Flight of the Kiwis

With greater in­ge­nu­ity, a faster plat­form, and the de­ter­mi­na­tion to bring the America’s Cup back to Auck­land, Emi­rates Team New Zealand stole the show in Ber­muda.

Sailing World - - Starting Line - By Dave Reed

TThe New Zealand en­tourage rolled into Ber­muda ca­su­ally late for the America’s Cup party, erected a stark, white-tented com­pound be­hind the row of food ven­dors in the Vil­lage, and got right to busi­ness. They didn’t waste a dime gussy­ing up their base. If it weren’t for the big logo at the apex of their boat shed and the New Zealand flag stream­ing from the ca­ble of a crane, you’d be hard-pressed to find them on the is­land.

Each morn­ing through­out the Louis Vuit­ton America’s Cup Chal­lenger Series and the 35th America’s Cup Match, how­ever, you couldn’t miss them. While Or­a­cle hid be­hind its fences, ETNZ’S en­gi­neers and shore crew would trickle out in plain sight to launch their so­phis­ti­cated 50- foot cata­ma­ran. Like clock­work, the big red wing went sky­ward at 0900, the plat­form placed un­der­neath and then hoisted into the wa­ter. Gawk­ers and jour­nal­ists loi­tered be­hind metal bar­ri­cades, hop­ing to get a hint of the in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy. Soon after, the sailors would pass by, dressed for the morn­ing prac­tice ses­sion, flash­ing wry smiles and quick nods of ac­knowl­edge­ment: no high-fives, no au­to­graphs and cer­tainly no show­boat­ing.

They were vis­i­ble now, but be­fore ar­riv­ing in Ber­muda, the New Zealan­ders had trained alone, a hemi­sphere away, and no amount of spy­ing pre­pared their ri­vals for the whip­ping they would re­ceive at the hands of a 26-yearold helms­man sa­vant, his wiz­ard wing trim­mer and four watt-crank­ing cy­clers.

The un­com­pet­i­tive French and Bri­tish syn­di­cates were dis­missed in the open­ing rounds of the series. Soft­bank Team Ja­pan, quick­est when strong winds ruf­fled Great Sound, was next, leav­ing Artemis Racing as the lone wor­thy ri­val to the New Zealan­ders. In what was the clos­est racing of the en­tire re­gatta, ETNZ emerged a faster, bat­tle- hard­ened squad, plenty ready to take on its neme­sis.

On the eve of the Match, Or­a­cle Team USA’S top brass were con­fi­dent in their plat­form but an­tic­i­pated a stiff chal­lenge. “We felt it was going to be a dog­fight,” says Scott Fer­gu­son, Or­a­cle Team USA’S tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, the man in charge of all things de­sign. “All of us, in­ter­nally, thought we would have sim­i­lar speed, and that it would come down to ma­neu­vers and starts.”

That, we now know, was wish­ful think­ing. Team New Zealand dom­i­nated both of the open­ing races from start to finish. Skip­per Jimmy Sp­ithill and com­pany were rusty, and it showed. Down­wind, the New Zealan­ders sailed lower and faster — a good 2 knots faster at times — and on the up­wind legs, boatspeed dif­fer­ences oc­ca­sion­ally hit dou­ble dig­its.

“Our dag­ger­board tips were an­gled down more than any of the other teams,” says ETNZ coach Ray Davies, “which made them faster up­wind but harder to sail, but our con­trol sys­tems were bet­ter and we were able to achieve the same sta­bil­ity with the faster foil, and that’s where we were faster up­wind. We were able to sail higher, with more wind­ward heel, which gave us more grip on the lee­ward dag­ger­board.”

Sp­ithill stated there was noth­ing to spec­u­late about boatspeed dif­fer­ences be­tween the two, on ac­count of the day’s light and patchy winds, but the fact re­mained helms­man Peter Burl­ing and com­pany were one up on the score­board, hav­ing wiped away the bonus point the de­fender car­ried in from the chal­lenger series.

