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Cruising World - - Front Page - BY HERB MC­CORMICK

Over the years, I’ve wit­nessed and cov­ered a lot of Amer­ica’s Cups. I was on the wa­ter in 1983 in Newport, Rhode Is­land, when an up­start crew of Aus­tralians knocked off the Amer­i­can boat skip­pered by Den­nis Con­ner, thereby end­ing the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year win­ning streak, the long­est in sport­ing his­tory. Four years later, I watched as Con­ner’s Stars & Stripes ex­acted re­venge off wild Western Aus­tralia, wrestling the Auld Mug back from the Aussies in what many still con­sider the great­est re­gatta ever sailed. Years later, I flew to Auck­land, New Zealand, in 2000 for the Ki­wis’ suc­cess­ful de­fense of the trophy, led by lo­cal hero Rus­sell Coutts, and was back three years later when Coutts won it again – only this time as the skip­per of the Swiss boat Alinghi, which many an­gry New Zealan­ders viewed as no less than an act of trea­son.

In 2013, Coutts was still at it, this time as the syn­di­cate chief of soft­ware bil­lion­aire Larry El­li­son’s Oracle team, skip­pered by a young Aussie called Jimmy Sp­ithill. I was there in San Fran­cisco that year when more his­tory was made, as Sp­ithill and his mates, down 8-1 to another spir­ited Kiwi squad — who needed only one more vic­tory to bring the Cup back to the South­ern Hemi­sphere — mounted a ridicu­lous comeback, reel­ing off eight con­sec­u­tive wins to de­fend the trophy by a score of 9-8.

As far as the Cup was con­cerned, I thought I’d seen

ev­ery­thing. But noth­ing had quite pre­pared me for the spec­ta­cle last June on Ber­muda’s Great Sound, where a pair of 50-foot fly­ing, hy­dro­foil­ing wa­ter bugs re­plete with high-tech, highly ad­justable dag­ger­boards and solid wing sails matched up in the 35th run­ning of the Amer­ica’s Cup. What’s more, the con­test be­tween th­ese re­mark­able craft, eas­ily ca­pa­ble of speeds in ex­cess of 40 knots, was an epic re­match be­tween Oracle Team USA, with Sp­ithill still at the wheel, and Emi­rates Team New Zealand (ETNZ), now helmed by a 26-year-old prodi­gal Kiwi son named Peter Burling. The boats, if you could call them that, were in­cred­i­bly wild, and the tal­ent driv­ing them was un­mis­tak­able.

As more than one com­men­ta­tor noted, it wasn’t your grand­fa­ther’s Amer­ica’s Cup. But be­fore all was said and done, it did make for some com­pelling drama, not to men­tion a very wor­thy win­ner.

From the out­set, how­ever, all else aside, it was def­i­nitely con­tro­ver­sial. Coutts and El­li­son’s vi­sion for the Cup was highly com­mer­cial, and not un­like the For­mula One race-car cir­cuit. The idea was to trans­form the Cup into a made-for-tv spec­ta­cle uti­liz­ing state-of-the-art foil­ing cata­ma­rans zip­ping around a closed course in 20-minute races, ideal for tele­vi­sion. Af­ter San Fran­cisco showed lit­tle in­ter­est in help­ing to fund a second Cup fol­low­ing 2013, Coutts brought the show to Ber­muda, at least partly be­cause its mid-at­lantic time zone was ad­van­ta­geous to both Amer­i­can and Euro­pean broad­cast audiences.

As far as the rac­ing for­mat was con­cerned, changes were also in the works. Tra­di­tion­ally, the Amer­ica’s Cup defender and chal­lengers were treated as church and state, never rac­ing against one another un­til the ac­tual Amer­ica’s Cup match. Oracle changed that for­mat too, al­low­ing the defender to com­pete in early Chal­lenger Tri­als (which also al­lowed them to gauge the per­for­mance of the com­pe­ti­tion, which drove Cup purists crazy).

