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14 January 2003, 11:38 am
Louis Vuitton Cup Final - Lay Day
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Larry Ellison (l) and Chris Dickson - ©Reuters

America's Cup
Auckland

Whilst it was the first scheduled Lay day in the Louis Vuitton Cup Final, both Alinghi and Oracle took the opportunity to practice on the Hauraki Gulf this morning. Although both boats were back in bed by 1430.
After two races, and two victories to the Swiss syndicate, it is interesting to look at their dominance of the final so far and ask oneself the question: Is it all over for Oracle?

Although it may be very early in the best of nine match final, the pendulum of likely victory seems to be swinging in Alinghi's favour. In yesterday's match they posed a stark contrast to the ragged, and at times almost desperate sailing from Oracle BMW. Always behind, it must be appreciatively difficult to sail in races where you don't just think, but know you are slower upwind.

"It's my opinion that Alinghi has a bit of an edge upwind, maybe a second or two per mile upwind and we probably have about the same advantage downwind," said Ian Burns, Oracle BMW Racing navigator. "So probably the time around the course, if we were racing in isolation, would be about the same."

Oracle do appear to have a speed advantage downwind, closing the gap up significantly on yesterday's first Run to within two boat lengths of Alinghi at the leeward mark. Then came the desperation; almost schoolboy boat handling errors saw them not only ditch the spinnaker into the clear waters off New Zealand, but also snap their Pole (their second such breakage in this series), and in the process wrap the shredded kite around all sorts of appendages, losing themselves a huge amount of time which they were never really able to recoup.

The difference between the two at the moment is both visual and vocal, crew body language on the Swiss syndicate's boat was much more positive than that aboard Oracle BMW yesterday and as can be heard from some of the calls coming out of the afterguard, the feeling is audibly different.

Oracle BMW Racing skipper Chris Dickson said before the round that its sail number was the only thing similar about USA-76 from its last encounter with Alinghi in the semi finals. "We are a significantly different boat than what we were a month ago," Dickson said. "We know we have found boatspeed in a lot of different areas and we don't think we have compromised anywhere to get it." Those wholesale changes may have come at a cost. Discussion yesterday on USA-76 at times seemed to centre on how to trim the boat as much as tactics.

"You're loading the runner up," was the call from an unidentified person in the cockpit near the top of the first beat.

Dickson, too, has been very vocal on how to trim the sails, at times cautioning mainsail trimmer Mike Sanderson to "Watch it," as if the sail is being trimmed too tight.

Whatever the root of the issues have been over the last couple of days on Oracle BMW, this first Lay Day cannot have come at a better time. A chance to regroup, practice some boathandling, and come into the next race tomorrow fighting fit.

Racing commences in the Louis Vuitton Cup Final at 1305 local time tomorrow
ISAF News Editor/Sean McNeill
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