A Heroic Win

New Zealand’s team­work and lack of ‘fear’ proved un­stop­pable in AC35

SAIL - - Racing Under Sail - By Chris Museler

If the 2013 Amer­ica’s Cup in San Fran­cisco rep­re­sented a cat­a­clysmic mo­ment for a new form of sail­ing, the 35th Cup not only took “foil­ing” to a ridicu­lously re­fined level of per­for­mance, it cre­ated an en­tirely new archetype of pro­fes­sional sailor: high-per­for­mance Olympians like win­ning Emi­rates Team New Zealand helms­man Peter Burl­ing, who will likely dom­i­nate the elite tier of Cup sailors for a gen­er­a­tion or more.

The re­mark­ably calm and steady Burl­ing even treated the clos­ing press con­fer­ence as just one more step in a jour­ney, while rec­og­niz­ing, humbly, that he was only part of a big­ger team: all shar­ing the bur­den—and now ela­tion—of a vic­tory that laid to rest the bit­ter 9-8 de­feat less than four years ear­lier at the hands of Jimmy Sp­ithill and Or­a­cle Team USA.

“All the train­ing has paid off,” said Burl­ing, a foil­ing Moth world cham­pion and two-time Olympic medal­ist in the 49er class. “It just shows you what an in­cred­i­ble bunch we have here. When we get put un­der the pres­sure, when we get asked ques­tions, we an­swer them on the wa­ter. That speaks won­ders to our team.”

As for Burl­ing’s win­ning AC50 cata­ma­ran, global head­lines pointed to Emi­rates Team New Zealand’s “cy­clors,” cy­clist sailors, who loaded up their boat’s hy­draulic sys­tems with their pow­er­ful legs, as the core in­no­va­tion that gave the Ki­wis the strength to drop De­fender Or­a­cle Team USA 8-1 in June’s fi­nals. How­ever, more as­tute ob­servers iden­ti­fied the cy­clors as just one cog in a well-oiled ma­chine that Grant Dal­ton’s revamped team de­vel­oped in se­cret in New Zealand dur­ing a mostly light wind 2016- 17 sum­mer—although the in-line, low drag ar­range­ment did seem the epit­ome of ef­fi­ciency com­pared to the crouched, arm-strain­ing grinder sce­nario used by the other teams. (Bot­tom line: more power equals more abil­ity to ad­just wings and dag­ger­boards, which in turn, equals faster ma­neu­vers and more straight-line speed for the power-hun­gry ACC50 cata­ma­rans.)

Also re­ceiv­ing a lot of me­dia at­ten­tion was the “Game Boy” style con­trol unit New Zealand’s wing trim­mer, cata­ma­ran guru Glenn Ashby, re­lied on to mys­ti­cally morph the shape and twist of the team’s wing, while rarely ad­just­ing a mostly hid­den wing sheet—in stark con­trast to the other teams, which moved the en­tirety of the wing in and out on a sheet and hy­drauli­cally driven winch, caus­ing dra­matic swings in power and adding to the in­sta­bil­ity of the hy­per-sen­si­tive AC50 cata­ma­ran foil­ers.

Then there were the rad­i­cally kinked, long and thin dag­ger­boards the Ki­wis de­ployed, which seemed to be the fi­nal ex­pla­na­tion for the Kiwi’s dom­i­na­tion. As Or­a­cle strug­gled to match its more con­ven­tional L-foils to the light and fickle breezes that marked the fi­nals, New Zealand’s blades pro­vided both high lift in the

lulls and low drag when the boats were pressed well above 20 knots of boat­speed: a deadly com­bi­na­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, these foils were con­trolled not by the helms­man, as was the case with the rest of the fleet, but via a touch-screen de­vice man­aged by Burl­ing’s long­time 49er crew, Blair Tuke. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, New Zealand’s part­ner­ship with the Ital­ian Luna Rossa syn­di­cate in 2013 led to the de­vel­op­ment of Tuke’s con­trol unit: a soft­ware-driven au­topi­lot of sorts, that re­vealed the an­gle of the foil for any given mo­ment. Tuke only had to match this with his fin­gers to di­rect the foils to the cor­rect ar­tic­u­la­tion and pro­duce the su­per-sta­ble flight that al­lowed Burl­ing to throw the boat around with con­fi­dence in the pre-start and around the course—that and fo­cus on things like speed and tac­tics.

“No fear, and team­work,” said Land Rover BAR tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Andy Claughton when asked to sum up the rea­sons why the Ki­wis won. “Sail­ing these boats is like balanc­ing a pen­cil on the tip of your fin­ger. They de­vel­oped an open, di­he­dral foil that needed a free set of hands to man­age. This is back of the en­ve­lope stuff. Their de­signed foil tips made for a dra­matic re­duc­tion in drag in the lighter con­di­tions. If Or­a­cle was foil­ing five de­grees lower, they prob­a­bly had five per­cent more drag.”

Which is not to say that in Claughton’s anal­y­sis ETNZ’s suc­cess did not also rep­re­sent a tri­umph of sea­man­ship. Ac­cord­ing to Claughton: “You had three very com­pe­tent sailors (Burl­ing, Tuke, Ashby) who said ‘we are go­ing to go for this’ and as Glenn says, ‘throw the ball as far as we could and work like hell to try and reach it.’ They ex­panded their minds to a point where they were happy to go for it each day.”