Fi­nally, there were the boats them­selves, the AC 50 cata­ma­rans (see Off Watch, July 2017).

The goal here was to create ves­sels that ac­tu­ally fly, on foils, with six-man crews, four of whom were ba­si­cally ham­sters in a cage, spin­ning han­dles to create the hy­draulic pres­sure and juice nec­es­sary to con­trol the dag­ger­boards, rud­ders and wing sail, a three-part air­borne foil that works much like an air­plane wing. No­body had ever seen any­thing quite like them, this next gen­er­a­tion of foil­ing AC cats, and they were un­doubt­edly spec­tac­u­lar. But were the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple op­er­at­ing them even sailors? (Un­like all the other Cup boats, which uti­lized cof­fee-grinder winches spun by hand, the Ki­wis em­ployed bi­cy­cle-style winches op­er­ated by “cy­clors,” one of whom was an ac­tual Olympic bi­cy­clist.) For that mat­ter, were th­ese fly­ing ma­chines even sail­boats?

Then there was the mat­ter of the crews them­selves. On the “Amer­i­can” boat, Oracle Team USA, not one mem­ber of the on-wa­ter sail­ing team hailed from the States, Sp­ithill hav­ing stacked the deck with his Aussie mates. This made long­time Cup fol­low­ers ques­tion whether there should be some na­tion­al­ity re­quire­ment. What made the lauded 1987 Cup so spe­cial was that the 16 com­pet­ing boats were all crewed by sailors rac­ing for their own coun­try. That said, the Kiwi crew rac­ing in Ber­muda, nat­u­rally, was com­posed al­most en­tirely of Ki­wis, widely rec­og­nized as some of the world’s top sailors; skip­per Glenn Ashby, an Aussie, was the sole non-kiwi.

The last un­usual mat­ter was the frame­work agree­ment signed ear­lier in 2017 be­tween five of the six com­pet­ing teams (Oracle Team USA, Artemis Rac­ing from Swe­den, Team France, Land Rover BAR from Eng­land, and Soft­bank Team Ja­pan), a doc­u­ment that laid out the ba­sic pa­ram­e­ters for the next two edi­tions of the Cup, in 2019 and 2021. It sig­naled a pre­vi­ously unimag­in­ably cozy relationship be­tween the defender and chal­lengers, and in many ways was a re­nun­ci­a­tion of the Deed of Gift that had gov­erned Cup rac­ing since it be­gan in 1851. Af­ter all, if the chal­lenger won, his­tor­i­cally, they could ba­si­cally make up the rules re­gard­ing boats and venue go­ing for­ward. The frame­work elim­i­nated that right. In fact, the only way the frame­work, again pat­terned around For­mula One with a ded­i­cated cir­cuit lead­ing up to the ac­tual Cup matches, would not go for­ward would be if the lone team that failed to sign it ac­tu­ally won the Amer­ica’s Cup: Emi­rates Team New Zealand.

The Ki­wis were bound and deter­mined to do ev­ery­thing a bit dif­fer­ently. When it came to gen­er­at­ing the power nec­es­sary to op­er­ate a foil­ing cat, they’d as­sumed, cor­rectly, that legs are stronger than


arms, and the ex­tra oil in the tank gave them an edge in per­form­ing quick and mul­ti­ple ma­neu­vers. One of the ways that man­i­fested it­self was in wing-trim­mer Ashby’s abil­ity to con­stantly shape the wing sail, which he did with an Xbox-type con­trol con­sole; he was the lone sailor in the fleet with such a de­vice, and it ap­peared to give him in­fin­itely more op­tions in trim­ming the in­tri­cate wing. The Amer­ica’s Cup has al­ways been a tech­nol­ogy game, and at first glance it ap­peared the Ki­wis were win­ning it. Fi­nally, when the rest of the fleet de­camped to Ber­muda for train­ing, the Ki­wis were con­tent to prac­tice at home in Auck­land on the Hau­raki Gulf. Oracle Team USA dis­patched a crew of spies to watch the New Zealan­ders train, but that was largely a sym­bolic ex­er­cise.

