Schuemann Not a Shoe-In?

Alinghi tunes up with Luna Rossa, giving 100 spectator boats a chance to see how Alinghi goes through the water--it's somewhat dependent on boatspeed, though they're not slow--and who may be on the sailing team come June 23--mostly what was expected, but there are a few surprises.


Stuart Streuli

It’s hard to imagine Alinghi sailing the America’s Cup without four-time Olympic medalist Jochen Schuemann. But the German legend was on the crash boat for Saturday’s practice session with Luna Rossa.No matter what team Alinghi trots out for the first race of the 32nd America’s Cup there’s going to be some very talented sailors who find themselves reduced to support crew and spectators. Schuemann would still be a surprising omission, considering he’s been in charge of the sailing team for the past seven years or so.During a press function on Thursday, Alinghi sailors Curtis Blewitt, Mark Newbrook, and Simon Daubney were firm in their resolve not to reveal anything about the starting lineup. All three maintained that the team has yet to be finalized, though there’s a sense that this is something of a party line and, internally, there’s a pretty good idea who will be on the boat come June 23. “At the end, one team’s going to race, they’re going to pick it eventually,” said Blewitt, a midbowman who sailed in the 2003 America’s Cup. “It’s not really a stressful thing for us. Between the two boats, the level’s high enough that we’re feeling good about that direction.”Blewitt did allow that while there’s been a lot of rotation among the sailors, the daily crew lists aren’t just drawn out of a hat.”It’s not completely random,” he said. “We have a squad policy but there’s different sort of partnerships within that to allow you some sort of stability training. It’s quite intimate work and you’re right side-by-side, it’s nice to have pairs of grinders, pairs of bow guys. There are some partnerships on the boat. It’s not completely random, but it does rotate around.”And it would seem to make sense that those partnerships would need a little bit of race practice, especially since Alinghi claims to have spend the majority of its time working on boatspeed rather than match racing. So, it would seem that there’s a good chance that any sailor on the boat on Saturday’s practice would be also racing when the Cup starts in two weeks.From what I could see, the crew list Saturday for the practice with Luna Rossa looked something like this, though I was a little less than sure about the grinders and, of course, I don’t know the exact positions as they change from team to team. Nonetheless, I would be surprised to see it change much for Race 1 of the America’s Cup match. The one exception could be the grinders as the team has been known to rotate through grinders quite regularly.Helmsman: Ed Baird; Tactician: Brad Butterworth; Navigator: Juan Vila; Strategist: Ernesto Bertarelli; Runners: Rodney Ardern; Runner/Pit Assist: Dean Phipps; Traveler: Murray Jones; Main Trimmer: Warwick Fleury; Main Grinder: Will McCarthy; Genoa Trim: Simon Daubney; Spinnaker Trim: Lorenzo Mazza; Grinder: Matt Welling; Grinder: Mark McTeigue; Pit: Josh Belsky; Mastman: Francesco Rapetti; Mid-bow/sewer: Curtis Blewitt; Bow: Pieter van Nieuwenhuyzen.Peter Evans was on the boat as well, but he appeared to be there more in a coaching role, the photos of the boat racing upwind have Evans settled in well behind the traveler. This configuration seems built for boatspeed rather than tactical racing. While everyone on the boat is obviously a talented sailor, Jones and Butterworth are the only two that would really be identified as traditional tacticians. Vila is a tremendous offshore navigator, but his course-racing skills are less known. Bertarelli is certainly a talented amateur sailor and Phipps and Ardern are both seasoned professionals, but I’m not sure any one of those four is going to be feeding Butterworth a lot of insight about when he should tack or what the wind is going to do. Then again, maybe that’s just how he likes it.In contrast, of course, is the afterguard on Emirates Team New Zealand, which is stocked with four extremely talented tactical sailors: Terry Hutchinson, two-time college sailor of the year, J/24 world champion, and Farr 40 world champion; Kevin Hall, 2004 Olympian, Adam Beashel, an Australian skiff legend and Olympic hopeful; and Ray Davies, winning tactician on the 2006 TP 52 MedCup circuit. Will this make a difference? It could, but only if the boats are nearly matched in speed across a range of conditions.As Hutchinson said after winning the Louis Vuitton Cup, as much as they like what they’ve done with ETNZ, if Alinghi has a faster boat, it’s going to be hard to knock them off.So what does Alinghi have? Well, we reportedly saw SUI-91 sailing on Saturday. The conventional wisdom would be that the team will sail the newer of its two boats, SUI-100, in the Cup Match. Then again, it wouldn’t be beyond the team to have decided to use SUI-100 as a bit of a testing ground-much as they did with SUI-75 in Auckland. But if we consider that the boat that Alinghi sailed on Saturday to be the bottom of their potential speed, they look to be in very good shape. The first race started in 7 to 9 knots, which quickly built into the mid-teens. Luna Rossa was sailing with its light-air main, very rectangular and quite deep, while Alinghi’s carried less area up top and was much flatter. Nonetheless, the Swiss boat was a match for ITA-94 early in the beat and eventually, as the wind built, was able to force Luna Rossa over the starboard-tack layline, rounding with a 10 to 15 second lead. Down the run, Alinghi gained as well, despite blowing a crucial jibe. The day before Alinghi also blew a jibe, shredding a spinnaker. If anything is a bad omen for Alinghi, it’s this occasionally shoddy crewwork. Boatspeed is king in the America’s Cup. But as we saw with Team New Zealand in 2003, focusing exclusively on boatspeed can have its downsides. A team still needs to be able to race the boat; and assuming that individual experience will give a crew that collective skill is slightly fool-hardy. If we saw Alinghi going full-on in the first race, I would say ETNZ would probably have the edge in the light conditions, much as they did over Luna Rossa. However, the next race, in 12 to 15 knots, was decidedly more one-sided. Both boats were flying new mains and Alinghi powered away upwind, building a comfortable margin by the windward mark. The boat seems very stiff-it was never heeled over as much as Luna Rossa-and goes through the water quite well in moderate breeze.In over 12 knots, I think Alinghi will have a speed advantage. So it could well come down to the weather. Of course, Emirates Team New Zealand has two weeks to improve their boats moderate-air performance and Alinghi may well come out with SUI-100, which could be faster in light air, or just plain faster. So despite what was on display on Saturday, most of the questions won’t be answered until the two boats line up on June 23.


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