Eye on the Cup: Better Be Lucky

Winning in a come-from-behind effort, Alinghi takes the first race of the 32nd America's Cup--a result CW's editor predicted (kind of).


Alinghi and Emirates split tacks at the leeward gate. Alinghi won the first race by 35 seconds after coming from behind at the start.John Burnham

I watched today's race between the Swiss and the New Zealanders from the press boat with Sailing World's senior editor and America's Cup correspondent Stuart Streuli. He's been covering the Louis Vuitton series for a couple months now, and if you'd like a fuller race report, you can read his coverage of today's race at www.sailingworld.com; I'm just arrived on the scene in Valencia with a "fresh" perspective (or slightly uninformed, perhaps). The members of the media have a pool to guess who will win and by how much. This morning, without giving it too much thought, I dashed off a guess that Alinghi, the Swiss boat, would win by 35 seconds.

On the press boat, a big powered catamaran, we were part of a huge spectator fleet, by some estimates about 800 strong and several of which were longer than 100 feet. We were given a preferred viewing position close to the starting area. There was an easterly wind of 11 to 13 knots and a reasonable swell that was covered by lots of spectator chop. If you haven't read it elsewhere yet, Alinghi sailed to a solid victory over the challenger, Emirates New Zealand. Although Dean Barker, at the helm of ENZ, held a slight early lead and had the windward position after the start, Ed Baird, at the helm of Alinghi, began to point a little higher after a few minutes and forced New Zealand to tack away. When Alinghi followed suit a short while later, the defender took the lead. And despite the New Zealand team's best efforts, Alinghi carried a 13 second lead at the first mark and a 20 second lead at the leeward mark. Remarkably, the final winning margin was exactly what I'd guessed-35 seconds.

Is Alinghi faster and the better boat? The Swiss boat seemed to point a little higher while sailing slightly slower, but overall having a slight edge upwind in today's breeze. At the post-race press conference, however, both teams downplayed any speed difference, claiming that Alinghi got a windshift at just the right time, which allowed them to force New Zealand to tack and then gain the lead and control the race. Maybe it was luck, maybe they were faster. It's hard to say.

But downwind, Alinghi seemed to my eye to sail slightly faster, as well. Given that, Alinghi would seem to have gained more than the single point for winning the race today; they've placed a huge amount of pressure on the New Zealand team to control the next race from the outset.

After the start of the race, the closest boat-for-boat action on the water took place after the race when the spectator armada lined up to try to get back inside the breakwaters of the harbor. We witnessed some near collisions as some boats tried to cut in line of others already lined up. Eventually, we got back to the dock and attended the post-race press conference, where a large crowd of expectant television, newspaper, magazine, and website journalists packed the post-race press conference as well. New Zealand skipper Dean Barker was there to answer questions, but, incredibly, Alinghi kept its helmsman, Ed Baird, under wraps just as he has been for several weeks (see Stu Streuli's story on that). Instead, Alinghi sent grinder Matt Welling and navigator Juan Vila to meet the press.

The highlight of the press conference for me was its conclusion, when I was announced as winner of the Louis Vuitton Media contest and learned that I had won a magnum of Mumm's champagne, a Louis Vuittton bag, and a Nespresso espresso maker. My advice to my fellow journalists for the future contests? Don't spend too much time thinking about your prediction. It worked for me.