The Strong Get Stronger

Exclusive reporting from Act 10 in Valencia, Spain

Act10Day1

Stuart Streuli

VALENCIA, Spain-Just hours before the first race of Act 10, Alinghi General Manager Grant Simmer was asked which of the second tier teams he fears the most. From this group, which includes all the challengers save for the Big 3-BMW Oracle, Emirates Team New Zealand, and Luna Rossa-Simmer singled out the Spanish Desafio Español 2007 team as one of two that they thought had potential.When the Spanish syndicate's ESP-65 comfortably crossed Alinghi's bow just minutes after Act 10 got underway, Simmer's prediction seemed right on the money, probably more so than even he had thought. With Ed Baird at the helm, Alinghi, while not dominating the pre-start, had gained control when it counted, catching the Spanish team flatfooted with just under a minute to go. Baird had then pointed his bow toward the boat and roared off on port tack with a 15-second lead as Desafio Español 2007 crossed the line down by the pin on starboard.However, the Spanish wanted the left side-as did Alinghi-and it quickly paid off for them. When boats tacked back toward the center of the course, the Spanish team had found both better pressure and more favorable heading. The first cross, 2:30 into the race, found Alinghi in a rare trailing position with the Spanish team, on port, able to cleanly pass in front of the Swiss boat.Here the afterguard of Desafio Español 2007, led by helmsman Karol Jablonksi, tactician John Cutler, and strategist Luis Doreste, made what would turn out to be a crucial mistake, allowing Alinghi to continue toward the left side of the course."When we crossed them we had a big left [shift]," said Doreste. "We knew that we had more pressure on the left at the beginning, but the when we crossed them we had a big left and we expected the wind to go to the right again. But it didn't."The wind was just tickling the double digits during the first set of races on the North Course and in light wind conditions it's not unusual to see the lead boat favor wind strategies over traditional match-racing tactics, which would've dictated that Jablonski and Cutler stay between their competition and the first mark. Applying a loose cover in unsteady winds is dangerous because the lead boat allows the trailing boat to control partly where the two boats sail. A good tactician will use that opportunity to force the leading boat to choose between sailing in areas of less wind or allowing the trailing boat a little bit of room. Nonetheless it was surprising to see Cutler and Jablonski forgo an opportunity to test both their speed and boathandling in close proximity to the defenders."I was surprised," said Alinghi strategist Jordy Calafat when asked about the Spanish decision not to cover the defenders. "I was very surprised. But it's not easy. Then the second race the wind goes to the right. It was a very tricky day."At the top mark Alinghi-which did find the right shift the Spanish were looking for at the top of the beat-had built a lead of nearly 1 minute. The Spanish crawled back a bit during the first downwind, but Alinghi added to its lead during the second beat and second run to finish ahead by nearly 2 minutes.In the second flight of races, the Spanish syndicate was involved in the most combative race of the day on the North Course. The race pitted Desafio Español against the Italian +39 team. As the countdown near 1 minute to go, +39 was firmly in control holding the leeward starboard position with both boats to leeward and to starboard of the committee boat. Iain Percy, the helmsman on the Italian boat, held his position, moving slowly toward the line and never allowing the Spanish team to get to his left. With just seconds remaining, the Italian boat trimmed in and headed for the line the Spanish boat exactly where Percy wanted it, on his windward hip. Jablonski, the skipper for Desafio Español, faked like he was going to take +39's stern-the safe option-but then hardened up and tried to squeeze between his opponent and the committee boat. It was a risky move. Percy responded by immediately luffing up, hoping to draw a foul, which he did. In fact, the umpires penalized Jablonski twice, one for squeezing in between the two boats and then for not getting out of the way when Percy luffed head to wind.Normally such a call by the umpires is a virtual death sentence. A 30- to 40-second headstart, which is the time normally required for penalty turn by an America's Cup Class yacht, and another penalty still to burn is usually more than enough to ensure a victory. But after applying a loose cover for the first half of the leg, +39 gave Desafio Español a little breathing room toward the top of the leg and the Spanish team was able to turn this into an even-bow situation and emerge from that with a small lead. Once in front, the Spanish syndicate was able to use it's superior speed-the Italian boat is one of two 2000-generation yachts being sailed in this regatta and has always struggled in lighter winds-to gain enough of a lead to burn its penalty on the second upwind leg and still finish with a comfortable lead."We had a loose cover," said Percy, "but we got a bit out of phase and a bit wrong on the shifts at the top. We have to sail our own race because we are significantly slower. When the shifts go against us we get double hammered. It's really hard for us in that boat in these conditions."You're not going to change the characteristics of the boat. It's now almost nine years old. It's not built for these conditions. We need over 12 knots and we'll be fine. We saw 7 to 9 today, the last bit of the last race up to 10."Virtually all of the races went according to form today. Alinghi, Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa, and BMW Oracle Racing, the latter three sailing their new boats, went undefeated, while the teams that struggled last season, China Team, United Internet Team Germany, and Team Shosholoza were all winless. The closest match of the day was between the UITG and Areva Challenge, which just signed its title sponsor earlier this spring. The start was even and Areva was able to build a 30-second lead on the first two legs. UITG closed to within 15 seconds on the second beat, but was unable to get past the French team on the final run losing by 18 seconds. Results from Day 1(Matches 1 through 3 sailed on the North Course, 4 through 6 on the South Course. The left hand boat entered from the pin end, the right hand boat from the boat end.)Flight 1Match 1 Desafio Español 2007 lost to Alinghi by 1:52Match 2 Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia Team def. +39 Challenge by 1:06Match 3 China Team lost to Luna Rossa Challenge by 2:52Match 4 Emirates Team New Zealand def. United Internet Team Germany by 2:32Match 5 Areva Challenge lost to. Victory Challenge by 1:01Match 6 Team Shosholoza lost to BMW ORACLE Racing by 1:16Flight 2Match 1 Luna Rossa Challenge def. Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia Team by 2:15Match 2 Alinghi def. China Team 6:05Match 3 Desafio Español 2007 def. +39 Challenge by 1:14Match 4 United Internet Team Germany lost to Areva Challenge by 0:18Match 5 BMW ORACLE Racing def. Victory Challenge 0:59Match 6 Team Shosholoza lost to Emirates Team New Zealand 1:44