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On the eve of the Prada Cup final

12 Feb, 2021

An alternative story does the rounds down here

Is it an indication of the level of nervous tension that has been building this week that the local media now seems to be pushing stories that offer a distraction from the big first day of the Prada Cup final. Or perhaps it is because the media down here wrote all their preview stories a day early? In that sense perhaps it’s not surprising. In order to cater for the northern hemisphere media the pre-event press conference was held a day earlier. But today’s headline news on TV at least was about the possibility of Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli showing interest in returning to the America’s Cup. It’s an intriguing feature to run given how controversial a topic this still is down here. And while the TV expressed surprise at a possible return, I wasn’t at all. I interviewed him in 2019, at his home on the shores of Lake Geneva, when we were last allowed to do such things. I’d interviewed him several times before and knew what he thought about the Cup. During this interview he made it clear that he was still interested in the Cup. In his words, ‘I still love the Cup,’ and he believes that, ‘the Cup is the pinnacle of our sport.’ He also said that he was keen to see how the new generation of Cup boats developed. So, as someone who has always been a hands-on sailor and someone who is pretty handy at foiling too, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him return. It was a fascinating conversation - here’s what he had to say. In the meantime, we’ve just had an afternoon of rehearsals and practice racing which was fascinating to watch, especially as all three teams were out on the water. As you’ll probably know, the defenders are not allowed to play with the challengers ahead of the Cup match itself and today they stuck to that. But so too did the challengers, choosing instead to take turns at several timed runs into the start followed by a one lap sprint around the course. All three boats did this. Naturally, after so long (relatively) locked away in their sheds we were all keen to see what had changed. I spent much of the afternoon in the TV gallery glued to the multiple screens while trawling archived shots of the boats from previous rounds to compare and contrast. So, what did we learn? That the new Kiwi foils look super sophisticated and very different to those of the challengers’. They are flat foils with little if any anhedral (downward slope) which allows them to have the maximum length cant arm section of the foil, presumably from which they generate their side force. They also have a tiny bulb at the connection between the foil and the cant arm which seems to suggest that they have placed the weight in the arm elsewhere which has allowed them to reduce the drag of the system. Above the water they appear to have a system that connects the mainsail traveller to the mast rotation which allows them to maintain a powerful sail through tacks and gybes. Their jib sheet system seems to be very sophisticated too and while this may not be completely new, I was struck at just how quickly their sail moves across the boat like a blade through tacks unlike those of the challengers’. It almost looks like its running on a self-tacking track, except that this is banned under the rules. Apparently, they have a clever jib car system that controls the clew through the tack that means that very little sheet adjustment is required. And then there’s the mast. Today they seemed to be running with large amounts of fore and aft bend and colossal mainsheet loads indicated by the width of the gap between the two mainsail leaches. Having said all that, they looked twitchy at times but then again we have no idea as to what they were trying to get out of the day. On the subject of twitchy, Luna Rossa were anything but. Their silky smooth, sure footed performance in a gusty and shifty 17-19knots from the SW was impressive. INEOS were pretty impressive too with a confident performance around the race track, albeit later in the afternoon when conditions had decreased to around 14-18knots. I don’t know whether I’ve talked myself into thinking this given my earlier analysis of the two teams strengths and weaknesses, but from a pure performance point of view the Brits didn’t look as settled as the Italians. Looks can of course be very deceiving when you have nothing to compare them to. What we saw today as they sailed on their own may also bear little resemblance to what they look like in the heat of the battle. But given this I think I’ll stick to my theory that Ben and the boys will excel if it is shifty and the breeze is no lower than close to double figures. Tomorrow’s forecast at present is for 5-9 knots from the NE as a high pressure system pushes in and returns summer to Auckland. So, it’s anybody’s guess. Perhaps it’s no wonder the media are talking about something else. +++++ Ps. If this Cup wasn’t a steep enough learning curve I managed to climb an even bigger one in trying to build a Cup Blog on which to post these scribblings. I thought I had got the hang of online after building a YouTube channel but clearly there’s plenty more to learn! Anyway, it’s here and it’s set up for your laptop, tablet and phone so that you can read it in the largest or the smallest room in the house.

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