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Jobson: Will It Be a “Super” Matchup?

January 23, 2003
Stuart Streuli

One always has a sense of relief when you learn who the teams are for a big sporting event. Now that the Buccaneers and the Raiders are in the Super Bowl and Alinghi and Team New Zealand are in the America’s Cup, the big question is who will win?

The first question will be resolved in a matter of days. But the America’s Cup must wait until Race 1, the evening of Feb. 14 in the U.S. In past years, the challenging team earned its spot 7 – 10 days before the start of the races. But under the Challenger of Record (Punta Ala Yacht Club), it was decided that a longer time period would be more helpful to the challenging team. The reasoning was to allow more time to work on their boats. In 2000, Italy’s Prada team was woefully unprepared for Team New Zealand after defeating AmericaOne 5- 4 in the challenger final. For its part, Switzerland’s Alinghi looks to be race ready. My own experience is that it is a dangerous thing to allow designers to fiddle with a boat when it is sailing fast. Sometimes you can take two steps backwards for every step forward. From an interest standpoint, a four week gap seems like an eternity.

Alinghi faced a strong challenge from Larry Ellison’s Oracle/BMW Racing Team. As time went on, the races got closer. This competition should be a benefit to Alinghi when it faces Team New Zealand. No doubt Ellison is disappointed. But his team did a good job for a first time America’s Cup effort. We will likely see Ellison challenging again.

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The difference between Alinghi and Oracle came down to the tactical skill of the sailing team. Oracle was better off when skipper Chris Dickson was off the helm. Dickson was simply no match for the combination of Russell Coutts and his longtime tactician Brad Butterworth.

For the people of New Zealand, Alinghi winning the Louis Vuitton Cup is not popular. Russell Coutts and his New Zealand defectors are viewed as the enemy for having left TNZ after the 2000 races. In spite of threats to team members and their families, Coutts and company looked unfazed as they defeated Oracle 5 – 1. The Swiss syndicate has beefed up security. In a country like New Zealand, this is highly unusual. But there are a lot of jitters around Auckland following the bombing in Bali.

Team New Zealand has been preparing for two years. Its innovative boats look fast. The long history of the America’s Cup demonstrates that competing yachts are rarely even in speed. Frequently one boat has an edge in a specific weather condition. Given the vagaries of Auckland’s recent weather patterns, the designers and sailors will be working hard to match their boat’s measurement configuration to the anticipated wind strengths.

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| But don’t count out TNZ. Their HULA-equipped hulls could prove to be a secret weapon for which Russell Coutts and company have no answer.* * *|

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Controversy has been a constant companion to this America’s Cup. Undoubtedly, there will be more regarding the measurement of TNZ’s hull appendage (nicknamed the HULA). Count on Alinghi challenging the HULA.

TNZ skipper Dean Barker served as trial horse and understudy to Russell Coutts from 1997-2000. This familiarity should be a benefit to both sailors. All in all it should make for an exciting tactical match.

At this writing it is hard to pick whether Tampa Bay or Oakland will win the Super Bowl. And this holds true for the America’s Cup. The stakes are high. If Alinghi wins the Cup is on its way to Europe. TNZ desperately wants to keep their beloved Cup in New Zealand.

The challengers as a group have refrained from sailing against TNZ in any form. This puts the performance potential of both boats in question. One thing is clear, TNZ’s new boats are far superior than the 2000 models. But the challengers, collectively, have built seventeen news boats compared with New Zealand’s two. If the challenger races have any meaning, Alinghi should have an edge. The question in my mind is whether the long delay between the trials and the Cup itself will have an effect one way or the other on Alinghi?

My prediction: Alinghi wins.

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