As expected, it will be Emirates Team New Zealand against the defender, Oracle USA and the Golden Gate Yacht Club, in the 34th America’s Cup regatta, now that Kiwis have prevailed over Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton challenger series.
Sunday’s foggy eighth and final race provided a bit of fun, as the wind was light enough that both teams deployed their Code 0 reaching sails—the first time we’ve seen a soft sail that was anything other than a jib in the challenger series.
But other than that is was more of the same, with the Kiwis leading the way to the first turning mark—this time by a whopping 16 seconds—and then stretching it out the rest of the way around the five-leg, 10 miles course. The final delta was a crushing 3 minutes 18 seconds.
Although the final series score was 8-1, even that lopsided record doesn’t truly reflect the reality of what happened in the 2013 Louis Vuitton Cup, since Luna Rossa’s one “win” came when the Kiwi’s hydraulic system forced them to withdraw midway through race 3. Ultimately, from beginning to end, it was no contest.
“To race for the America’s Cup you have to win the Louis Vuitton Cup,” said Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, whose team has now competed in five of the last six Cups. “We’ve definitely come here to win the America’s Cup, so winning the Louis Vuitton Cup is all part of the preparation. The guys are extremely focused. We came short in Valencia in 2007 and we’ll give it our all now in the next few weeks to make sure we’re as ready as can be.”
Which brings us to the main event, the America’s Cup regatta, which begins September 7. Although Louis Vuitton, the sponsor of the challenger series, can hardly be happy with the lack of exciting racing, the series did do its job of selecting what it obviously the strongest of the three campaigns which took part. The question now is whether anyone can keep up with the ETNZ—the campaign that essentially invented the concept of the foiling AC72 catamaran—or whether Oracle USA will finally provide them with some legitimate competition.
Obviously, like everything else in the 34th America’s Cup, the future is uncertain. However, the word on the docks is that, while ETNZ remains the team to beat, the racing in September will be much closer than we’ve seen thus far. For one thing, while the rest of us have been slogging our way through the Louis Vuitton Cup, Oracle has been training and tweaking nonstop. For another, Oracle is a true two-boat campaign, which means the team helmsman Jimmy Spithill has been able to take part in multiple practice races against none other than five-time Olympic medalist Sir Ben Ainslie—arguably the toughest sparring partner in the world.
Ever since the team’s disastrous capsize in late 2012, which destroyed their first wing, Oracle has been getting better and better at foiling. Watching Spithill and company out on the water it’s clear they’re not yet as smooth as the Kiwis. But they are still consistently able to stay up on their foils throughout their gybes and have also been able to foil to windward. (Although whether or not that kind of performance will ever prove advantageous out on the racecourse remains to be seen)
Oracle USA also has Jimmy Spithill himself, a fiercely competitive individuals who has a major stake not only in winning but in making the overall regatta a success. According SAIL’s Kimball Livingston, at a recent get-together with a number of other industry insiders, the general consensus was that Oracle would take at least three or four races from the Kiwis.
You have to wonder, though: in a game that’s as mental as this one, even a single Oracle victory could well change the overall chemistry in a way that might easily defy the experts’ predictions. And let’s not ever forget, these AC72s are powerful to the point of being dangerous, and you have to actually make it to the finish line to win. We’ll just have to wait and see.