For anyone who has not sailed San Francisco Bay it should be pointed out that dealing
with the conditions there is more than a bit challenging, not only can you get currents of up to 3 – 5 knots, but it is the way the Flood and the Ebb tides change at the crossover and it’s not unusual to find it’s still 3 knots flood in the middle and the ebb is already well under way on the shore. The speed of the boats does not make this any easier, the teams now have to think and make decisions at 3 times the speed as they used to – what we are actually watching is a race where the track (the Bay) is constantly shifting but can’t be seen, the power (the wind) is also constantly fluctuating, and can’t be seen, and yet you have to somehow sail as fast as you can while simultaneously trying to sail the shortest course possible, and keep ahead of the other boat. Even with all the computer power being brought to bear, it’s the Skipper and the Tactical team that have to work together to make these calls – not forgetting the boat is stuffed full of International and Olympic winners who might have a bit to say at the post mortem of each race?
So no disrespect to John Kosecki, or whoever might have made the call, but watching race 5 (was it?) and the way Oracle did a 180 around the mark 2 to focus on the tidal cone behind Alcatraz was unbelievable, these boats are so fast you cannot afford to simply drop the speed to lower than 5 knots for ANY reason, otherwise you have just gifted your opposition at least a min. 100 meter advantage. In some respects I can’t help wonder if this is a reflection on the "old school" thinking of Yacht racing where the current is the trump card, and back when they were racing 12 Meters this would have been sound thinking? The speed these boats travel around the course today now requires that *ALL* aspects are taken in to account, as it is the Alcatraz tidal cone is only in play for maybe 3 – 5 mins. tops?
What has been very interesting to observe is the building relationship and teamwork of Ben Ainslie and Tom Slingsby as they both work the back grinder pedestal as Tag Team. Both are facing different directions, and from the looks of it Tom has been focusing on the wind with regards to varying strengths, puffs, direction and which area of the course is favored, while Ben has been focusing on the tactics, boat position and current.
Regardless, since Ben has come on board and these two have been working the back of the boat, there is no denying the difference in performance. The teamwork itself has also been masterful and they have certainly been superb on boat handling to ensure they stay in the hunt regardless of position.
Ultimately, kudos to Larry Ellison for bankrolling this, we now have a Sailing class that really stretches the boundaries of how exciting this sport can be, the coverage (via YouTube for me in Australia) has been top class, having multiple cameras aboard added with the graphics to explain to non-Sailors where the positions and marks are has been nothing short of fantastic. As the sailing has progressed we have seen the teams step their game up and adapt – and I do hope this is the beginning of a new Class for the America’s Cup where they stick with the same hulls but then can make changes limiting the Wing depending on location/wind speed.
Thanks to a comment on channel Nine this morning I now know that it’s 8-8 all before watching it tonight, but regardless of who wins, Sailing is the winner and is now clearly in the 21st Century – let’s keep it there.