I think we are going to witness a great Louis Vuitton Final. I expect the series between Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand will go 8 or 9 races. I expect the two boats to perform fairly evenly. It will be a battle of nerves and pressure. Team unity and strength will play a role in races 7-9. It will be great for the spectators and especially the fans of these two America’s Cup living nations. This will be a rematch of the 1992 Final when Il Moro came back from 4-1 down to win!

If Italy is second to any country in terms of per capita interest in the America’s Cup it is only New Zealand. However, as New Zealand is such a small country, Italy certainly has the highest number of sailing fans in absolute number.

If the boats are even, I think James Spithill, the young Australian helmsman of Luna Rossa, may make the difference. He dominated Chris Dickson in the semi finals. I don’t expect Dean Barker to be as easy to dominate but none the less, “Jesse” James Spithill is the best starting helmsman left in the Cup, and that includes the Alinghi helmsmen.

The crews are both solid. We come to expect that from Kiwi teams but this Luna Rossa team is very solid…different to their previous teams. They look cool under pressure, something that both teams will feel a lot of through out the next 10 days.

The after guards; Luna Rossa sails a bit freer, always with an eye out for more wind or a better shift. Team New Zealand will race tighter, very closely matching their opponent. Even if behind, I doubt Team New Zealand will make a large split. They will look to keep the racing tight and put the leader under pressure. If ahead, they will be happy to win by one meter.

Winning by one meter may be required. Often in close series, it is the team that wins the close ones, that prevails. In 1992, with Il Moro di Venezia, we won two races in the Louis Vuitton Finals against New Zealand, by 1 second. Getting the leader trapped on the lay line to the finish, then slowing the race down by sailing off target angles while working on taking their wind, and then timing the final acceleration to the finish line is how those races are won by the boat behind. Taking those races away on the finish line can be a crushing mental blow. On the last run of race two, of this year’s semifinal between Luna Rossa and BMW Oracle, Luna had BMW trapped but made a mistake and sailed too low which allowed BMW to luff and get their apparent wind forward and sail free to the finish. I am sure that experience will prove useful in this Final.

So for us spectators, it is time to prepare for a visual feast of action, drama and emotion. For the sailors on each team, this is must win territory. Both teams have been in the Cup before. Neither will be satisfied with ending their campaign here. It is all on!

In recognition of the launch of their newest timepiece, Arnaud Boetsch of Rolex SA presented international yachtsman Paul Cayard with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II regatta chronograph at a ceremony held on May 23rd at the Real Club Nautico Valencia, Spain. “It’s a privilege to be associated with Rolex over the past ten years and I am honored to receive this exceptional Rolex Yacht-Master II watch,” said Cayard in response to his recognition.

Highlights of Paul Cayard’s career

Cayard exemplifies Rolex’s passion to commitment and excellence, and has been a Rolex Testimonee since 1998. He is a seven-time sailing world champion (including the Star Worlds in 1988), a five-time America’s Cup veteran and two-time Olympian. Cayard surprised some when he switched gears to offshore racing and skippered the Swedish entry, EF Language in the gruelling 1997/98 Whitbread Round the World Race. He won three of the nine legs on his way to becoming the first American skipper to win the race. Following that prestigious victory, he was honoured the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award in 1998. He was elected to the Sailing World Hall of Fame in 2002. Paul skippered the Disney entry, Pirates of the Caribbean in the 2005/6 Volvo Ocean Race, winning the final leg into Gothenburg (Sweden) and placing a commanding second overall.

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II regatta chronograph is intended for experienced skippers as well as yachting enthusiasts. This timepiece is born of the longstanding relationship that Rolex enjoys with the sea and sailing.

The latest addition to the family of professional watches, featuring an unprecedented horological complication, the Yacht-Master II and its programmable countdown mechanical memory, allows it to be set according to the countdown time of each regatta.

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II regatta chronograph is much more than the culmination of Rolex technology or that indispensable instrument at the starting line of a regatta. It is a moment of pure pleasure to be savoured both on land and at sea.