Or­a­cle had no re­sponse to Emi­rates Team New Zealand’s of­fen­sive the fol­low­ing day ei­ther. Un­able to hook Burl­ing in the prestart, Sp­ithill let him get away. At times, Team New Zealand was a good 5 knots faster as the cy­clers’ heart rates beat along with their ca­dence. As the han­dles spun on Or­a­cle, you could hear Sp­ithill’s des­per­a­tion amid the calls to “dig in” for more oil.

Did the bikes make a dif­fer­ence? Def­i­nitely, says Fer­gu­son. “We con­sid­ered them early on, but there was con­cern about the aero penalty, and the guys get­ting off the bikes and across.” Many of the de­ci­sions are col­lec­tive, he adds, but this was one owned by the sailors.

In the se­cond race of the day, in 10 knots of wind, Or­a­cle tried for the pre-start hook but didn’t get it. In­stead, they got slow and the Kiwis got faster, “a lot faster,” Or­a­cle tac­ti­cian Tom Slingsby noted to his helms­man. With a clear start again, the New Zealan­ders were off and run­ning — by the time they flew through Gate 5, their lead was a half-mile of hurt.

The frus­tra­tion was vis­i­ble in Sp­ithill’s face as he took to his hot seat at the press con­fer­ence. His canned re­sponse was ready. “There is a lot of time to make changes,” he stated, not­ing the New Zealan­ders had stepped up their per­for­mance from the early rounds. “We clearly need to get more speed from our boat.”

The de­fender then had five days to mine its note­books for so­lu­tions: foils, rud­ders, wings, con­trol sys­tems, tech­niques — they would look at ev­ery­thing. It was a dif­fi­cult team meet­ing that Mon­day morn­ing, says Fer­gu­son. First to go were the hor­i­zon­tal rud­der el­e­va­tors that they’d dubbed “the seag­ulls.” They’d never used them in com­pe­ti­tion, and they were clearly not fast. Then came the weight-loss pro­gram.

“We were strug­gling to get to min­i­mum weight, so we looked at ev­ery piece of the boat we couldn’t jus­tify keep­ing,” says Fer­gu­son. “We stripped ev­ery­thing we could get rid of.”

On the wa­ter, they ex­per­i­mented with dag­ger­board toe an­gle, which turned out be a waste­ful trip down a rab­bit hole. They re­duced the area of their light- air dag­ger­boards and switched to shorter rud­ders, which they knew would be OK in a straight line but likely to break the sur­face dur­ing ma­neu­vers.

Mean­while, the New Zealan­ders con­tin­ued to clean up from their Louis Vuit­ton series capsize. They also re­fined a speed-pro­duc­ing al­ter­ation they “bor­rowed” from their ri­vals. “Shroud-gate,” as one New Zealand crewmem­ber called it, was the one con­tentious rule in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Cup. Or­a­cle had de­ter­mined early on that loose lower shrouds al­low the plat­form to wrack,

which trans­lates to more right­ing mo­ment. To sail in this con­fig­u­ra­tion, how­ever, the lower por­tion of the wing had to be strength­ened.

In the process of seek­ing mea­sure­ment ap­proval, Or­a­cle ended up hav­ing to show its hand. The mea­sur­ers said no, says Fer­gu­son, but the de­fender lob­bied the re­gatta di­rec­tor, who over­turned the rul­ing. Once the Kiwis were in the loop, they took the tip and ran with it.

“The Or­a­cle guys re­al­ized you didn’t need the low­ers, and that al­lowed the whole plat­form to twist,” says Davies, “which, in ef­fect, gives more off­set in the rud­ders. It was a big ad­van­tage to be able to get the plat­form to wrack, and it wasn’t un­til the Cup that we had our whole pack­age sorted. That was an­other gain, for sure, and we got to it just in time.”

After a five- day break in the ac­tion, Or­a­cle re­turned for the se­cond week­end of the series down four races and slightly more con­fi­dent in their boat, but Emi­rates Team New Zealand was sur­gi­cal in its win. Or­a­cle shot it­self in the foot sev­eral times, in­cur­ring an OCS penalty and crash­ing through three bad jibes, but the big one was a penalty dur­ing a cru­cial midrace dial- down.