Beyond that, given the na­ture of this kind of sail­ing, it should come as no sur­prise that the 35th Amer­ica’s Cup also marked the ful­fill­ment of a tran­si­tion that be­gan when the 20-some­thing Nathan Out­teridge be­came the first of a new gen­er­a­tion of foil­ing skip­pers to be tapped for a Cup cam­paign in the pre­vi­ous cy­cle, where he quickly re­placed vet­eran skip­per Terry Hutchin­son at the helm with Swe­den’s Artemis.

Up un­til then, skip­pers like Hutchin­son had fol­lowed a proven pathway of match-racing in mono­hull keel­boats and win­ning all kinds of im­por­tant re­gat­tas be­fore fi­nally lead­ing Cup cam­paigns of their own in their 40s and even 50s. And while Out­teridge proved this model wrong in the 34th Cup, the shift to even smaller foil­ing cata­ma­rans for the 35th Cup truly brought what Volvo Ocean Race CEO Mark Turner calls the “Olympic cur­rency” to the top of the CV for Cup skip­pers.

In fact, for all their skills, Frank Cam­mas of France, Ja­pan’s Dean Barker, Or­a­cle’s Sp­ithill and even Land Rover BAR’s Sir Ben Ainslie are all out­siders when it comes to the high-per­for­mance scene Out­teridge and Burl­ing had been play­ing in so suc­cess­fully for the past decade: a set­ting in which they have spent their en­tire adult lives mak­ing split-sec­ond, ac­cu­rate de­ci­sions while driv­ing small, skit­tish craft at 20-plus knots. This, in turn, puts them at a real dis­ad­van­tage when it comes to driv­ing a boat like AC50 on a short, tight race­course like the one in Ber­muda.

“The style of peo­ple in­volved are a new gen­er­a­tion of pi­lots,” ex­plained John Bertrand,

the skip­per who led Aus­tralia II to break the long­est win­ning streak in sport­ing his­tory, win­ning the Cup in 1983. “The wing trim­mer is steer­ing the boat through the air. In this en­vi­ron­ment, no words are be­ing said with these young sailors. It’s be­tween the pi­lot and the per­son steer­ing the boat through the air.”

As for the Cup it­self, though the die has seem­ingly been cast in terms of the type of sailor at the helm, at press time the fu­ture of pretty much ev­ery­thing else re­mained a mys­tery un­til New Zealand makes some of the big de­ci­sion on boat type and na­tion­al­ity rules.

Team New Zealand was the only team not to sign Rus­sell Coutts and Larry El­li­son’s pro­to­col for the 36th Amer­ica’s Cup, and the in­con­sis­tency and long gaps be­tween events has chal­lenged ef­forts to make a sus­tain­able com­mer­cial prod­uct out of the Cup. That said, after win­ning the tro­phy for the third time, ETNZ man­ager Grant Dal­ton isn’t tak­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity lightly, and is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to what he be­lieved to be the un­fair ad­van­tage given to the De­fender by the frame­work in the 35th Cup. The New Zealand gov­ern­ment has al­ready put down a $5 mil­lion de­posit on the next Cup, and Dal­ton has plans to make a pri­or­ity of clean­ing up the sport­ing as­pect of the event.

“I don’t be­lieve that you own the Amer­ica’s Cup,” Dal­ton said, even as the cham­pagne was still rain­ing down be­hind him after his team’s his­toric win. “You are a cus­to­dian. The rules should not be writ­ten to make it eas­ier for you to hold onto it...if you’re good enough to hold onto it, you will hold onto it.”

Beyond that, a stronger na­tion­al­ity per­cent­age for the teams is cer­tainly on the ta­ble ac­cord­ing to Dal­ton, but he said it must be han­dled with care. Dal­ton has also not yet com­mented on whether the Cup will stick with cats or if mono­hulls will once again be used. For what it’s worth, the Ki­wis have said they will not re­veal the tech­nolo­gies that al­lowed them to pre­cisely ma­nip­u­late their wing and foils: a tip-off that foil­ing mul­ti­hulls are a strong con­tender.

Mean­while, though the win­ners have said they will act quickly to move the 36th Amer­ica’s Cup for­ward, the world has a lot to di­gest from this fast-paced se­ries where eight-minute races and even en­tire se­ries seemed to be fin­ished in the blink of an eye.

The re­cep­tion in Auck­land, com­plete with ticker tape pa­rades, was at the level one would ex­pect from all the great his­tor­i­cal events in a coun­try. Some­how, in the tor­rent of cold rain that fell on that day, the team felt the ela­tion of win­ning all over again. With ca­noes filled with Maori war­riors and blue-col­lar fam­i­lies in bright or­ange life jack­ets as the back­drop, the of­ten stern Dal­ton spoke for his team when he said, “I’m just re­ally priv­i­leged and lucky and in­cred­i­bly proud, frankly.” s

Emi­rates Team New Zealand proved to be truly dom­i­nant this past sum­mer on Ber­muda’s Great Sound

ETNZ’s dag­ger­boards fea­tured a dis­tinct kink in their hor­i­zon­tal por­tions, which made them all the more ef­fi­cient

De­spite Or­a­cle Team USA’s best ef­forts, there was sim­ply noth­ing to be done to counter the bet­ter-pre­pared Ki­wis

The fu­ture of the Cup now de­pends on (from left) Glenn Ashby, ETNZ prin­ci­pal Mat­teo de Nora, Peter Burl­ing and Grant Dal­ton

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