile leg and led by 15 seconds at the weather mark. Luna Rossa gained on all three downwind legs, but couldn’t match USA-76 upwind. The delta was 42 seconds at the finish.
OneWorld Challenge (USA-67) thrashed Mascalzone Latino (ITA-72) in their first meeting. James Spithill locked helmsman Paolo Cian out from the pin end of the line, then crossed well ahead on the first tack. Early in the first weather leg it was clear that OneWorld was the faster boat, as Spithill simply pointed higher and sailed faster, eventually rounding the first windward mark with a 1m:14s lead. The combination of speed and pointing ability proved hard to beat, and the Americans went on to win Race 1, finishing 5m:43s ahead of ITA-72.
Alinghi took an early lead over Le Défi and slowly extended throughout the entire race to win by 4m:48s. After only one minute, when both boats lined up together on starboard tack, it became obvious that Alinghi, steered by Russell Coutts, was faster.
The matchups for Oct. 2 are as follows:
Match 1 – Stars & Stripes (USA 66) – Luna Rossa (ITA 74)
Match 2 – OneWorld (USA 67) – Alinghi (SUI 64)
Match 3 – Oracle BMW Racing (USA 76) – Mascalzone Latino (ITA 72)
Match 4 – Orn (SWE 63) – Le Defi (FRA 69)
Off – Wight Lightning (GBR 70)