Tuesday, May 15, 2007

America's Cup

The pulse-pounding, heart-racing, breath-stopping excitement of 12 meter sailboat racing returns to television.

Well, okay, I may be indulging in a small degree of hyperbole there, as the pace is admittedly somewhat less than frenetic. But I’ve been waiting more than three years for this.

Many years ago I raced Lightening Class sailboats and, at the risk of immodesty, I was very good at it. The experience defies description. It is man against man, man against nature, team skill, individual skill, knowledge, art, science and courage.

In a match race you are pitting yourself not just against your opposing sailor, but against the course, the water and the wind, and against yourself. The results of your decisions manifest slowly and often at a long remove, and there is often inclination to second guess yourself. I have won races after trailing simply by doing something so outlandish that it made my opponent become indecisive.

There’s talk of this being the last challenge using the 12 meter class, but I hope not. This is such a beautiful boat. Can anything be more lovely than the curve of that sail when perfectly filled, of that hull performing an exquisite combination of cutting water and yielding to wave?

The television coverage is quite good. The commentary gets a little hyper at times, but getting the viewer excited is their job and they don’t really overdo it. They have a “sail track” technology thing and they use it very tastefully. In the challenger semifinals they are covering two races simultaneously, and my hat is off to the skill with which they are managing that.

The American boat is tied with the Italians at one race each. Oracle sailed into a bad wind shift yesterday, did so repeatedly in fact, and lost by more than two minutes. Today they got snookered horribly on the start, which is just really hard to imagine: the start is often considered to be the most important part of the race. Oracle has tremendous downwind speed, though, and passed on the last leg to even the series. Still, they look a bit overmatched at this point.

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