America’s Cup Summary
So the Kiwis have finally won back the America’s Cup and exorcised the ghost of the terrible turnaround loss in San Francisco in 2013. Back then they famously snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, after allowing the defenders, Oracle Team USA, to win eight races in a row and keep the Cup in America.
Well, not really. In fact, they moved the event to Bermuda – officially the most expensive country in the world according to a survey by the UK’s Independent newspaper. Many saw this as a somewhat cynical gambit by America’s Cup Event Authority CEO Russell Coutts, ensure he and the well-compensated squads of sailors could be paid their gigantic salaries tax free.
That may well have been the case, but, in sailing terms at least, Bermuda’s Great Sound did turn out to be the closest you will get to perfect for the foiling 50-foot America’s Cup Class catamarans. Love them or hate them, these boats undeniably impressive to watch as they flew around the course at speeds approaching 50 miles per hour.
Although there were some spectacular crash downs and other boat-handling howlers early in the qualifier series – Sir Ben Ainslie landing his boat almost on top of the SoftBank Team Japan crew in the prestart springs readily to mind – the more they raced, the faster the teams moved up the learning curve.
By the time the actual America’s Cup match came around, Emirates Team New Zealand had all but perfected the art of the ‘dry lap’ – a full race with the boat in the air and no touch downs. The Kiwi’s largely dominated the series, with New Zealand home-grown wunderkind helmsman Peter Burling seemingly effortlessly negating the threat from his pugnacious opposite number, Jimmy Spithill, both in the prestart and on every other section of the course.
In the end, New Zealand won by seven points to one (although they actually had to win eight races to because of a bonus point the Defender had accumulated from its performance in the Challenger series – I know, don’t get me started on that…).
It was a comprehensive victory that many will attribute to the ‘cyclors’ the Kiwis deployed instead of the traditional arm grinding technique. The bikes certainly helped, but the bigger truth is that the New Zealand syndicate won the Cup because they out-innovated their vastly bigger-budgeted rival.
Behind all the one-design elements of the latest AC class, the Kiwi boat was configured completely differently to its competitors. Their wing sail was controlled, not with a mainsheet, but using a handheld controller that triggered hydraulic rams to set its shape and the angle of attack – enabling them to sail in modes unavailable to the other teams.
Control of their dagger boards was staffed out to Burling’s Olympic silver and gold medal winning crew, Blair Tuke, freeing up the NZ helm to focus on the boat-on-boat tactics and the big picture strategy.
Skipper and wind trimmer, Glenn Ashby, said at the final press conference that early on in the campaign the Kiwi syndicate had adopted a design strategy based around the concept of: “Throwing the ball out as far as we can, and then seeing if we can get to it.”
Whether they did “get to it” or not, we may never know – but none of the other teams came anywhere even close. Now the future of the 36th America’s Cup is now in the hands of Emirates Team New Zealand and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
When and where AC36 will happen and what it will look like, for now we will all just have to wait and see.
By Justin Chisholm