America’s Cup: Kiwis in Control Thus Far

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Oracle Team USA spent of a lot of this past weekend with a clear view of Emirates Team New Zealand’s transoms

Oracle Team USA spent a lot of this past weekend with a clear view of Emirates Team New Zealand’s transoms. Photo credit Ricardo Pinto

Following the first two days of racing in the America’s Cup finals—the actual “America’s Cup,” as it were—Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill all but admitted that challenger-of-record, Emirates Team New Zealand, has his number saying, “The next five days are the most important of the campaign.”

Translation: Spithill’s team has five days until racing resumes on Saturday to get its boat up to speed or it’s basically done for.

"I think it's pretty obvious these guys are faster, and we need to make some changes," Spithill said after failing to win a single one of the first four races to go down 0 – 3 in the first-to-seven series. (The Kiwis started the America’s Cup down one point because of the fact Oracle won the qualifiers back in May.) "We will look at every single thing we can.... Whether it's system related, appendages, sailing technique, strategy, we'll look at everything."

Day 1 Recap

As for ETNZ, in typically tight-lipped Kiwi fashion helmsman Peter Burling had this to say: “We’re happy to take those four wins, because it is no secret that we are here to win the America’s Cup. We knew to do that we had to win eight races, and so we have to keep on battling to ensure that is what we do.”

Okay. That tells us lot. Thanks, Peter.

On a slightly more human note, Burling conceded that his team “made too many mistakes” on its way to going four-and-O and that “we know full well if we stand still, Jimmy (Spithill) and Oracle Team USA will catch us, so we have plenty of work on in the next five days.”

Fair enough, although you can’t help but wonder whether even with the help of the deepest pockets in the universe (thank you, Larry Ellison!) Oracle Team USA might still be in deep trouble. Back in 2013, when the team came back from its fabled 1 – 8 deficit, both campaigns were still very much in “pioneer” mode, boldly going where no America’s Cup campaign had gone before.

This time, though, foiling is old hat. The key is to fine-tune your speed and maneuvers to ensure you’re both the fastest and the last to drop back down off your foils no matter what the conditions—a much more nuanced business, to say the least.

Day 2 Recap

Worse yet, the Kiwis don’t just appear to be faster on a particular point of sail or in a particular type of tactical situation, but all-round. In Race 1, Spithill and company very much handed the race to the Kiwis by crossing the line early, but in the following three race, sailed in both light and moderate air, the Kiwis not only got good starts, but quickly sped away afterward.

Granted, in Race 2, in particular, Oracle was able to close the gap and almost make a pass—this is sailboat racing after all, and there’s nothing like a favorable shift or a bad maneuver to make even the lopsided maneuver to make things exciting again. But then again, all it took was for Oracle to drop off its foils for a few moments before Burling and his crew were once again speeding away to another comfortable victory.

On a side note: for all that this is supposed to be the most exciting sailing the world has ever seen, I for one can’t honestly say I find anything especially exciting about watching a full-foiling multi-million-dollar catamaran go “plop” back into the water when a team screws up—arguably one of the dramatic moments of AC35 racing.

But then again, what do I know? I’m just a dumb sailor.

We’ll see what next weekend brings. Five days may make all the difference in the world. And of course, if the wind picks up and we start seeing these two teams going at it hammer and tongs at the upper end of the winds limits we may see racing that is truly out of this world.

June 2017

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