Spain turned into a giant paella, in mid afternoon, after Desafio Espanol’s defeat of the mighty BMW Oracle, but by evening time they were mourning for that lost second place in the final tables. ETNZ showed us all how NOT to do it in their run in with BMW Oracle, Luna Rossa showed us that they are dangerous, Mascalzone showed us that they are vulnerable and Victory Challenge showed us their inconsistency.
It was a grand day and there was also a bit of a relief that this set of flights had, finally, been completed. At least by now we have seen enough to begin to get a better picture of the teams and their abilities with sailing boards across internet buzzing with speculation, hype and patriotic flaming. There are axes to grind, insults to be thrown, moans about the ACM organisation to be aired and very healthy it all is too, with bandwidth being burned at a prodigious rate. Everyone has an opinion about the teams, so here are mine.
BMW ORACLE Racing (USA 98): Slick,Slippery and generally looking good. They have gone through this series with hardly a hiccup and, although they lost their clean record to Desafio Español, they didn't really show any chinks in their armour when they did so, except that there seemed to be some strong words being exchanged between Larry and some of his lads. Has to be my choice for one of the final spots and going on to challenge for the America's Cup. They have been the stars of this round, but they only seem to shine out when Alinghi isn't around.
Luna Rossa Challenge (ITA 94): A nicely put together package and getting better all the time. They've had their ups and downs but second place in the tables shows that the downs are on the losing side. Their choice of boat design raised a few eybrows when it was originally unveiled, but it's certainly no slouch. Expect to see more improvement as the next round progresses. They seem to be building towards a peak at just the right time.
Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL 92) The big disappointment so far. ETNZ have failed to live up to the hype over its dream team and have been very lucky not to have lost more races. You can't blame the boat because it is blindingly fast when they sail it right and work together as a team. My take on it is that they have too many chiefs and not enough indians. Must do better if they want to challenge for the AC.
Desafío Español 2007 (ESP 97) Looking good, the boat is fast and they would have been sitting in ETNZ's spot if it hadn't been for that busted spinnaker pole in an early race. They are looking better each time out, but I still cringe at some of the dicey starting situations they get themselves into. They really have to sort that out. They've shown that they can keep their heads when they are dishing out the pressure, but look vulnerable when the opponent bites back. Some tactical decisions have to be looked at if they want to stay in with a chance of making the semi-finals.
Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia (ITA 99): This is the dark horse. They've galloped, they've fallen at a few hurdles and they've picked themselves up and gone galloping off again. I really like this team for the simple, no fuss approach they have shown so far. I'd love to see them in the semis, but they have some very tough opposition. An outsider but worth an each way bet.
Victory Challenge (SWE 96): Victory Challenge has not really challenged. The team looks together one day and the next goes back to looking like an early evening booze cruise. There seems to be no consistency with this team and, from a spectator point of view, you are left with mixed emotions. In any one race you can be saying "Wow, that was a lovely move" and the next you are asking yourself "What the hell was that about; they've just handed the race away?" when you see some stupid decision or mistake.They could be dangerous in this next round, but they won't make the semis unless there are some drastic improvements in consistency.
Team Shosholoza (RSA 83): Shosholoza seems to have gone off of the boil a little, but they work hard and are obviously out there enjoying themselves. They certainly love their sailmakers, because they seem to be keeping a few lofts in permanent employment judging by the way they go through spinnakers. They stated at the start that they would be happy with a sixth place overall and I think they may get that and, with a little bit of luck, an extra one as a bonus. They are one of the darlings of this America's Cup and definitely not to be taken lightly when they are out on the water.
Areva Challenge (FRA 93): A strange one this. Areva are proving yet again that, although the French rule the ocean waves when it comes to big multis and heart attack inducing capers across the worlds oceans, they are not much good at match racing. For some reason, they just don't have it all together; the boat doesn't look that slow, but it just doesn't go. Not much of a chance for Areva I'm afraid.
+39 Challenge (ITA 85): The other darlings of the 32nd AC. They kicked and struggled to get here, they've kicked and struggled to stay here and it's great to see them out there competing each day. I still firmly believe that if it were not for that mast breakage in the fleet races, we would now be seeing +39 in the top half of the table and, if it were in my power, I'd create a "Spirit in the Face of Adversity" trophy and hand it to them, because they really deserve it.
United Internet Team Germany (GER 89:) Definitely a big disappointment. They've shown some good boat speed and, during the fleet races, they looked to be getting it all together, but for Round Robin 1 it looked like it all fell apart.
China Team (CHN 95) They came, they saw, but they didn't conquer. Team China can now only put on a brave face and make the best of a bad job with the tools they have in hand. They must be bitterly disappointed with their effort, but they are here and, hopefully, will be back on the water for Round Robin 2, where they can pack in a few more hours of valuable experience. America's Cup 32 may have been a disaster for them, but this is a first effort for the Chinese and they will be back in future editions and will be virgins no more. Expect to see the America's Cup sitting in the Bejing Chop Suey and Yachting Club sometime in the future, because sone day they will come prepared and with a campaign that could make even Larry gasp.