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Desafio fell today but not before a valiant effort. The first Spanish team to make the semi finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup went to the 7th race, further than the almighty BMW Oracle Racing.

Dean Barker got a great start today against Karol Jablonski and the Kiwis were on their way. In reality, both helmsman made some mistakes in the prestart and I am sure that made James Spithill, helmsman of Luna Rossa, smile a bit.

18 knots of wind and 4 foot waves were the order of the day. The Spanish were taking on a lot of water on the first windward leg and in a scene very similar to the Kiwis in the first race of the Americas Cup 2003, the Spanish were bucketing to get water out of the cockpit.

The Spanish are now retired from the 2003 competition snd surely will be back to build on this campaign. I am impressed with how much this team has grown in the last 5 months. My compliments to them!

Now we will see a rematch of the 1992 Louis Vuitton finals, Team New Zealand vs. Italy. This Italian team looks strong to me. Certainly stronger than Il Moro looked prior to the finals in 1992. The first race will be very interesting and we will all be trying to draw conclusions from that. In reality, these series can be very long and changes of fortune can happen.

Both teams will be trying a few things this week and getting the boats set up in what they think is their best mode to confront their rival and relative to the weather forecast. A bit of rest will be necessary too.

So back to work for a week for all the spectators. See you on June 1.

Too much wind today! Up to 30 knots of wind and 2 meter waves. Conditions that broke apart oneAustralia in 1995 and Young America in 2000. These Cup rules this time set a maximum wind speed of 23 knots.

Some people are sad about this because they think the premier event in our sport should be able to race in 30 knots of wind. What a show that would be?

The forecast is not for a lot less tomorrow and with the sea already built up, it could be the sea more than the wind that is the problem tomorrow.

All this is playing into the hands of Luna Rossa who is already on their second day of rest while the other finalists has no idea when they will be done with this series.

Paul Cayard has graciously donated a few items of his personal Desafío Español team gear that can be to bid on. Maybe you didn’t turn the handles during the Spanish team’s outstanding campaign, but you can look like you did. Better yet, you will be taking the gear directly off Cayard’s back, arguably one of the most decorated and influential sailors in the sport. Bids are tax-deductible, with the proceeds benefiting youth sailing. The gear now on the auction block is his jacket, vest, and backpack.

Details at www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/forum/07/cayard

Luna Rossa is in the Louis Vuitton Finals. Desafio lives for another day!

Today BMW Oracle made a change. Chris Dickson was off the boat and Sten Mohr took his place as helmsman. Little change for the American boat. The nice thing was to see Larry Ellison back onboard, supporting his team. It was even nicer to see him congratulating his crew after the race, surely a tough moment for all. Dickson showed for the press conference and offered sincere congratulations to the Italians. He stated that in his opinion they were beaten in many areas this week and that no one thing stood out as a glaring weakness of BMW Oracle. Needless to say he got many probing questions on this subject. He also stated that Ellison has already stated that he will continue pursuing the Cup but has not decided who will be involved, Dickson included.

At the start today James Spithill got the better of Mohr, taking the favored end of the line. The boat did the work from there and the crew never missed a step. The final delta was 33 seconds. A moderate celebration has erupted at the Italian base and two days off is the order of Francesco de Angeles, leader of the team.

With their backs against the wall, the Spanish won a very close race against Team New Zealand. A slightly better start for Karol Jablonski gave the Spanish a 30 meter lead early and the Spanish never relinquished the lead. The biggest lead was 80 meters, so it was hand to hand combat all the way but the Spaniards pulled it off. Fifteen seconds was the margin at the finish. It is a beautiful thing in sport to see a team, confronted with mortality, that raises its game and lives for another day.

I am still getting some medical treatment for my elbow from Pablo, the Desafio physiotherapist and the sailors, whom I worked with for two months, asked me to come down to the dock this morning to wish them well. It was a big moment as you would expect. Would they be heading out for the last race of their campaign? They answered the question magnificently.

So a 7th race will be necessary on Tuesday for this semi-final. Probably most people expected Team New Zealand to win this series 5-0 or 5-1. Probably TNZ expected that too. That is why they chose the Spanish, rather than either of the other two. We will see if it was a good choice.

