Paul Lewis: Body language says it all after opening races

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"The boats, a week from now, will be faster than they are now", says Dean Barker.
"The boats, a week from now, will be faster than they are now", says Dean Barker.

If you were a student of body language, you'd have loved the first after-race press conference at the 34th America's Cup.

Emirates Team NZ wing trimmer Glenn Ashby was perky, almost struggling to contain his feelings. But then Ashby is usually perky.

Skipper Dean Barker was measured, careful as always - but he smiled. He doesn't usually do that; he's usually focusing on sticking to the party line.

Across from them, Oracle Team USA tactician and local San Franciscan sailor John Kostecki and skipper Jimmy Spithill were a study in body language.

To be fair, the laconic Kostecki doesn't do much colour anyway - but it was his answer to one question that was revealing.

Asked if there would be more passing in the Cup, Kostecki said: "It was pretty close ...

Hopefully, we can take some races and not just by passing. Just winning."

He didn't mean it like it sounded, but it sounded like a lament.

Kostecki has a naturally low-key delivery but it sounded a bit like he thought wins might be hard to come by.

Certainly the first day of racing was a massive shot in the arm for Team New Zealand. It remains to be seen whether it was just a massive shot for OTUSA.

But give Oracle their due - they made no excuses. Losing senior wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder didn't affect the result, said Spithill.

Neither did the duct tape repairs to a small rent in the wingsail. Nor did the lack of penalties from the umpires get blamed.

Asked if he thought his boat was faster, Barker said it best: "It would be nice to be faster and there are still opportunities to be faster again."

"We haven't stopped improving since we got here to San Francisco.

"Oracle will be getting faster too. The boats, a week from now, will be faster than they are now."

You'll notice he gave no opinion on who is faster.

In other words, let's not make any profound calls on boat speed because what is apparent today may not be apparent tomorrow - and this event goes a lot longer than tomorrow.

Having made all those highly necessary disclaimers, however, there were three main factors to be taken out of yesterday's racing - and they all augur well for ETNZ: they were faster upwind; Barker out-performed Spithill on the day; the crew work was slicker on the day .

The last two of those factors are variable - they need not necessarily remain the same.

Team NZ's boat looked a more stable platform and their boat handling was better in manoeuvres like tacks and gybes.

But it is the speed upwind that will have ruined Oracle's sleep last night.

In Race 1, Team NZ put on 21 seconds of their eventual 36-second winning margin in the one upwind leg. In Race 2, they put on nearly 40s of their 52-second margin.

In Race 1, Team NZ covered more ground than Oracle (11.7 nautical miles compared to 11.4). So Oracle actually covered less ground on the course but still got beaten by 36s.

Team NZ were quicker in average speed (30.7 knots to 28.58 knots in Race 1; 30.12 knots to 28.92 knots in Race 2), and top speed (46 knots in Race 2 compared to 42.51 for Oracle).

But the clincher came in the data revealing the comparative speeds upwind.

In Race 1, Team NZ averaged 22.70 knots upwind, Oracle 20.80.

In Race 2, Team NZ managed 22.39 knots, compared to Oracle's 21.04.

So, on average over the two races, Team NZ are quicker by about 1.6 knots upwind.

They reached a top speed upwind of 29.77 knots in Race 1 and 29.59 in Race 2.

Oracle hit a top upwind speed of 25.79 in Race 1, 27.20 knots in Race 2 - meaning they were nearly 4 knots slower in top speed in the first race and 2.39 knots in Race 2.

It doesn't sound much - quicker by 1.6 knots average speed and 2-4 knots faster top speed. But it's a lot for Oracle to haul back.

They will be tweaking their aerodynamics package and other areas where they think they can make gains.

But going faster and sailing better? It's not impossible but it's a lot to find. Hence the body language.

- NZ Herald

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