The Ki­wis also had a not-sose­cret weapon, a homegrown wheelsman with ice wa­ter coursing through his veins: Peter Burling.

Burling had a clas­sic Kiwi wa­ter-rat up­bring­ing, start­ing off sail­ing Op­ti­mist prams, grad­u­at­ing to the lo­cal P-class dinghies, then mov­ing on to 420s (at 15, he was a world cham­pion in the class) and 470s (at 17, he was on the New Zealand boat at the Bei­jing Olympic games). At ev­ery stop, in ev­ery boat, he just killed it. The pin­na­cle was win­ning the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 with Blair Tuke (his team­mate and foil trim­mer on the ETNZ cat) in the high-per­for­mance 49er skiff class (the pair also won the sil­ver medal in 2012). So it was lit­tle sur­prise when long­time Team NZ syn­di­cate chief Grant Dal­ton chose Burling to re­place skip­per Dean Barker, who’d been at the helm in San Fran­cisco for the melt­down in 2013. What was amaz­ing was how seam­lessly Burling took com­mand of the Cup cat; dur­ing races, he not only drove the boat but called his own

tac­tics. The on­board footage taken dur­ing Kiwi races was no­table for how lit­tle con­ver­sa­tion took place, and Burling was rarely much more talk­a­tive dur­ing post-race press con­fer­ences. The man was born to sail, not speak.

By com­par­i­son, Oracle Team USA skip­per Jimmy Sp­ithill — also known as “James Pit­bull” for his ag­gres­sive na­ture on the race­course — was down­right lo­qua­cious. He is, wrote New Zealand jour­nal­ist Dana Jo­hannsen, “a proven win­ner who loves to run off at the mouth, take pot­shots at Team NZ and, to top it all off, is brother-in-arms with our Amer­ica’s Cup vil­lain Sir Rus­sell Coutts.” At one time he was the Cup’s young buck, like Burling, tak­ing com­mand of his first Amer­ica’s Cup racer at the ten­der age of 19, for an Aus­tralian syn­di­cate in Auck­land in 2000. Later, he won the Cup for Larry El­li­son’s group in 2010 and in the comeback year of 2013. That’s when he truly got un­der the Ki­wis’ col­lec­tive skin, taunt­ing the New Zealan­ders af­ter they’d opened up their big lead (“I think the ques­tion is, imag­ine if th­ese guys lost from here, what an up­set that would be.”). Jo­hannsen’s con­clu­sion: “He’s ar­guably the Aussie that Ki­wis love to hate the most.”

Sp­ithill and Oracle Team USA con­tin­ued their win­ning ways in the Louis Vuit­ton Amer­ica’s Cup Qual­i­fy­ing Se­ries that took place from May 26 to June 3, beat­ing the New Zealan­ders twice en route to an over­all vic­tory in the tuneup re­gatta. Just to con­fuse mat­ters, Oracle earned a sin­gle point for their ef­forts, mean­ing they’d take a one-point ad­van­tage into the sub­se­quent Amer­ica’s Cup fi­nals.

Be­fore that, how­ever, there was the mat­ter of sort­ing out the chal­lenger, which was deter­mined dur­ing the Amer­ica’s Cup Chal­lenger Play­offs in early June. De­spite a rather har­row­ing cap­size in a race against Land Rover BAR, the Ki­wis man­aged to keep their boat to­gether and dis­patched with both the Brits and later Artemis Rac­ing to ad­vance to the Amer­ica’s Cup Match against Oracle Team USA. In hind­sight, a re­match be­tween El­li­son’s Oracle crew and the New Zealan­ders seemed in­evitable. There was just too much his­tory — and more than a lit­tle bad blood — be­tween them.

