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Gladwell's Line- Change but no Change

by Richard Gladwell on 14 Sep 2013
Emirates Team NZ leads on Leg 1 of Race 7 © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
Emirates Team New Zealand has now stretched her score to six wins, to lead the 34th America’s Cup by six races to one, in terms of real points.

After Race 5, Oracle Team USA skipper, Jimmy Spithill, came under intense questioning at the post-race media conference, as to whether they would be replacing tactician John Kostecki in the afterguard.

If Spithill knew, he wasn’t saying.

On Wednesday, Oracle Team USA again took to the water, but this time with multiple Olympic Gold medalist in the afterguard, and wearing Kostecki’s named buoyancy vest. The move fooled no-one. And when the crew lists were published this morning the change was complete.

Despite making an apparent bold move, nothing changed on the race course. Emirates Team NZ were dominant, particularly upwind, where the Kiwi team asked more questions on the Defending team. Again there were no answers.

After muffing the start, Emirates Team NZ trailed Oracle Team USA by several seconds at the first reach mark in Race 6, maintained contact down the first run. Then a few tacks into the only windward beat of the five leg race, they were back in command – and the only question was how big would the finishing margin be?

Some clever tactics at various stages of the beat only exacerbated Oracle Team USA’s woes, and the winning margin was as much a product of better tactics, as it was of boatspeed.

In the second race of the day, Oracle’s rout was complete, with Emirates Team NZ’s afterguard pulling off only their second winning start of the regatta. They held a narrow win at the first mark and again kept ahead of Oracle Team USA, before lighting the afterburner for the beat -for the same result that we have seen in six of the seven races sailed.

At the media conference, Spithill made it clear that the call to replace Kostecki was his and his alone. There was no pressure from his Masters, he said.

Perhaps the best that could be said of switching the local knowledge of Kostecki, for the redoubtable Ainslie, is that Spithill, and the rest of the Oracle team would never die wondering, if they should have made the change.

They made the bold call, but it had little effect on the outcome.

Perhaps the difference between the two teams was highlighted yesterday in the Oracle practice session, which consisted of a few runs up and down the harbor. It was unlikely that they would find out too much new in the way of windward speed from that exercise. It seemed to be more a work up exercise with Ainslie in the back of the boat.

Had they been looking to fix an upwind speed problem, Emirates Team NZ’s probable approach would have been to go outside the Golden Gate Bridge, as they have done so many times in the Hauraki Gulf, and put in a long speed testing session – maybe with 15 mile beats – without the variables of current and windpressure inside San Francisco Bay which make accurate speed testing a nonsense.

While there are brave words being uttered by Oracle Team USA about fighting hard to the end, the fact remains that they are no match for Emirates Team NZ on the windward leg – although most would concede that they do have a very slight edge in most other phases of the racing.

With six of the required nine wins on their scorecard, this regatta is now Emirates Team NZ’s to lose, more than it is Oracle’s to win. Simply put the Defender is no longer the master of their own destiny.

However as we saw in the Louis Vuitton Cup, given a small combination of factors, Emirates Team NZ are more than capable of nosediving, and maybe with more catastrophic results. Then the pendulum would swing the Oracle way.

The America’s Cup is far from over.

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