Replacing Rig Is The Easy Part

Stuart Streuli

Can Team New Zealand possibly rebound from its disastrous mast break in Race 4? Most grand prix sailors have experienced mast breaks during their careers. On board it's complete shock as the mast tumbles into the water and then the harsh realization that your race is over. But, there are many examples where teams have broken masts and come back the very next day to win races. Team New Zealand has a good mast that will be in the boat within hours. These rigs are easy to tune using a hydraulic lift at the base of the mast. The question is: Why did this mast break? The replacement will be identical. TNZ's engineers will be working all night to try and solve this problem. To me, the more disturbing problem aboard TNZ wasn't the mast, it was the lack of speed on both the upwind and downwind legs and the lack of tactical fight. It's hard to understand why TNZ did not engage Alinghi in a jibing or tacking duel. Speed testing is fine, but TNZ had to learn on leg 1 that they were slightly slower than Alinghi. The new TNZ tactician, Bertrand Pace, was clearly in charge, but we saw nothing innovative from this Frenchman. At the start of the race, Alinghi wanted the left side, fought for it, got it and started on the line at full speed. Team New Zealand, in contrast, was three seconds late for the line. This is a judgement call by the helmsman. Four times in a row, Russell Coutts has outwitted his former trial-horse helmsman, now TNZ skipper, Dean Barker. Should TNZ change helmsman for Race 5? I doubt they will. The forecast for Race 5 (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET, Fri.) calls for northeast winds at around 8 knots. The waves will certainly be smoother. In these conditions in Race 2, Team New Zealand led for three legs and proved to be competitive. Barker has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. In 8-knot wind, on a new day, Barker has to only think ahead. His first priority is to win the start. He needs to maneuver in tight. If TNZ does get ahead, they need good decision-making in the cockpit. This has been their biggest problem. TNZ now needs to beat Alinghi in five straight races. But Alinghi has beaten TNZ four straight. Russell Coutts and his team are still undefeated in the America's Cup finals. Barker can't worry about the outcome of this regatta. He just needs to win the start and play it cool from that point. For Team New Zealand to win, it would take the biggest turnaround in the 152-year history of the America's Cup. Race 5 will be fascinating to watch. Pass the word to all your friends. This is a race not to miss!