Friday, June 22, 2007

America's Cup

Tomorrow, in the opening race of the 32nd America's Cup in Valencia, the Swiss defender Alinghi will be meeting up with the Kiwi challenger named Emirates Team New Zealand. From a purely sporting viewpoint, in this millionaires' hobby based upon the notion of mano-a-mano match racing, there's an intriguing flaw. Whereas the challenger has just endured an arduous series of races, acquiring practical experience out on the water, the defender has been sitting on the sidelines and merely watching, as it were. [This was not entirely true, since the defenders have been constantly match racing among themselves.] So, the New Zealand team will arrive at the starting line with their muscles flexed and their tactics tested, whereas the Swiss boat will normally need a little time to adapt itself to the atmosphere of combat. In the boxing domain, where there's a similar dissymmetry between the defender of a title and his challengers, the former has an opportunity of analyzing the weaknesses of his future opponent. In yachting, the situation is hardly comparable. Consequently, I feel that the Kiwi boat is the hot favorite, at least for tomorrow's first race.

My box of souvenirs holds my press card for the America's Cup regattas in Perth, which started in October 1986, with the finals being held in January 1987. At that time, my son and I were crew members aboard a local twelve-meter yacht, Zigeuner, and we had friends in the teams French Kiss and Challenge France. That was a short but exciting sunny sea-sprayed season in my life. At the height of the regattas, I helped the owner/skipper of the Zigeuner, Charles Russell-Smith, in the organization of a gentlemanly race between fourteen old-time boats that happened to be berthed at Fremantle during the America's Cup season, including several magnificent multi-masted vessels. Here's a newspaper photo of our own boat competing in this race, in which we ended up coming third:

In the context of our planning, one of my tasks had consisted of meeting up with the captain of the visiting Italian cruise ship Achille Laura, berthed at Fremantle, to provide him with precise information about our regatta, informing him that our old boats would be racing on a certain course, at a certain time, so that he would avoid maneuvering his vessel in ways that could interfere with our event... which was to be watched by spectators on countless small craft. Well, the captain of the Achille Laura was a smart bugger: smarter than me, in any case. With the aim of giving his passengers a closeup view of our regatta, he used the information I had given him to anchor his bloody big ship, in the early hours of the morning, right in the middle of our course!

Another happy memory of that season was my winning the journalists' prize for predicting the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers, and the average winning margin. I used the Pascal programming language on my little cubic Macintosh to create a software tool enabling me to record and compare the results of all the early races, and this helped me guess the final outcome with remarkable precision. The media-center organizers had proposed a first, a second and a third prize for this prediction competition, and my entry was so precise that they awarded me all three prizes! I've still got a couple of ugly reddish-plastic prize suitcases at Gamone, with the following label:

At our flat in Fremantle, the prize also enabled my son and me to drink M&H champagne for a few weeks.

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