THE KIWIS Rule
The 17th day of March was cause for a massive celebration in Auckland, New Zealand, this year, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns or green beer. Nope, on a glamorous summer afternoon, with tens of thousands of maskless, COVID-FREE Kiwis cheering and hugging one another, the hometown lads aboard Te Rehutai, the foiling AC 75 monohull representing Emirates Team New Zealand and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, in demanding fashion won the America’s Cup.
The final score, over a gamebut-vanquished crew of the Italian challenger, Luna Rossa, was 7-3, but when all was said and done, the result seemed more of a foregone conclusion and wasn’t really that close. Luna Rossa’s co-skipper, the well-traveled Aussie Jimmy Spithill, summed it up well: “The best team won,” he said, emphatically, and added a postscript about what a marvelous time he’d enjoyed sparring with the deadly efficient, calm and cool, wellhoned Kiwi team. “At times it felt like we were taking a knife to a gunfight.”
It can now safely be said—if, in recent times, it was ever in doubt—that pound for pound, person for person, the tiny island nation of New Zealand, home to roughly 5 million salty souls, is the greatest sailing country on the planet. This 36th running of the America’s Cup was the fourth time the scrappy Kiwis captured the Auld Mug, and their second straight victory. And it’s hard to make a case that it will be going elsewhere anytime soon.
There are plenty of reasons for this, but the most important one might be the Kiwi skipper Peter Burling, the brilliant 30-year-old helmsman who has multiple world championships, Olympic silver and gold medals, and now a pair of winning Cup campaigns to add to his rapidly growing, very exclusive sailing resume. Burling is the latest in a long string of Kiwi yachting legends, including Peter Blake, Russell Coutts and Grant Dalton. Time will tell, of course, but he might yet be the best of them all. Blink hard, and it’s fairly easy to imagine the thus-far-domineering Burling becoming something akin to the Michael Jordan of the America’s Cup.
But Burling is hardly the only advantage in the Kiwi camp; the entire roster of sailors, designers and builders now all have considerable Cup experience. And that’s before we even get into the boats. The twitchy, foiling AC 75s, which can sail at better than 50 knots, have their share of detractors, but they actually produced fairly close and entertaining racing. The race-hardened Italians matched the Kiwis race for race early on, and the series was deadlocked at 3-3 before the Kiwis, gaining strength and confidence with each contest, closed it out with four straight wins. Had another syndicate won the Cup this year, it’s possible that as the defender, they would’ve chosen a more traditional yacht the next time around. But will the Kiwis, the clear-cut kings of foilers, go in a different direction? Not bloody likely.
Other questions linger, including where the next Cup will be staged. After massive New Zealand government assistance this time—and no real, expected economic benefit in return because of COVID-19—IT’S no guarantee that the next event will happen in Auckland, and reports have surfaced that they’re shopping for foreign venues. There’s precedence here: Larry Ellison took the Cup from San Francisco to Bermuda after winning it.
And what about another US entry from the New York Yacht Club? The club’s American Magic team got smoked, and embarrassed, this time around, and were unceremoniously dismissed from the competition early on. It’s not clear whether the members have the desire to return and invest another hundred million dollars or so, and if they do, it’s fairly obvious they need to rethink their program on multiple levels.
But for now, all of that is mere speculation, discussions for another day. What matters in the moment is all about tiny New Zealand, the so-called Land of the Long White Cloud. Rule, Britannia? Not anymore, mates. It’s the Kiwis who now rule the waves.