The open­ing weekend of the Amer­ica’s Cup fi­nals, on June 17 and 18, did not go well for Oracle Team USA. De­spite los­ing to the so-called Amer­i­can boat twice in pre­lim­i­nary tri­als less than a month ear­lier, the Ki­wis shocked Oracle by win­ning all four races to take a com­mand­ing 3-0 lead; the first boat to score seven points would be vic­to­ri­ous. (As a re­minder, the New Zealand boat started the event at a neg­a­tive-one deficit since Oracle car­ried a point for­ward from the Louis Vuit­ton Qual­i­fy­ing Se­ries. Only in the Amer­ica’s Cup can a team record a score of neg­a­tive one.) In both tac­tics and boat speed, the Ki­wis were clearly the su­pe­rior boat. Oracle looked lost at sea.

Then again, Oracle was get­ting smoked in the pre­vi­ous Amer­ica’s Cup be­fore wag­ing a comeback for the ages. It raised the ques­tion: What, if any­thing, could they do to their boat, or their crew, over the next five days to get them back in the game?

Un­like 2013, there wasn’t a lot of wig­gle room. For this Cup, the boats and wings were iden­ti­cal; the only dif­fer­ences were in the foils and the op­er­at­ing sys­tems, the lat­ter of which took months, not days,

to re­fine. That left the foils and rud­ders, and the dock­side ru­mor mill had it that the team shaved 100 kilo­grams of weight from the boat in an ef­fort to get faster. The first two days of rac­ing had been in rel­a­tively light airs of 10 knots, which pur­port­edly played to the Ki­wis’ strengths. Would a lighter Oracle boat trans­late into a de­cid­edly faster one? And would the loss of weight make the boat twitchy and more dif­fi­cult to sail? Th­ese were the open-ended ques­tions lead­ing to the second weekend of rac­ing on June 24.

I ar­rived in Ber­muda just in time for it, and be­fore the first race of the day had con­cluded, was im­me­di­ately struck by two things. The event or­ga­niz­ers had taken plenty of flak about both Ber­muda as a venue and the rad­i­cal boats that had been de­vel­oped. But the Cup race­course on Great Sound was sim­ply mag­nif­i­cent, an ideal place to stage a re­gatta with rel­a­tively steady if shifty breeze and great spec­tat­ing ar­eas both ashore and on the wa­ter. And the AC 50 cats were mar­vels of tech­nol­ogy, with the abil­ity to fly around the race­course on their foils nearly 100 per­cent of the time, through tacks and jibes, up­wind and down. They were in­cred­i­ble.

The fifth con­test of the se­ries ended just as the pre­vi­ous four had: with the Ki­wis charg­ing across the fin­ish line ahead of Oracle to record the vic­tory. This time, Sp­ithill had no­body to blame but him­self; he was over the start­ing line a split second early and was later pe­nal­ized for fail­ing to stay suf­fi­ciently clear of the New Zealand boat in a close cross­ing sit­u­a­tion, two un­forced er­rors that proved to be too costly to over­come.

But Oracle Team USA showed some spunk in the day’s second race, the best of the Cup fi­nals, tak­ing the lead right off the start and main­tain­ing it for the first three of the seven legs, cov­er­ing the Ki­wis in clas­sic match-rac­ing form. ETNZ briefly re­cov­ered to take the lead, but Oracle re­gained it by find­ing bet­ter breeze and hold­ing on for the vic­tory to make the score 4-1. Af­ter­ward, tak­ing a page from Sp­ithill’s book, Burling tweaked his op­po­nents, say­ing, “It was great to see a lit­tle fight out of th­ese boys.” For his part, Sp­ithill said Oracle would go back out for a sail to eke out even more speed. “We’re go­ing back on the wa­ter [af­ter this press con­fer­ence] to try some­thing else to change,” he said. “The im­por­tant thing is the boat is faster. And we think there’s more speed in the tank.” Per­haps. But not enough. The first of two races on June 25 was ba­si­cally over at the start when Sp­ithill bore away just be­fore the gun — per­haps mind­ful of be­ing over early the day be­fore — and al­lowed the Ki­wis to break away un­chal­lenged for a wire-to-wire 12-second vic­tory. The day’s second race also hinged on a pre-start ma­neu­ver, this one ex­e­cuted to pre­ci­sion by Burling, who got to lee­ward of Oracle and took them head to wind. When Oracle stalled, Burling bore away and eas­ily won the start, wav­ing at his ri­vals as he sped past as if to say, “See ya.” The Ki­wis con­tin­ued on ba­si­cally un­chal­lenged to take a 6 -1 lead. Match point.

