It seems like it has been a long time building to this point, but finally we are ready to go racing. Despite all the drama and controversy that has marred the build-up to this America’s Cup, there has never been so much expectation and intrigue attached to an opening race.
We’ve heard a lot over the past few weeks over the design merits of each team’s boat, but not a lot about the guys charged with getting them around the race course.
Dean Barker has no reason to fear Jimmy Spithill.
He wiped the floor with Spithill when they met in the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup final, and I think that was the coming of age for Barker.
The two are quite different helmsmen. From a boat-handling perspective I think Barker has some God-given gifts around the startline in terms of the way he sees the picture. The way he turns the boat up to the line and his time on distance judgment is impressive.
Spithill is a bit more gung-ho, he’s likely to take more risks and be a bit more aggressive.
I don’t buy the line that Oracle Team USA are the underdogs. That is just a PR device to try to drum up sympathy to their cause from the American public.
They are the holders of the America’s Cup, it’s their regatta, their rules. They won it in 2010 in a multihull with a wingsail and have all that knowledge to draw on from that campaign.
They’ve got huge resources and manpower and a lot of smart people involved in their programme.
Events in recent weeks, with the hearings over the cheating and misconduct cases, will have had a destabilising effect on the team.
They have had to deal with a lot of disruptions and a lot of uncertainty. But in the end, if they’ve got the better boat, they’ll win.
Which is not to say boat speed will be the only deciding factor in this regatta.
These are only 25-minute races. Emphasis on boat speed was a lot more when they were 90-minute races; now starts and manoeuvres will be very important.
Within the first six minutes of a race the teams will have that reaching start, rounded the first mark and performed about three gybes before hitting the bottom mark.
Then they’ve got that tough gate rounding at the bottom mark. That’s a lot going on in a short space of time for the crew – and as we’ve seen in the Louis Vuitton races, the speed of these boats means a small error in boathandling can cost a team 100m.
So the team’s ability to manoeuvre the boat, particularly the foiling gybes, and get around the corners will be very important.