The picture could not be more clear. James Spithill has Chris Dickson’s number. The Kiwi skipper of the American boat is making too many errors in the critical prestart phase leaving his team with little hope at the start. Two penalties in today’s prestart. I can’t remember the last time that happened in racing at this level. Dickson is not sailing his best. He is better than this. Has the pressure already gotten to him in what is essentially the quarter finals? For certain he is in great difficulty. His personality and style of leadership is not conducive to garnering unconditional support. Can he rally the troupes to come back from 1:4? What is going to save him and BMW Oracle?

On Luna Rossa, they have an ace. Three out of five starts have been KO’s for Spithill. His composure is impressive for the youngest man on the boat. Luna Rossa is slightly faster upwind than BMW and about the same downwind. The team has now acquired the maximum of confidence.

BMW Oracle is the only team without the flag of their country, USA, on the boat or at the base. Does that strike anyone else as strange? They say that there team is too international to have just one flag, so they have ten small flags in front of their base. But Luna Rossa is the more international team, 14 countries and 7 onboard to BMW’s 4, yet the Italian flag flies proudly over the base. Spain is the same. Most of the teams here are very international. Alinghi, more American and Kiwi. Flag; Swiss. A flag is one of the most basic forms of signalling unity. It has been that way for thousands of years. It is just one sign of a strange chemistry, or lack there of, with in BMW Oracle.

Larry Ellison was not onboard today for the first time. Did someone feel his presence exuded and undue pressure on the after guard? If today was a test of that theory, looks like they are better off with him in the crew. Where will he be tomorrow?

Peter Isler is the man they send to every press conference to deflect the ever more intense questions of the media. He is doing a heroic job! Will there be a change tomorrow on BMW? It is almost to the point of “why bother”. The great probability is that they are going down so the question is, what is the most elegant way to do that.

In the other semi final, the Kiwis are doing their job in a operating room standard. Nothing flashy, just solid work from start to finish. The boat is going well too so a margin of 1:49 was produced today in favour of the Kiwis. Most likely this one will be over tomorrow. The Spanish have made a great pass forward in qualifying for the Semi finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup but they are not quite at the level of the Kiwis yet. The Kiwis have competed in every Cup since 1987 so 20 years. The Spanish have done well and are well positioned to launch their continuation for the next Cup.

If things continue as they are setting up, we will see a rematch of the 1992 Louis Vuitton final; New Zealand vs. Italy.

A defining day. Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand win. Are they going to be the LVC finalists? It is starting to look that way.

After an even start, Dickson’s best so far, the Italians carved out a 20 meter lead after a long port tack to the right side of the course, with BMW Oracle to leeward and ahead, but not enough ahead. The boats looked very even through this phase of the race. Then Luna Rossa, with surgical precision of ‘Jesse James’ Spithill on the helm, pushed BMW Oracle over the right layline through a series of tacks and that was about all she wrote for the boat with USA on its sails but no American flag anywhere in sight. Not on the boat, not at the base.

With a 60 meter lead at the leeward gate, and heading out to the favored right side, Luna Rossa gave all of its fans a bit of a heart tremor by letting BMW Oracle split out to the left on the second windward leg. A new record for separation was set; 2780 meters or 1.6 miles! A one degree shift in BMW’s favour would have been all that was required to take the lead. Luckily for the Italians, they came back together near the top of the leg having gained 50 meters. For those of us used to match racing, we were scratching our heads. Was it really necessary to split 1.5 miles when you have proven to have a boat that is at least as fast as your opponent, and you have the lead, and you have the favored side? Isn’t it possible to stay within the same time zone as your opponent? Do you get more points for winning by 150 meters instead of 50?

Anyway, I guess we just have to get used to this style of sailing from Luna Rossa. The same thing happened in race two on Tuesday, but it cost the Italians the race.

One interesting thing about BMW Oracle, after Tuesday’s serious starting lesson at the hands of Spithill, Dickson put a larger rudder in his boat. Now with the added wetted surface, the American boat seems slower downwind which was their point of strength in the first two races.

