Musings From Around the America’s Cup Harbor

Is Jes Gram-Hansen the next Russell Coutts. I ponder that question and a few others in a final smorgasbord wrap-up of the Round Robin portion of the Louis Vuitton Cup.


Stuart Streuli

In a few hours, I’ll be getting on a plane for Paris, where I’ll enjoy four great hours in the international terminal before boarding a flight for Boston. Are they ever going to finish the construction at Charles de Gaulle? As I leave Valencia, there are four teams still left in the race for the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup. When I return in late May, there will only be two. Those predictions are a little further down in the story. But first, a few thoughts…• Despite some of the vitriolic stories posted about Valencia, I never once felt threatened during my stay here, and I had more than a few late-night walks back to my hotel. It’s not paradise, but it’s hardly as bad as portrayed by some members of the media, and assorted bloggers. Like when visiting most European cities, you’ve got to keep you wits about you. And it occasionally emits a rather pungent odor, but then so does my dog, and I love him just the same. The people are friendly, and I’ve been able to get by on a minimal (and I mean minimal) grasp of the Spanish language. My only complaint is that the compressed schedule allowed for absolutely no time to see the city on this trip. That should be different when I return.• It’s a wee bit late-at least if you listen to Alinghi’s weather gurus-but summer has arrived in Valencia. That means reliable sea breezes and warm days. It also, according to Desafio Español tactician John Cutler, means the racing will be a little more predictable. Listen to his guess at what we’ll see in the semifinals and finals here.• I would rate the local interest in the event as moderate. There’s been a good crowd on weekends and holidays, but it has been pretty sparse during the week. Hopefully the presence of the Spanish team in the semis will bring out the partisan crowd. Not sure it’ll make much of a difference…oops, I said I was going to hold my predictions until later.• Everybody raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a tactician say this after a race in which a botched crew maneuver potentially lost the race. Of course, the flip side of the comments by China Team tactician Sebastien Destremau is that his team isn’t capable of doing something as routine as a Mexican takedown, not that any maneuver on an America’s Cup Class boat is actually easy.• Future pro sailors, here’s a good lesson on how to duck a reporter’s questions. This clinic was put on by Victory Challenge grinder Ian Weighell, after the team performed its “chase-boat takedown” during the race against Desafio Español. C’mon Ian, all I wanted was the Swedish code words for “Get rid of that #$%o%^$ thing.”• Part II of this lesson comes from Dean Barker as he announces which team Emirates Team New Zealand has chosen to face in the semifinals and then refuses to when asked why. Let me give you a little help here Deano. The respective records of the four teams in the semifinals, when sailing against each other during the round robins, are as follows, ETNZ (4-2), BMW Oracle Racing (4-2), Luna Rossa Challenge (3-3), and Desafio Español (1-5). Additionally the five races Desafio lost, it lost by an average of over 64 seconds. ETNZ smoked the Spanish team by 1:12 and 43 seconds in the two matches they two teams sailed. Why couldn’t he have just stated the facts?• And Chris Dickson wasn’t much better (maybe he was worse) when asked why he decided not to follow ENTZ to the right side in that final race. I see two possibilities for that decision. First, the BMW Oracle Racing weather team totally missed a shift that ENTZ’s boys were able to pick up on. This seems somewhat strange. Certainly Roger “Clouds” Badham, ETNZ’s weather guru, is one of the best, but it didn’t seem like it was too hard to see what was going to happen, or at least what side to protect. The second possibility is straight from the America’s Cup conspiracy files, and that says that Dickson and BMW Oracle Racing made a conscious decision not to line up with ETNZ and give them a glimpse of the speed of USA-98. After trouncing ETNZ in their first meeting, when Dickson completely botched the start, gave ETNZ a huge lead off the starting line, and then ground them back in by the first mark, maybe the BMW Oracle boys figured they’d seen all they needed from NZL-92 and didn’t want to show their competitors anything more.• Speaking of fly-away takedowns, how is it possible that no one knew the rule on whether teams are allowed to do just let the spinnaker go at the leeward mark? Talk about mass confusion. And if it’s legal, why don’t Cup teams just coming roaring into the leeward mark, and remotely trigger the shackles and let the sail fly into the spectator fleet? Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, despite the fact that every team has a rules advisor, no one noticed that Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia was illegally attaching its top-mast backstays for the final run until Flight 4 of the second round robin. Listen to MLC mastman George Skuodas confirm as much in this interview.• One name to watch as the next Cup cycle gets going is Jes Gram-Hansen, the Danish starting helmsman for Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia. Main trimmer Marco Constant, a man not known to couch opinions, gave Gram-Hansen high marks in this interview where he talks about the team’s early struggles with starting and how Gram-Hansen really lifted their game. This couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Gram-Hansen is also refreshingly honest. Listen here as he explains what went wrong during the team’s prestart with BMW Oracle Racing.