Team New Zealand consider their options
Team New Zealand are set to reveal their intentions today as they plot a way forward from their position of strength at the America's Cup regatta in San Francisco.
The Kiwis were due to race Luna Rossa for the final time in the lacklustre round-robin phase of the challenger series this morning and a press conference was called to follow that, around 10.30am (NZ time).
The topic will be the looming elimination rounds of the Louis Vuitton Cup and who will be involved in which area, a phase expected to be spiced up by the return of troubled Swedish syndicate Artemis Racing.
Team New Zealand have already won the round-robin and under America's Cup rules they have tactical options available to them.
They can abandon Wednesday's last round-robin "race" against Artemis and go straight to the Louis Vuitton Cup final, a best of 13 series starting on August 21, or they can surrender that spot in the final and either take on Luna Rossa or Artemis in the semifinals, a best of seven series starting on August 6.
The first option allows them time to develop their boat. They have shown they are quick through the water and slick on top of it with their teamwork but believe there is much more to be squeezed out of the AC72. That development process was stalled by the need to improve safety standards on the boat following the May 9 training death of Artemis crew member Andrew Simpson.
Given their massive dominance over the Italians so far, that looks Team New Zealand's most likely route with an eye on the following America's Cup match against Oracle and countering the unknown speed factor of the defenders.
Taking on Artemis in the semifinal does hold some appeal though. Their second boat is an unknown quantity, though it has shown good speed in the three days of training the Swedes have managed since last week's launch. Beating them before they can develop more speed and foiling precision is a tactical consideration.
Eliminating the Swedes early also removes them as the Challenger of Record, a leadership role that would then go to the Kiwis and help them in any off the water battles that may arise as the regatta progresses through what has already been a legal minefield.
There seems little to gain from New Zealand choosing to race a semifinal against the Italians who they have dominated already, and allowing Artemis more practice time.
Meanwhile, Team New Zealand completed a solo "race" around the shortened five-leg course yesterday in a performance that was notable for the absence of skipper Dean Barker.
Australian Glenn Ashby was placed at the helm as the rotation policy involving grinders and bow men moved to the brains trust.
Barker has been in charge of all of Team New Zealand's race until today though Australian Ashby has had charge of the massive AC72 in training sessions as a precaution if Barker was ever injured or ill.
The Kiwis upped the pressure on Ashby and he responded with the confidence expected of a multihull specialist.
Ashby is a 14-time world champion across three classes, including seven in the A Class catamaran and three in the Tornado catamaran.
He also won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics, and has won 10 Australian A Class championships. And, perhaps most famously, he taught Jimmy Spithill how to sail a multihull, which led to Spithill becoming the youngest skipper to ever win the America's Cup with Oracle.
The knock-on effect of the rotation saw bowman Adam Beashel slotted into Ashby's usual role trimming the wing.
"We had a few crew rotations today that made things a little more interesting, a couple of Aussies at the back of a Kiwi boat," smiled Beashel, who has been with Emirates Team New Zealand since the 2003 America's Cup.
"It was no problem at all. I'm used to sailing with Glenn. We've done a lot of sailing together on the SL33 (the team's training boat), so it was business as usual for the two of us. There were quite a lot of snide little jokes here and there, a bit of fun and banter, so was a good day."