For Kiwi fans, the move was a thing of beauty: Or­a­cle low­ered its board to set up for a tack from the left bound­ary, and in that mo­ment, Burl­ing had their num­ber. Al­ready on star­board, he bore away sharply to start the dial-down early and make it that much more dif­fi­cult for Sp­ithill to avoid when the two boats met. As Or­a­cle turned up past the stern of the Kiwi boat, Slingsby broke the news to his helms­man.

“We’ve got a penalty?” Sp­ithill re­sponded in­cred­u­lously. “I was al­ter­ing the whole way!”

That’s not how the um­pires saw it, and Sp­ithill pleaded his case at the post-race press con­fer­ence be­fore tak­ing a dig at the um­pires for giv­ing the New Zealan­ders “soft penal­ties.”

The Kiwis be­gan the next day with an­other con­vinc­ing win, and looked to con­tinue their sweep in the se­cond un­til Or­a­cle took con­trol of the race when the New Zealan­ders missed a wind­shift. Sp­ithill was quick to seize upon the vic­tory and throw a jab at the press con­fer­ence.

“We’ve worked hard this week, and we saw these guys ( nod­ding to­ward Peter Burl­ing) take days off and made a com­mit­ment that we’d make the boat faster,” said Sp­ithill. “We saw that to­day. We’re not sail­ing as well as we should be. Even in the se­cond race, we had a pretty good lead and lost it again, but it’s good to be able to come back from a race like that. The point is, the boat is faster.”

As far as the New Zealan­ders were con­cerned, they gave that one away.

“We should have sailed the course in­stead of the com­peti­tor,” says Davies. “As soon as you get into shifty con­di­tions and dif­fer­ences in pres­sure, it’s more im­por­tant to race your­self around the course.”

The win gave Or­a­cle cause to cel­e­brate, but they knew they were on bor­rowed time.

“The guys were re­ally suf­fer­ing that day,” says Fer­gu­son. “We re­al­ized then that we could win races, but there were times where we were at crit­i­cal pres­sures in the ac­cu­mu­la­tors. If you’re not up to pres­sure going into a ma­neu­ver, you’ll lose it, and it will go bad.”

Pres­sure and con­trol were never a con­cern for the Kiwis. Their so­phis­ti­cated and man­u­ally driven dag­ger­board au­topi­lot sys­tem, as well as Ashby’s dy­namic wing con­trols, al­lowed them to ef­fec­tively di­vide the la­bor on board. The com­pet­i­tive essence of their AC50 was “awe­some,” says Davies.

“It’s how we en­vi­sioned the boat from the out­set. We had the abil­ity for Pete [Burl­ing] to con­trol most of the boat from the wheel, so we could sail the boat how­ever we liked, from the no-look ma­neu­vers in the light air to hav­ing the guys put their weight for­ward in the boat.

“Hav­ing the cy­clers pro­duc­ing plenty of power and hav­ing the abil­ity to con­trol ei­ther foil from ei­ther side of the boat gave us a huge ad­van­tage for tac­ti­cal op­tions and the abil­ity to eas­ily pull off con­sis­tent ma­neu­vers with­out much warn­ing. The boats are thirsty for hy­draulic oil, and to have the bikes crank­ing out huge wattage for the whole pack­age cer­tainly helped.”

Cy­clers Blair Tuke and Andy Maloney flew the boat with con­trols at their han­dle­bars, leav­ing Burl­ing free to fo­cus on the race. Con­trols on Burl­ing’s steer­ing wheels en­abled him to fly the boat if needed, and con­trol the wing trim as well. When wing trim­mer Glen Ashby went to lee­ward, for ex­am­ple, Burl­ing could trim the wing, and con­versely, when Ashby ar­rived at the other wheel out of a ma­neu­ver, he could trim the wing as Burl­ing crossed.

“We con­tem­plated whether we even needed a wing trim­mer in cer­tain con­di­tions,” says Davies. “We had an op­tion to put an­other bike on the boat, but we didn’t need to. To con­trol the wing from the wheel opened up a lot of con­sis­tency in our ma­neu­vers.”

