The two round-robins are now finished. No surprises among the top three. The battle for fourth was a tough one. Mascalzone Latino looked favourite for the final spot after beating Team New Zealand in their very first race, but they could not hold the form and in the end Desafío Español secured that fourth slot.

Having done some work with Desafío this spring, it was nice to see the Spanish grow through the round-robins. They have a good boat, great boat-handling and they steadily improved. For sure they will face a tough opponent in the semi-finals but they have possibly the most potential to improve.

It was interesting to see the differences in the designs and which shapes prevailed. A high-prismatic boat (more volume in the ends) would do better in strong winds and lower prismatic (volume more concentrated in the middle of the hull) would do better in lighter winds and in manoeuvring. Also there are the cross-sectional shape differences. Some boats are very round and some have very hard bilges, almost chines. As the class has got narrower, bilges have been pushed harder to maintain stability and to reduce wetted surface at 30 – 33 degrees’ heel … the upwind target angle in 15kt. But the harder bilges seem to make the boat slower manoeuvring. While on these Version 5 boats with Desafío I often had the sensation I was sailing a shoebox in the prestart, as compared to the 2000 boats.

To my eye, in the top six, high-prismatic boats are Victory and Mascalzone, middle are BMW Oracle and Desafío Español, and the lowest-prismatic boats are Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand. The other big variable is which boats have been worked up to near the maximum of their potential. Obviously the bigger teams, with more money and time and experience, have got the most out of their boats. So from a design perspective we can’t draw any big conclusions simply from race results.

Personally, I like the mid to high-prismatic boats. I think Mascalzone and Victory are very good designs but both suffered from lack of experience in getting the most out of their boats in the time. Also the detailing, including fin/bulb/rudder, may not have been optimised fully. There is a lot of speed in detailing, tuning and sail shape and trim. There is a lot of speed in the steering and trimming that goes on during a race. Sailing is very dynamic. Not all teams are sailing their boat to the full potential all the time. The good teams can keep the boat ‘in the groove’ 97 per cent of the time while the less experienced teams will get distracted by the race and sail well maybe 85 per cent of the race. I think Alinghi is at least as high prismatic as BMW if not close to Mascalzone. That is why Alinghi are moving the start time for the match to a time that suits! Nice to be able to do that, eh? The others… 11th) China – good first try? Nice to have them in the game. 10th) Germany – first-timers. Nice to have them in the game. Not a terribly slow boat. 9th) +39 – underfunded. Too bad for an excellent group of sailors. 8th) Areva – more of the same from France, a country that should be doing better by now. 7th) Shosholoza – simply the best of the rest. Tomasso Chieffi and Paolo Cian did a great job. A lot of heart and soul in this team. 6th) Mascalzone – huge improvement on 2003. Almost! 5th) Victory Challenge – close but no cigar from a country that has been in the game for a while now. Got going too late.

A quick look at the semi-finalists

Team New Zealand came into play on the last day of the roundrobins. Good to see this type of execution when the pressure is on. The boat seems OK, but not great. It is good in 11kt and under. Fast downwind but these races are won at the start and up the first windward leg. Is there some more in the shed? BMW Oracle look very strong in all areas. USA 98 is a good all-round boat. Brady and Isler are doing a nice job of keeping it all together in the back. The crew are solid. But the question is will they be able to maintain the form when the going gets tough? Luna Rossa are similar to TNZ in design and performance – best suited to 11kt and under. Maybe not quite as powerful upwind. Will these teams be able to improve their range? Luna already have the low CG/high wetted surface bulb. What else can they do? Desafío look to have a similar prismatic to Oracle. This boat has the wheels in 15kt and defends well in 10. The sea breeze should be more regular as we go on and the start time from now on is 1500 which should favour Desafío and BMW… Desafío will be the underdog in the semis but no pressure is a great way to race.

Desafío Español are the only ‘first-time’ challenge in the four. The other three are into at least their second (BMW Oracle) or 6th (TNZ) attempt. The ‘roll-on’ factor is a big advantage. The best ‘first-time challenge’ and ‘bang for the buck’ award has to go to Shosholoza. This team impressed and enchanted. So what is the end game for the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup? Alinghi are waiting. Well, not really waiting. They are working hard testing changes and making their own schedule while the challengers try to win races and develop boats at the same time. After an incredibly well-conceived Protocol which has given Alinghi more advantages than any defender has ever had, the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup can expect not only every card stacked against them but also a very fast boat and well-oiled crew. The Alinghi trimmers are the best in the business so they are getting the most out of their boat more of the time than the rest.

The crew are mostly the same as 2003, so lack of confidence is not a problem! The one weakness may be at the helm. Obviously, Russell Coutts is the best but probably Baird or Holmberg will be good enough to get the job done.

Outlook: Alinghi 5-1. This may be generous to the challenger. Then what? Cup in Valencia in two years? Cup in Dubai? Cup to the highest bidder? Probably. Entertaining Dubai and others just to up the ante for Valencia? Probably.

Valencia has all the infrastructure so it would be a shame not to use it again. Collecting money from everywhere possible has been one of ACM’s most prolific traits… Just ask anyone who ponied up the 500,000 euros for a parking spot in the harbour for a couple of months.

All the hype by ACM about being an objective race organiser is just that – hype. This is the first time ever that the challenger eliminations have been run by the defender. It has never been worse for the challengers and I would be surprised if they accept this imposition again from this group. It is a shame really because the concept of one independent race management for the entire event is a good one.

But this ACM is a subsidiary of Alinghi and little has been done to mask that fact. I think BMW Oracle should send Larry in himself to do the negotiating next time. He seems to do pretty well in the software world.