Emirates Team New Zealand are taking the America's Cup back to New Zealand after a 7-1 whitewash win over Oracle Team USA
A 20-minute drag race was all it took for Emirates Team New Zealand to crush rivals Oracle Team USA today to make it 7-1 and wrest the America’s Cup from Jimmy Spithill and backer Larry Ellison.
The America’s Cup is going back to New Zealand.
Emotion got the better of both teams and there were tears at the finish. Oracle’s skipper and warrior chief, Jimmy Spithill, looked choked. Peter Burling grinned toothily as never before.
Even Emirates Team New Zealand’s CEO, Grant Dalton, succumbed. His craggy features softened with tears he looked quite surprised to be shedding. This victory will soothe scars left from the bitter defeat by Oracle in San Francisco in 2013.
It is impossible to underestimate how huge the achievement is for this team and for New Zealand, where Cup mania has reached fever pitch. Sailing passions have swamped action from the Lions rugby tour, and that’s saying something.
The finale race itself was, if we’re honest, a lacklustre spectacle, one of the least interesting races of many close and exciting contests during the America’s Cup qualifiers and playoffs.
But that was fitting, because Emirates Team New Zealand has stood over and above every team in the month-long, hard racing that got them to this point. They have overcome setbacks, the biggest of which was a major repair after pitchpoling at the start of a race with Britain’s Land Rover BAR, causing serious damage.
It didn’t put them off course. Every day, their public voice, helmsman Peter Burling, came out and said a version of the same dogged message….they were learning…they were improving…they’d just chip away at it.
They were, and they did.
The fastest boat won, as it famously does in the America’s Cup, but what made it the quickest within a very restrictive class rule will come to be seen as a fascinating study in management, new generation sailing skills, ‘disruptive’ thinking and sailing team dynamics.
And now, Generation Skiff is in the house.
Spithill “no idea what’s next”
Before today’s final race, helmsman Peter Burling looked, as ever, unflustered, and the crew were clinical in how they finished Oracle off. It was a perfectly sailed, quite conservative race that hammered home the superiority of the New Zealand design and set up, and showed off their intriguing marriage of minutely calibrated fighter pilot-style control systems and instinctual human sailing skills.
Watch this analysis of what Emirates Team New Zealand did differently by Chris Draper, tactician of Oracle’s ‘sister’ team SoftBank Team Japan.
Commenting afterwards, Jimmy Spithill congratulated Emirates Team New Zealand and said: “As an athlete and competitor all you can do is take your hat off. It was a very, very impressive effort. And the better team won.
“I didn’t see any weaknesses in their campaign.”
What next for him? he was asked at the press conference afterwards. “I’ve got no idea. Absolutely no idea.”
The defeat of Oracle Team USA brings to an end not only their bid to defend the Cup – what they termed a ‘threepeat’ – but the framework agreement so carefully created between all other challenging teams bar New Zealand.
Oracle, SoftBank Team Japan, Groupama Team France, Artemis Racing and Land Rover BAR had all signed up to an arrangement to keep the Cup in foiling catamarans and change the match to a two-yearly cycle in order to maximise commercial opportunities.
New Zealand never took any part in that. Rumours that the team had been funded by Patrizio Bertelli of the estranged team Luna Rossa (and benefited from design expertise) in exchange for making him challenger of record and returning the design to monohulls were at least partially confirmed today.
Grant Dalton, CEO of Emirates Team New Zealand stated that the challenger of record for the 36th America’s Cup will be Circolo della Vela Sicilia, and the Luna Rossa team. He will reveal more details about his plans, he said, in two weeks’ time.
Aggressive design philosophy
Whatever direction the New Zealand team takes it in – and Grant Dalton is said to have a fully formed plan at the ready – this America’s Cup will be remembered for Emirates Team New Zealand’s innovations. They pushed the envelope further than any other team.
“From day one when we started looking at the plans of these boats we knew they were going to be incredibly complicated and technologically difficult to manage – and difficult to sail,” said skipper and a moving spirit of the campaign Glenn Ashby.
“I think the foresight that we had as a team to be aggressive and be bold in our design philosophy has ultimately provided us with the victory here. Our philosophy was to throw the ball away as far as you possibly can and run after it really hard.”
That included a joystick system for very fine control of the wingmast and electronic daggerboard controls that pushed the class rule requiring manual input as far a fully fly-by-wire automated system could possibly do.
Their ‘aggressive’ ideas included foil design and sailing techniques that were different to the other teams. The daggerboards were very slender with less wetted surface and lower drag than other teams’ (ETNZ’s kinked daggerboards were made of milled steel wrapped in carbon to allow for these long, fine shapes).
But that also meant they were inherently unstable and difficult to control, which is where the complex control system calculated by a sophisticated custom algorithm came in.
And the cyclors not only provided enough hydraulic power for this, with sufficient surplus to go on the attack with multiple manoeuvres when needed, but the arrangement left crew’s hands free to spread out tasks including board up and down, canting and ride height between different crew.
“We were heads down in New Zealand, working away quietly what we thought we could possibly achieve from a sailing perspective. I had never done anything in sailing previously without hanging off some type of rope or tiller, so to be controlling the jib and the wing with an X-Box type controller definitely takes more than a couple of days to get used to,” said Ashby.
“You have to teach yourself new skills. You have to think outside the box. Look at Formula 1 with what the drivers have got on, the controls drivers have at their fingertips, that’s very much the way that our yachting’s gone and the way cycling’s gone.
“And looking at the future, we are just very fortunate that there are such great crossroads in yachting and we are at this massive technological step forwards. I feel very fortunate in my lifetime to be part of such an amazing area of our sport.”