Ineos Team UK has sailed this campaign in losing streaks and winning streaks. In the Prada Cup Round Robins, it was on a winner – sometimes following the matchracing handbook; at others, throwing cover-the-opposition caution to the winds and playing the wind shifts like rides to the next gate.
For the finals it wanted so badly, Ineos is still on a streak, but now it’s losing every race, while Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli is in control.
Races three and four took place on a new venue: Course E, known as the Back Paddock. It’s surrounded by islands and, in the brisk north-easterly, it delivered shifty, gusty winds. Theoretically, that gave Ainslie some passing lanes if he started behind, and a better chance of starting in front, since Ineos favours stronger breezes. Even Ainslie admitted later that he had been greedy, trying to get a hook on Luna Rossa against the advice of his tactician, but he left it too late and ended up below the layline. From there, the Italians led to the start and led the race. They dealt the British boat a similar hand that the British had dealt to them in the round robins: sometimes they played by matchracing.101 with tacks that dumped on top of Ineos; sometimes they played their leader’s privilege to pick wind shifts.
The deltas were close but Ineos tended to lose valuable seconds in the tacks and although the Italians fluffed one gybe, Ineos was unable to pass.
The final delta was just 13 seconds.
For race four, Britannia nearly gave its fans a collective heart attack when it reared high and heeled to the verge of disaster. The mainsail swept down the deck, depowering in time to prevent a capsize, but nearly took out Ben Ainslie on his way to the starboard side. It also took out Ineos's chances of a good start. Once again, Luna Rossa controlled the race.
On the plus side, I think the photo captured by Carlo Borlenghi captured Britannia's best side as she reared above the waves.
The final delta was 41 seconds.
Meanwhile, the post-race interviews may be used for body language lectures for years to come. Spithill was nonchalant as can be, drawling that the four-nil score-line doesn’t reflect the close racing, and adding that his team is still making mistakes and that they've got a lot on the table that they still need to develop. In feigning nonchalance, his broad Australian accent is his friend, but I think that deep inside his inner child is doing cart wheels.
He's a cool customer: even in the heat of the battle, his heart monitor on the telly beat at 62 per minute. His co-helmsman's was around 122.
As for Ainslie's stiff upper lip. We've seen him down before, but he always appeared poised and his eyebrows went up and down together and separately in a pattern that is quite attractive and full of optimism. But the first two days of the Prada Cup finals, his tone of voice doesn't seem to be feeling what he's saying as he gamefully plods on. In the post-race interview yesterday, he barely made eye contact with the camera and his eyebrows barely twitched. “We have to go away and regroup and come back swinging. Full credit to them.” It was pretty much what he'd said the day before. He didn't mention any more tricks on his table.
With Emirates Team New Zealand still to be involved, I love the comeback story of 2013 and now we're seeing a face-off of its major players who made it happen: Ainslie and Spithill. Except now it's Ainslie vs Spithill.
They both know what it takes to come back.
Photo credit: Carlo Borlenghi.