• OK, so maybe Jes-Gram isn’t the next Russell Coutts, but what about Denmark being the next New Zealand? Don’t laugh. There are rumors of a Danish challenge getting off the ground for the 33rd America’s Cup and there’s plenty of talent to pick from. Jes Gram-Hansen and afterguard buddy Rasmus Kostner from Mascalzone, B-boat helmsman Jesper Radich and trimmer Mikkel Rossberg from Desafio Español, genoa trimmer Christian Kamp from Luna Rossa, and Jesper Bank’s entire Danish mafia onboard United Internet Team Germany. And that’s just off the top of my head. Like New Zealanders did many years ago, the Danes have embraced match racing of late. As my friend Lars (who’s also from Denmark) likes to say, “This is not a candy party!” Whatever that means.• Speaking of nationalistic challenges, Let’s give three cheers for Team Shosholoza. We’ve come to take for granted the fact that this team can get around the course without a major disaster, but their performance in this regatta is a remarkable achievement. Two years ago I did an interview with Jason Ker. Here’s what he had to say about the design of RSA-83, the team’s only new boat. “We only had about 3 weeks of CFD time before we had to finalize our hull,” said Ker. “So we had no tank testing time at all. From that point of view we couldn’t afford to be radical, just tweak not do wholesale changes.” The buzz around the marina is that Ker is a bit difficult to work with, and that Paul Standbridge should get a lot of credit for the progress of the team. Bottom line, though, is they did one heck of a job. Everyone involved, that includes guys like Dee Smith and Andy Green, who sailed with the team in previous years, should be quite proud.• It’s great to see that a British Challenge will return for the next America’s Cup. The Cup isn’t the same without the Union Jack, and the presence of a British Team will give the British journos plenty to focus on, and keep them from sticking their nose into every other country’s team. No one will be happier than Team New Zealand. • The underfunded +39 Challenge certainly had some tough breaks, not the least of which was losing it’s only Version 5 mast in Act 13. While United Internet Team Germany was at fault in the collision, I heard an interesting perspective the other day. Basically Iain Percy had the opportunity to head up just a bit, stand the boat up a bit, and ensure the two rigs didn’t lock. AC rigs cover nearly 50 feet of ground laterally when they’re heeled over. Any helmsman should know this and do what it takes to ensure the two rigs don’t lock. Protest if you have to, but asset preservation is a big part of the America’s Cup game, especially if you’re as short on assets as +39 Challenge was.• One of the biggest disappointments this regatta was the performance of United Internet Team Germany. Outside of China Team, GER-89 was the slowest boat in the regatta. Now I don’t care a whit about whether a German team wins or loses. But I find skipper Jesper Bank to be a great interview and the team did so poorly there really wasn’t ever a reason to talk to him. Two years ago, the Germany’s showed up for Act 4 with a boat they’d pounded into a compliance with Version 5 of the America’s Cup Class rules with a chainsaw and a hammer. It was beyond rough, and quite slow. But Bank somehow won 3 of 11 match races, after which he was heard to have said, in his Danish accent, “If the other teams don’t want to win, we do that for them.” Two years later it’s still the best quote of this Cup cycle. I was hoping for more of his wit this time around.The other thing about Bank I was hoping to see more of was the devil-may-care attitude with which he raced in the fleet racing Acts in 2005 and 2006. Knowing he didn’t have a prayer of winning on boatspeed, Bank would approach every start with the same plan. He’d win the boat-which he did with unfailing consistency-and then tack for the right corner, praying a shift would come in. When it worked, he finished midfleet, when it didn’t, he was last. But it was fun to watch the other boats scurry out of his way as he came charging in for the boat, and impressive to see him pull if off, without any pretense of secrecy, every time. To see two photo sequences showing this, click here and here (click on the “Photos” link). Regrettably, Bank was very reserved during the regatta. His prestarts were rarely combative and his boatspeed so poor he wasn’t close enough to mix it up much after the start. Hopefully he’ll be back in the next Cup with a faster boat. He’s enormously talented and deserves a chance to show his skills. Plus the Cup needs his dry humor. Way too many people take this game too seriously.• OK, I guess you’ve waited long enough. Or maybe it’s hopefully you’ve waited long enough. I’ll start my predictions by saying that I believe the big loser in Wednesday’s BMW Oracle Racing-Emirates Team New Zealand match was Luna Rossa. ETNZ picked Desafio Español, which was the sensible choice. While I think Luna Rossa had a chance to beat ETNZ, I’m don’t think the Italian team can match BMW Oracle, especially with only 4 days to prepare. They’re just short on speed. So I have ETNZ dumping the Spanish team in 6 races and BMW Oracle dropping Luna Rossa in 7. In the final, it’ll be BMW Oracle Racing 5, Emirates Team New Zealand 3. If I was ETNZ, I’d be more than a little worried about Dean Barker’s starting. He pooched quite a few, including the one against Victory Challenge, which was inexcusable. With all the technology on those boats, I find it hard to believe that they didn’t know they were well past the point of no return when they turned up for the line. Barker is a fine sailor, and a stand-up guy, but he seems to be struggling more with the pressure here then he did in Auckland. Of course, there he only had to deal with it for five races. As for the America’s Cup, well, I’m going to wait on that one, see how these predictions turn out. But there are a lot of people speculating on where the Cup will be held WHEN (not if) Alinghi wins it. I’m not so sure.


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