Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Team NZ, winners by a coffee bean

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Trying to pick the winner of the 34th America's Cup is like opening a jar of coffee beans, picking two out and then trying to decide which is the tastier. Without tasting them.

But we at the Herald aren't here to sit on the fence. It's a ridiculous saying anyway. Ever tried sitting on a fence? There's never been a fence that was comfortable to sit on so how it's become a metaphor for not stating a preference is beyond comprehension.

It's like that other old saying: Have your cake and eat it too. Doesn't make sense. Of course, you can have your cake and eat it too. That's what you do with cake - you have it, then you eat it. QED. The saying really should be: Eat your cake and have it too.

Those among you who have worked out that these quibbles with metaphors are putting off the inevitable moment of choice between Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA are quite right. Very clever of you. Ahem.

But it's that difficult, even after the deduction of two points for the AC45 cheating, to pick a winner .

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So, all right then ... I think Emirates Team NZ will take it but the reason for sitting on the fence and having cake is that I think Oracle just might have a faster boat.

Don't panic! They have a faster boat in a straight line. So in a straight drag race downwind, Oracle might be quicker. But one thing we have learned in the weeks watching these remarkable 72-foot cats is that it isn't just about downwind speed. It's also about overall stability, upwind speed, manoeuvres and slick crew work.

It's also about that mysterious thing, VMG or Velocity Made Good. Oracle might be faster downwind but my belief is that Team NZ will be faster upwind.

That's important because, even though there is only one upwind leg in the five-leg course, it takes up more than 30 per cent of the race in time. That's a big deal, as we say in the USA.

If the Kiwis can do what they did to Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton, they have a royal show of lifting the America's Cup. Downwind, you'll recall, the Italians were almost as fast as Team NZ. But the big gains were made upwind, which is where VMG shows its teeth.

VMG is essentially the art of getting to the mark by sailing as close to the wind and in as straight a line as possible. Yachts - even these freaky rocket ships - can't sail directly into the wind so they have to set a course that balances speed and direction.

You can go quicker by angling the sails and haring off into the blue. You're going faster - but away from the mark. The opposition might get to the mark first if they can sail a slower, but more direct path into the wind.

Team NZ have, in my opinion, better solved this equation. They have a low-slung method of almost-foiling which sees their hulls just skim the waves and which may keep them on a tighter course to the mark.

Both teams can foil upwind - coming up high on their foils for a burst of speed - but doing so generally means you are subject to more leeway (slippage sideways) and windage (drag) and you usually have to head more off line. It will be a factor for both teams if the conditions are right; maybe for a burst of speed when it is needed.

Team NZ may also have the edge in stability, in their gybing and tacking and (especially since Oracle's loss of wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder) in crew capability. All of this may mean Oracle have to go for the doctor - raising the issue of mistakes under pressure.

Pushing these highly strung catamarans will also take the loading on the boats to the edge. It will be surprising if breakages do not play a part. Team NZ genuinely took a lot of confidence from that horrific nose dive that washed two overboard. The boat passed that test with flying colours. Oracle's boat may not be so robust.

Finally, there's another reason why Team NZ might win - they deserve to.

This regatta has been a bit of a disaster up to this point. The Kiwis have had to raise an awful lot of money to compete and have played a huge role in making it interesting in the absence of most other competitors. They had to take part in a design race for unfamiliar multihulls but ended up setting the pace; they have had to adjust to unexpected obstacles such as the safety recommendations that followed the death of Artemis crewman Andrew Simpson.

They are also the closest thing there is in this regatta to a national team, doing it for a country and to benefit a country.

So there's my choice. I could be wrong. Quite wrong. If so, please do not send me a jar of coffee beans through the mail.

- NZ Herald

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