Much ado was made be­fore the Match about Burl­ing’s match-racing ex­pe­ri­ence in the prestart box, but with ev­ery start he man­aged fine by never en­gag­ing with Sp­ithill and us­ing his ma­neu­ver­abil­ity to stay out of harm’s way. On the penul­ti­mate day, how­ever, he fi­nally showed Sp­ithill who was boss. In the most telling mo­ment of the match, Burl­ing foiled into a lee­ward hook in the start of the day’s se­cond race, and as he glided to lee­ward, spit­ting dis­tance from Or­a­cle’s port hull, he took his right hand off the steer­ing wheel, glanced over at his ri­val and gave a mock­ing wave. Maybe he was sig­nal­ing Sp­ithill to turn up, but that’s not how it ap­peared. It was more like, “Hello, Jimmy ... and good­bye.”

Off sped the New Zealan­ders to an­other trounc­ing, bring­ing the series to 6- to- 1 and match point.

Less than 24 hours later, cy­clers Si­mon Van Velthooven, Andy Maloney and Josh Ju­nior, flight con­troller Blair Tuke, trim­mer Glen Ashby, and Peter Burl­ing would de­liver the de­ci­sive blow to Or­a­cle Team USA in a move they’d prac­ticed many times but never had the chance to de­liver in a race.

The opportunity pre­sented it­self early in Leg 2 of Race 9 as Or­a­cle led the New Zealan­ders to­ward the first bound­ary after Mark 1 with a 10-me­ter lead. The playbook says he who jibes first gets the jump, and racing sailors know the move well as the “no-look jibe.”

“Ba­si­cally we have the abil­ity to fire the wind­ward board and jibe with­out send­ing any­one to lee­ward, so they didn’t know we were jib­ing,” said Tuke af­ter­ward.

They trained for this ex­act sce­nario know­ing that the team that fol­lows through Mark 1 has to beat the boat ahead to the jibe. As was the case through­out this lop­sided series, Or­a­cle didn’t see it com­ing, was late to re­act, and slow out of its jibe. As soon as both boats were up and foil­ing again, the writ­ing was on the wall. “It’s some­thing we trained a lot on, and when you pull it off in racing, it is a nice feel­ing,” added Tuke. “To do it in the last race was pretty cool.”

Be­hind the sailors of Emi­rates Team New Zealand is team of teams, one that crafted the most tech­ni­cal boat the America’s Cup had ever seen. As with all other chal­lengers left in Emi­rates Team Zealand’s wake, the 35th de­fender never stood a chance. They had the wrong tool for the job.

From the iso­la­tion of the proud Kiwi Na­tion came a squad that was de­ter­mined, one that dared to be to dif­fer­ent, and the tool they brought to Ber­muda was a mas­ter­piece of in­no­va­tion: from the ap­pendages, the hy­draulic con­trols, the dy­namic wing, the in­tel­li­gent soft­ware and, yes, the gamechang­ing cy­clers, which al­lowed them pre­ci­sion trim and on- de­mand oil. All of this, han­dled by a young sail­ing team flush with ex­pe­ri­ence win­ning at the highest lev­els, was the com­plete pack­age.

The fastest boat won, there’s no doubt about it, con­ceded Sp­ithill, the raw emo­tions of the de­feat no­tice­able in his voice. “They fully de­served it. They had all the speed.” Q

In one mem­o­rable mo­ment of the Cup, Peter Burl­ing art­fully hooked his ri­val, and waved him off, con­firm­ing that he was the bet­ter starting helms­man. Con­fi­dent but never boast­ful, the New Zealan­ders were re­laxed while Or­a­cle Team USA’S sailors knew they we

Be­fore tak­ing the Auld Mug back to Auck­land, team di­rec­tor Grant Dal­ton ac­cepted an Ital­ian chal­lenge, con­firmed the 36th would be con­tested in 2021, and hinted at a na­tion­al­ity rule. The boat type would be forth­com­ing, but Peter Burl­ing prefers high-perf

MARTIN RAGET / ACEA GILLES

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