October 29, 2006
Sailor turned commentator Geordie Shaver (Stars&Stripes 1995 and 2000 and Oracle Racing in 2003) gives CupInfo his take on the upcoming America’s Cup –- the challengers, the would-be challengers, and why, as usual, it’s good to be the Defender.
Handicapping the Challengers
You can pretty much bet that the guys who were ahead with the older boats are going to be further ahead with the newer boats. Time on the water is the biggest thing in the America’s Cup, and the guys who have been out there two boat testing for three years, as opposed to the smaller teams who have only been at it for a year or so, it shows up in the end product.
The Big Three
Team New Zealand tried a lot of new stuff last time around and they had a lot of breakdowns and I think they learned from that. They’ll be a little more conservative than last time. I think they’ve done a good job of slugging it out the old school way, so they’ll be right up there in the end. That team is really gelling right now, with Terry Hutchinson working with Dean and Ben Ainslie running the B boat.
Luna Rossa seems to always have a bow situation –- back in 2000, it seemed like they were putting on a new bow every week, and they have a new one now. So that’s nothing new for them.
So the big three are set: Oracle, Team New Zealand and Prada. Larry even ranked Team New Zealand ahead of Prada in the press conference yesterday. So any one of these teams can win.
The Race for Number Four?
I did like the Spanish after the last Act. They seemed to be going well. They’ve got a good group of people and they’re good sailors. That boat came out the first day, and everyone thought, wow, they’re having a lot of problems. But the boat was brand new and they decided to race it in Act 12, and at the end of the day, the boat was going well. It points very well upwind and they look pretty good compared to some of the other teams. They’ve also had a little more time on the water than some of the other teams.
There’s also Shosholoza, with Tomasso Chieffi and Paolo Cian in the back of the boat. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. By the end of the season, they were definitely the most improved of the group – they were doing okay against the big guys as soon as they got going.
Victory got a new boat and a new sponsor and has brought in some new guys to tighten up some of the crew. They’re always tough but they’re not that consistent yet, and it’s that consistency you need to be competitive, but those guys could be trouble. To get that second boat out was huge for them, having shut things down for a while, but they’re rolling again now. They’re going to be a team to watch.
It’s going to be interesting when the new boats come out. It’s always possible that someone could have the golden goose.
I think we saw the disadvantage last time. Team New Zealand sailed around a lot by themselves and I think it hurt them in the end. Alinghi has had the chance to race and race their old boat against some of the new boats and basically winning right up 'til the end. And there don’t appear to be any problems in that camp, even with Ed Baird and Peter Holmberg slugging it out. If I was a betting man, I’d be on them defending.
Rigs and Sprits and Jumpers, Oh My!
I haven’t seen all of the new boats, but it appears that they’re all looking more similar now. The class has been out a while –- it takes a couple of years, but after a while, they all start looking the same. That’s not a bad thing –- it puts more of a premium on the crew to make the difference.
Everyone’s trying new stuff with the rigs. The rigs are getting pretty crazy now. And it’s great for the sport in general, and the trickle down effect. Like winch packages –- you’re seeing winch packages on regular racing boats that you just didn’t see 10 years ago.
The Nationality Issue
The cultural thing is the biggest thing, especially when it comes to getting some new Americans into the Cup. Everyone needs to be prepared to get used to each other’s cultural differences. Sometimes you have a great team out of it – with Oracle last time around, we had guys from all the American syndicates and all over the planet, and for the first year, it was tough. But we all got used to each other and how to become one team and had a very strong team at the end.
The biggest thing is the build up time we have now. You can take a new guy and train him over time. In Cups past, if you had a year to get a team together, you had to have all the veterans in there. And with teams staying together from one Cup to another, there are lots of possibilities.
Cameron Dunn is a good example of a younger guy who made the most of a good opportunity. He sailed with Oracle last time, now driving one of the boats and managing one of the smaller teams.
-- Diane Swintal for CupInfo - ©2006
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