Flying Kiwis reignite Cup fever
Team NZ’s young, fit and resourceful crew have innovation edge and score to settle
It almost feels like the America’s Cup has started with the damage done to Team New Zealand’s boat by a rival boat during practice racing this week, though it will be another week before the real racing starts.
Already the adrenalin is rising. The event that captivates so many New Zealanders every four years will work its magic again.
It is remarkable that it continues to do so. In between regattas, the backbiting and peculiar rules of the America’s Cup, allowing the holder to stack the cards in its favour for the next defence, causes just about everyone to lose interest. Yet here we go again, this time to Bermuda.
The Atlantic venue is so far from New Zealand and has such a low population that the Government has seen no likely return that would allow it to put public money into the challenge this time. Emirates Team NZ will have found it more difficult to retain private sponsorship too. It is a great credit to Grant Dalton and the team that they will be on the start- line again.
Their effort is particularly creditable this time because they will have been as devastated as all their supporters in New Zealand by what happened at San Francisco four years ago. They had the Cup all but won when weather becalmed the ninth race, and they could not win another.
The defender, Oracle Team USA, turned out to have developed winching equipment that gave them an edge. Nothing can be taken for granted in this never- ending, high stakes contest of design and technology as well as sailing and crew- work.
This time it appears Team NZ might have the early innovative edge. The cycling grinders first seen on Auckland Harbour a few months ago have been copied at least partially by Oracle.
This America’s Cup could look quite different from the last. Though it again features foiling catamarans with a wing sail, the boats are smaller, faster and design to “fly” around the whole course on their foils. “Fly” might not be an exaggeration. With so little of their frame in the water and no bow wash or salt spray they will look like aerial vehicles, particularly on television. They will be careering around the course at speeds closer to those of cars than sailboats. They will be trying to gybe and tack on the foils and they are probably going to crash, sideways or head into the water, more often than highly tuned yachts and crews have ever done.
It remains to be seen whether this sort of spectacle has as much appeal as traditional tactical sailing. It is a long way from the grand, majestic monohulls that used to vie for the oldest trophy in sport. But the trend has been in this direction ever since Russell Coutts took charge of the America’s Cup with Alinghi.
Coutts is still effectively in charge with Oracle, as it was at San Francisco. This time Oracle has forged an unusually close working relationship with four of the challengers, which does not include Team NZ. Not only are the “tight five” making the rules at Bermuda but they are trying to bind the winner to the same format for the next two America’s Cups.
The Kiwis are refusing to join this club. They will be out to upset its plans at Bermuda. Under Olympic champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, they are a young crew, underfinanced but fit and resourceful. It will be fun to watch them fly.
Nothing can be taken for granted in this neverending, high stakes contest of design and technology as well as sailing and crew- work.