After wrangles, sailors key to lifting Auld Mug

TIME FOR ACTION: Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton.
TIME FOR ACTION: Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton.

Believe it or not, there's a fun factor to this America's Cup despite it starting on Monday against the far too familiar backdrop of legal wrangles.

The worried brows of syndicate bosses Grant Dalton (Team New Zealand) and Patrizio Bertelli (Luna Rossa) mightn't reflect that joy as they get set to face the jury with their protests.

Nor does the stress of fellow challenger Paul Cayard, as he tries to get his sinking Artemis Racing outfit ship-shape again after the training death of crew member Andrew Simpson.

And Oracle chief Sir Russell Coutts is hardly all smiles trying to get the defenders up to speed with their foiling while also fending off criticism the controversial changes are helping him in those endeavours.

Spare a thought too, for affable Australian Iain Murray, the regatta director trying to hold yachting's biggest spectacle together amidst all these strains.

This 34th America's Cup might be over-sized in terms of hype, budgets and the sheer scale of the controversial 72-foot catamarans that are at the root of its problems, but some values do remain - it's still a regatta where the sailors remain at its heart and will certainly be a key to who lifts the Auld Mug some time in September.

So when the Kiwis and Italians power across the start line on Monday morning (NZt), Dean Barker and his crew will be doing what they love and know best - how to get a boat around a race track quickly, rather than worrying about the legalities of what they or their apponents are sailing.

Barker's right-hand man on board is tactician Ray Davies and he describes sailing the monster cats "as fun as it gets".

"These boats have been challenging in such a number of levels and just learning every day different fundamental characteristics of these boats ... they are nothing like we have experienced before," Davies said with the Kiwis widely accepted as leading the disappointingly small fleet in the build-up with their team work and design success.

"It's been amazing to see the evolution of these boats too. Just from the early days of foiling in the first test boats and then doing it on the full scale and now pulling off foiling gybes.

"It's just been a real buzz to be part of this campaign. It's been a small group of us in the bigger scheme of things and I just thank my lucky stars to be involved because it has been a real blast."

Davies admits the boardroom battles have been a distraction but feels the sailing crew have handled that well. They have concentrated on the boat and their systems and are itching to get under way.

"Hopefully we don't have any more major situations along the road and we can just get some good racing under our belt. We really need to be on form because whoever the challenger is needs to have a good challenger series to have a good crack at Oracle.

"The air around the camp is more of excitement than stress. It's great to be finally underway. We have been working towards this date for a bloody long time now. It's finally upon us, it's time to show what we have been up to.

Like most of the crew, Davies is a survivor for the 2007 regatta in Valencia where New Zealand won the Louis Vuitton Cup in style but then got beaten 5-2 in the America's Cup match by Alinghi.

Like everyone on board, Davies' job has changed because of the sheer speed and dimensions of the boat, as well as the shorter races that will be between 30 minutes and an hour. Every task is magnified because the times have been marginalised.

Davies is involved in planning the race strategy and then reacting accordingly once they are under way, "working closely with Dean, primarily putting the boat in the right spot relative to the opponent and getting as much out of the boat as we can".

He respects the dangers but he loves the speed of his job and the boat, comparative to the old monohulls.

"It all happens a fair bit faster but I guess it's like people in fast cars ... things come at you quickly but humans still have the ability to judge things, even if it's happening quick.

"You get used to the speed ... two boats on converging courses coming together pretty quickly, but as you look at the horizon behind you can tell who is missing who.

"Hey, the Blue Angels do quite well up in the sky and they are moving a lot quicker than us.

"You get used to it over time. You have to make quicker decisions but that's all part of it and you adapt."

Fairfax Media