In the other match, Team New Zealand had a slightly better start than the Spanish and slowly built a lead up the first beat. They matched and marked every move of their opponents, and that was that. Here too, these two boats are pretty evenly matched in speed. He who wins the start, wins the race 95% of the time.

So we are 3 to 1 in each of the semi final matches. Thing are getting tight for the teams with just one point. The odds are going against them. Can they change something? Are they going to come out with something special tomorrow. We will have to wait and see.

Luna Rossa showed us how it is done today. Another great start by James Spithill gave Luna Rossa the right side of the course and a 29 second lead at the first mark. On the run, Luna Rossa covered like it is written in the text books. They spent some of their lead to gain insurance. Up the second windward leg, more of the same, covering every tack of BMW Oracle and stretching to a comfortable 230 meter lead at mark three. A cruise down the run and job done. This race was more satisfying to watch than the first race on Monday as Luna Rossa kept a tight grip on their lead, never letting Oracle have a glimpse of daylight, and never any hope of passing. Completely different tactics than yesterday.

So far, it has been all Luna Rossa. BMW hasn’t done a thing in this series. Luna Rossa has been in control of all three races, leading at every mark. They brought home two victories and gave one away yesterday. Was yesterday December 25th? Still, the message to BMW Oracle is clear. This Italian team is going to be tough to beat. Somehow, BMW Oracle is going to have to get off the starting line with at least an even start.

In the other match, a great start by the Spanish helmsman Karol Jablonski gave them the right on the first windward leg and the lead at the first mark that they never relinquished. Further, Jablonski put a penalty on Dean Barker at the start so in the end, the victory for the Spanish was by almost two minutes!

Obviously, with the boats being so close in performance, the start has become critical.

A nice steady sea breeze was the order of the day, about 12-13 knots. Perfect. These were the conditions that gave Valencia the nod when it came to choosing a venue for the Cup. The first four days of Round Robin one seem far away in the distance now.

Lay day tomorrow, then back in action on Friday with race four. Standby.

Opportunity lost for Luna Rossa today. Putting BMW Oracle behind 2-0 would have been a big step toward winning this semi final and the Italian boat seemingly had the job done. In the more competitive of the two semi finals, the young James Spithill of Luna Rossa shut out Chris Dickson of BMW Oracle at the start and the Italians sailed smoothly to a 58 second lead at the first windward mark. A sea breeze of 15 knots was in place for the first windward leg and in those conditions, everyone expected a fairly easy ride for Luna Rossa from there. However, Luna Rossa chose not to cover BMW Oracle on the first run and 230 meters of the 280 meter lead was eaten up and the American boat round the leeward gate just 50 meters behind. This put the American boat back in the race and in practicality, it all started again at that point.

Up the second windward leg, Luna Rossa again separated a large distance before tacking to converge more than one mile! When the two came together, there was just a two boat-length lead for Luna Rossa. A great move by James Spithill, defending against an attacking Dickson near the windward mark, preserved a 40 meter lead for the Italian boat. Down the final run, again the Italians split and BMW Oracle went from being behind by 40 meters, to a lead of 40 meters. A final attempt to cover the wind of the American boat failed and the BMW Oracle went on to take the win by 13 seconds.

It was more a case of Luna Rossa losing the race than BMW Oracle winning the race.

In the other match, Team New Zealand made easy work of the day by getting a significantly better start and gaining on the first windward leg. Then, in contrast to the style of the Italians, the Kiwis never split much from their opposition, even if they have a 300 meter lead. This series seems to be well in hand for the Kiwis.

This decidedly different style of sailing by the Italians has puzzled the media here and given huge anxiety to the Italian public following the race on television. Peter Isler, the American Navigator, explained their pleasant surprise at the style of the Italian’s lack of covering and acknowledged that the open water allowed them to make the most of a very bad situation after the first windward leg and make a huge gain on the run, certainly more of a gain than any boat speed difference would create.

One more set of races tomorrow, then Thursday is a lay day.