Oracle was in a deep hole, with two more races (if nec­es­sary) sched­uled for June 26, both of which they needed to win. “The plan wasn’t to be in this sit­u­a­tion again,” said Sp­ithill. “But here we are.” Could they pull off another mir­a­cle like 2013?

Back in the sail­ing-crazed coun­try of New Zealand, the na­tion was trans­fixed by what was un­fold­ing in Ber­muda. It had been 13 long years since they lost the Cup, and in the in­ter­ven­ing time, they’d come up short on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions to re­gain it. But now ev­ery­one could nearly taste it. At 4 a.m. in Auck­land, the traf­fic had come to a stand­still so res­i­dents could get to work in time to watch the rac­ing live from the other side of the planet. The early ris­ers would be re­warded.

The de­cid­ing race was yet another clin­i­cal per­for­mance by the Ki­wis. Both boats hit the start­ing line at speed, and Oracle ac­tu­ally led at the first mark. But early in the second leg, the Ki­wis ex­e­cuted a flaw­less jibe — Oracle was a tad slow and a tad late — and took the lead. They would never look back, even­tu­ally open­ing a 300-me­ter lead and cruis­ing around the race­course for a de­ci­sive 55-second vic­tory.

The Cup was bound for New Zealand, and a se­ries of pa­rades from Auck­land on the North Is­land to Dunedin on the South Is­land, with nu­mer­ous stops in be­tween.

Now the Cup’s fu­ture is once again in the hands of the Ki­wis, and af­ter Oracle’s rather dom­i­nat­ing con­trol over it, sailors around the world couldn’t be hap­pier or more op­ti­mistic. “Rest as­sured, we’ll do the right thing,” said ETNZ CEO Dal­ton shortly af­ter be­ing pre­sented with the trophy. “It’s a priv­i­lege to hold the Amer­ica’s Cup, not a right.”

Dal­ton said that Italy’s Luna Rossa syn­di­cate – a pre­vi­ous Cup con­tender who ul­ti­mately sat this one out – had al­ready filed the pa­per­work to be the next Chal­lenger of Record, mean­ing they will work in tan­dem with the de­fend­ing Ki­wis to ham­mer out what sort of boats will be sailed, when the re­gatta will take place and other lo­gis­ti­cal mat­ters. Many Cup afi­ciona­dos are hoping for a re­turn to mono­hulls, per­haps a large skiff, which will put more of a pre­mium on tra­di­tional sail­ing skills and match-rac­ing tac­tics. And most ev­ery­one wants a na­tion­al­ity clause of some sort that would re­turn the Cup to an event where at least a ma­jor­ity of sailors and de­sign­ers on each team ac­tu­ally hail from the coun­try they rep­re­sent.

But that’s all in the fu­ture. For now, clearly, as proved in Ber­muda, there’s just one thing ev­ery­one can agree on. When it comes to sail­ing prow­ess, no­body beats tiny New Zealand.


Emi­rates Team New Zealand (fore­ground) crosses Oracle Team USA in ac­tion dur­ing the 35th Amer­ica’s Cup in Ber­muda.

The Kiwi skip­per, Peter Burling (above), was low key and laid back com­pared to his coun­ter­part, Oracle Team USA’S Jimmy Sp­ithill.

When it came to gen­er­at­ing the juice to con­trol the sys­tems on their AC 50 cat, the Ki­wis used pedal power from a team of “cy­clors.”

De­spite a har­row­ing cap­size dur­ing early chal­lenger tri­als, the Ki­wis man­aged to keep their boat to­gether and ad­vance to the Amer­ica’s Cup fi­nals.

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