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ACWS Day 2

19 Dec, 2020

Straight into the drama

Two days in and we’ve already had more drama than you’d normally get in two weeks of the opening stages of a ‘normal’ America’s Cup, whatever that is. Today, we had a near capsize by the only team to have beaten Emirates Team New Zealand, (and if you count the practice races that’ll be twice). We also had a near miss by said Defenders who came within a metre or so, maybe less, of destroying their boat by hitting the 900kg glass fibre mark with their foil as they passed it at close to 40 knots. The Kiwis then went on to perform a high speed wheelie out the back of a gybe when the rudder stalled out and demonstrated how quickly a dominant performance can go to rats, before then demonstrating how quickly you have to react to prevent it becoming a crisis. Not wishing to pick on them but, we also saw how the home team aren’t immune to technical problems and breakdowns and the odd dose of bad judgement. It would appear they’re not super-human after all. We had three lead changes in a race that many had written off as a one sided affair, a high speed jousting match in the start box between Spithill and Barker that made many of us wince and draw breath in a race that delivered three penalties in the pre-start fisticuffs. This was also a race that saw the winning margin expand and contract between 5-20secs throughout the 4 lap race. Dull? Yeah right. I’m not making this up and I’m also not going to explain it blow by blow as the official press release covers all the key moves of every race, but if you’re the slightest bit interested I would recommend taking time to watch it on YouTube over the weekend because this is really something quite different. In the meantime, and to fill in the gaps between the first two days of racing the talk of the dockside over the last 24 hours has been of control systems and comms. At yesterday’s press conference Ben raised what is clearly a contentious issue around software control systems and the way that he believes the supplied kit is causing problems when it comes to handling the beasts. What the key issues are behind the scenes is difficult to get to the bottom of, as well as being a technical problem I suspect this is also a political issue, the first hot potato in an event that historically has a sackfull of them over the course of the Cup cycle. The evidence for this could be heard in the references to control systems today in some of the post race interviews. Some even wondered whether the American Magic near capsize was down to the same topic although Barker said that they would have to take a look at the data and see if it was human error. I suspect that this topic could be an issue that may develop over time. Getting start information seems to have been a problem for some as well which has contributed to it being difficult to identify where the start box and entry lines are. It hasn’t stopped teams from competing though as they revert to the Mk1 eyeball technique which is impressive in itself. What’s so special in that you may think? When you’re doing over 30-40knots in 12-15 knots of breeze for the afternoon, spotting wind shifts and gusts is as easy as if you were trying to do it from your car along a seaside freeway. Alternatively, try taking a random shot and identifying whether they’re going upwind or down. It’s hard enough off the water, on it while you’re dressed to go skiing with a helmet and goggles I can’t imagine how you revert to the basics. But they do. Finally, the other thing to impress me today was the British performance. Sure, they lost two races and still have no points on the board, but their performance was a huge step up from the desperate state that they were in over the last few days. As Ainslie freely admits they have still got to deal with key performance issues, especially in the light but progress comes in steps. And what their performance reminded me was how difficult it is to come back from dark days without doing more harm in the process. I’ve heard it said often in Olympic circles among the experienced campaigners that when you’ve been pinned against the ropes it’s tempting to feel like you really have to prove yourself each time you try to come back. That can make you behave irrationally and do things that have never been part of your playbook or training. And each time you do so you take a bigger risk. Ainslie and his crew know this well and their surefooted performance today demonstrated it. Meanwhile, tomorrow’s racing sees the final day of the Round Robin. For me the headline match is that between American Magic and the Kiwis. Don’t miss it – I wont.

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