It’s your move

Fri, 04/23/2021 - 11:30am

In 2004 off Newport, billionaire Larry Ellison was match racing his America’s Cup boat named BMW Oracle, against another well-heeled Italian guy named Ernesto Bertarelli, and his boat named Alinghi. They were participating in Newport for the UBS Trophy (Google this).
On the day of the series I’d planned to take an old school surfing bud from Point Judith for a sail, and we ended up right on the port side of the racing course to witness the competition of these cutting-edge racing sleds. Both of these guys are very heavily capitalized and were out in their professionally crewed boats with the intention
of handily beating each other. Moreover, both of these men are extremely competitive, and no quarter would be given during this owner/driver and Pro/driver racing series. These men were in contention to possibly win the America’s Cup in 2007. The vaunted America’s Cup had been lost to Australia in in 1983. That year a guy named John Bertrand whupped Dennis Connor by forty-one seconds on the last day of racing and thereby sent the Auld Mug—as it is called—to its new home in OZ. Ahem, the Cup
had been in American possession for 132 years. Subsequently, the esteemed Cup got bounced around the world for several campaigns. It eventually was won by the Swiss and Team Alinghi in 2003—Ernesto Bertarelli’s team. Then, It was again won back by America from Alinghi 5 in 2010 with the help of Larry Ellison and a brilliant team of sailors, designers, and engineers aboard a trimaran design called USA-17. (The design of America’s Cup contenders has gone through many mathematical iterations over the past two decades. “Nuff said about this as the math and physics are not in my wheelhouse.)
The day my friend and I sailed over toward Jamestown, we noted a substantial spectator fleet which contained Ellison’s yacht Katana and Bertarelli’s yacht named Vava. (Ellison’s boat had a basketball court; which says something about Ellison’s take on one-on-one competition.) This would be a fun race to watch up this close to the action between two big egos on cutting-edge composite designs with a blood lust to win. This would be war, and each guy knew the rules of engagement; especially during the pre-start of the race, which can determine an outcome from a psychological point of view. It’s my been my position and experience in racing on some sailboats, that I’ve always
looked at the sport of sailboat racing as a game of chess, which is nothing but a game of war. It’s muscle, tactics, execution and in many cases a touch of luck. It’s a team sport, but there are the guys—the afterguard— who make key decisions such as the navigator, tactician, and skipper. Larry Ellison is not only a savage businessman but he is also a formidable competitor and had cut his teeth on serious ocean racing as well as one-design match racing on light-weight carbon fiber sailboats. He’s a serious ocean racer, who was at the business end of a severe hurricane in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race aboard his Maxi Yacht Sayonara. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and the prodigious thrashing that Ellison and his crew took in the Southern Ocean not only humbled the men, but it made them better sailors. Ernesto Bertarelli came up differently than Ellison, who had a humbling and tough go of it as a kid on the South Side of Chicago. Ernesto Bertarelli came from a wealthy family in Milan—went to Harvard and worked for his dad—and in my view he is a different breed of cat than Ellison, who is truly a self-made man. This particular race was the last in the series and Ellison handily beat Bertarelli. It was a hell of a thing to see. It was an owner/driver race and a very important race of the series. It was an example of single combat warfare.
The beginning of a sailboat race is where a sailor’s intuition and tactics can win the day. There are certain moves, as there are in the game of chess, that each sailor may expect his opponent to make. It’s a cutting-edge use of brains, brawn, and timing. Dialing up, is a racing term where while two boats will try killing the clock by bringing their boats up into the wind and putting the boats in irons—stalling the boat’s sail capacity for lift. This maneuver can make sailboats appear to be going backwards while the clock counts down to the start of the race. This is where things can get very edgy and interesting, because the boat that has starboard priority, will make a move at the last minute—or not. The boats are usually close to each other while dialing up. This is nothing but a very expensive game of chicken. The beginning of a sailboat race in my
estimation is the most exciting part of a race, as the skippers push each other to make a move. It’s an adrenaline-soaked, old-brain, competitive moment to be the alpha dude. And, boats can collide. Oracle and Alinghi did collide during this series, which Ellison won for the over-all honors and the owner/driver series. It was sailboat racing at its very best. Again, it was single combat warfare, with an audience.
On this particular race my friend and I saw, Ellison simply forced Bertarelli to make a move by sailing straight at him at the beginning of the race, and Ernesto flinched and
fell away from Ellison and gave him a critical advantage; as a result, he let Ellison get over the line first. Subsequently, the race was over before it began. It was a brilliant tactical move by Ellison; however, my hat is off to both guys and their teams for their capability and sportsmanship. Many years after the UBS Trophy race I saw in Newport, New Zealand currently holds the America’s Cup. It was the 36th campaign for the Auld Mug, and the race was won on an AC75 which is a foiling monohull. The Kiwis beat a boat from Italy called Luna Rossa. Finally, after years of design evolution technology, and high speed competitions, the one constant is that, at the starting line of a sailboat race, one skipper will dare another skipper with the same thought: “It’s your move.”