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Too Short for a Comeback

As 18th man with BMW Oracle at Louis Vuitton Trophy La Maddalena, SW's Angus Phillips noted how thin the margin for error is when sailing short races.

May 25, 2010
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SW‘s Angus Phillips rode along at 18th man for BMW Oracle’s match against Team Origin during the round-robin portion of Louis Vuitton Trophy La Maddalena. Bob Grieser/outsideimages.co.nz/Louis Vuitton Trophy

Tony Soprano once said the world’s most pathetic game is “Remember When.” So Tony, forgive this little rant. But remember when America’s Cup races had seven-mile upwind and downwind legs? Here at Louis Vuitton Trophy La Maddalena in Sardinia, Italy, Cup boats run whole races that are less than five miles.

As 18th man with BMW Oracle today, I felt more like a customer at a carnival ride than a guest enjoying yacht racing at its pinnacle. Poor James Spithill made one little error at the start against Team Origin and it was race over, too soon, too soon.

When BMW Oracle rounded the weather mark 18 seconds behind Origin in 12 knots of breeze, there wasn’t much chance of a comeback. “Three and three,” said navigator Ian Moore, meaning the upcoming downwind run of 1.2 miles offered just three minutes on port jibe and three on starboard before we’d find ourselves at the gate. “That’s not so good when you’re behind,” grumped Spithill.

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With four short legs, these sprints are over in a heartbeat. It’s 10 minutes or so upwind, six or so minutes down, twice around, and time to go home. But no one’s complaining, at least so far. “It was frustrating,” Spithill admitted, “but I think it’s okay. It’s good for the spectators and good for TV.”

The 30-year-old Aussie, youngest helmsman ever to win an America’s Cup when he whipped BMW Oracle’s trimaran to victory in Valencia in February, admits he’s a bit rusty in the lumbering old Cup boats. “I haven’t really sailed these boats since the finals in 2007,” when he steered Prada against Emirates Team New Zealand for the Louis Vuitton Cup. “It’s been all multihulls since.”

The loss to Origin left preregatta favorite BMW Oracle 0-2 in the first round robin at La Maddalena. But it’s still early days. No one gets eliminated this round—scores just go toward seeding for the first elimination round, and everyone gets a second chance. “The round robin,” said one Oracle crewman with a shrug, “is just practice.”

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