Bad wind keeps sailors from gaining good read on field
The challenger races are taking far longer than anyone expected due to chronic weather delays. The event organizer, America's Cup Management (ACM), selected Valencia, Spain, as the venue for the 32nd America's Cup, in part, because of the reliable winds.
Unfortunately, it took two weeks to complete one round robin of racing. The quality of those races is questionable because of the light, shifty winds. In these kinds of conditions, it is hard to judge boat speed. The challengers use the trials to determine what team will race the defending champion Alinghi in the America's Cup, which begins June 23. The races are also used to prepare the winning team. Still, the light wind is causing problems.
America's Cup veteran Paul Cayard has been serving as an adviser to Desafío Español 2007. Cayard said there is a fundamental problem because Alinghi, and their parent organization, ACM, are running the races.
"This is the first Cup where the challenger series is being run by an entity appointed by the defender," Cayard said. "ACM's unwillingness to accommodate and cooperate with the challengers is terrible. It is their series after all."
One of the two principal race officers is Harold Bennett from New Zealand. He served as race committee chairman for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron during the 2000 and 2003 America's Cup finals. Bennett was unable to complete races on half the scheduled events during both of those years. That record not withstanding, ACM hired Bennett to run races in Valencia. Once again, he has struggled to get good races completed. Everyone wants a fair race, but the event needs to stay on schedule.
The Louis Vuitton Cup semifinal races begin May 14.
So far, the four teams expected to advance are at the top of the leaderboard -- BMW Oracle Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa Challenge and Desafío Español 2007. It is unlikely an underdog will advance. After three years of preparation and only three weeks of racing, it is hard to believe seven teams will be eliminated May 9.
Off to the side, Alinghi has been training and testing, but they also have not received much value out of their time on the water because of the wind. Later in the sailing season, the weather is predicted to improve. The wind will be stronger and, presumably, the racing better. When that happens, the fastest boat will emerge.
So far, American challenger BMW Oracle Racing has been strong despite losing two of their last three races to lower-ranked teams from Spain and China. The loss to China Team can be explained by an equipment breakdown -- BWM Oracle Racing was unable to set one of their sails. The setback will make the shore crew look hard for potential future problems.
The time to make measurement modifications to boats is in between rounds. There are only four days between the conclusion of the second round robin and the semifinals, making it difficult to put together a substantial change. At this point, we don't know which teams will be fast in a strong breeze, but they will need to learn fast if they hope to be competitive against Alinghi. Everyone is hoping the weather will improve, but the forecast for the next week is not encouraging.
A number of sailors report from the water that the American team seems to be fast. Overall, the crew is sailing well, but the all-important semifinal will tell the tale.
Hopefully, by that point, there will be better wind.
Gary Jobson is a sailing analyst for ESPN. He is a former collegiate sailor and was a tactician for the 1977 America's Cup-winning yacht Courageous.
In addition to ESPN, Jobson has covered the America's Cup for ABC's Good Morning America, Nightline and Wide World of Sports. He served as a commentator for TBS' coverage of yachting at the Goodwill Games from Moscow in 1986 and Seattle in 1990. He covered yachting at the 1988 and 2000 Olympics for NBC Sports, winning an Emmy Award for the 1988 Games in South Korea.