It’s long been said that the fastest boat is the one that wins the America’s Cup, and the 35th regatta for the Auld Mug was no exception.
From the outset two weekends ago when Emirates Team New Zealand handily won four straight races in the first-to-seven series, it was evident that the Defender, Oracle Team USA, was in trouble.
And despite what one can only assume was a truly Herculean effort to find some more speed between then and the resumption of racing on Saturday, there simply proved to be no way of catching ETNZ skipper Peter Burling and company. No stunning comebacks a la 2013.
Recap of the final day of racing
Interestingly, this Cup cycle has been all about sharing techniques and technology—with Softbank Team Japan, Artemis and Oracle all having been particularly close. But in the end, it was the go-it-alone Kiwis (who were also the last to arrive in Bermuda this past spring for training) who seemed to have discovered the secret for success.
Central to this innovative approach was the use of bicycles, as opposed hand-powered grinders, to create the necessary hydraulic power to control their boat's foils and wing. All the teams claimed to have considered the idea, but only the Kiwis actually put the concept into practice—a move that in retrospect seems almost self-evident in its efficacy. (Ah, the wisdom of hindsight and Monday morning quarterbacking!)
This seems to have subsequently given the Kiwi’s more than adequate pressure to fine tune their foils both through trimmer Glenn Ashby’s Nintendo style controls and Blair Tuke’s handlebar-mounted foils adjustor; which in turn allowed Burling to focus exclusively on driving and tactics, both areas in which he excels as the dominant skipper in recent years in the 49er class.
Beyond that, according to Burling, for everything that is obvious studying the Kiwi’s boat from a distance, there are another 50 innovations internally, and he’s probably not just saying that for the fun of it. Whether it was straight-line speed, tacks, gybes, starting tactics: you name it, the Kiwi’s had it all.
“We thought outside of the square, and we did it our way,” said ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton, one of those on the receiving end of the Kiwis’ stunning defeat at the hands of Oracle back in the 34th Cup. “After San Francisco, we knew we couldn’t out spend other teams here, so we had to out think everyone. One of the things to come out of San Francisco is that we were out-designed, and we knew this time round that we had to push that area.
“This time round we had no restrictions on design. We just wanted to see what we could come up with, and we have achieved some truly amazing things that have been revolutionary in this sport.
“After San Francisco, we had a pretty tough debrief and came up with 20 points that we had to change. One of those was that we had to invest in technology and the people that provide it. We also had to get our arms around the next generation of yachtsmen that were coming through and Peter (Burling) was one of those.”
Of course, the question now becomes, whither the America’s Cup given that it’s back in Kiwi hands (and given Emirates Team New Zealand’s none-too-subtle disdain for the way things were run by Defender Oracle the last couple of times around). Add to that the fact that Italy’s Circolo della Vela Sicilia, represented by Luna Rossa, has already been accepted as the Challenger of Record for the 36th America's Cup, and big changes may be in the offing, indeed.
For now, though, let’s just allow ourselves to appreciate a magnificent effort on the part of a squad that managed to pull itself back up from just about the most crushing defeat imaginable back in 2013 to ultimately prevail.
“I’ve grown up watching this competition as a fan and to be a Kiwi and taking this Cup home is a dream come true,” Burling said immediately after his victory. “To be able to win this event at such a young age is an unreal feeling. However, I’m just a tiny part of a massive team, and it is incredible to be able to reward the hard work of those hundreds of people who have supported us, not only here but back home in New Zealand as well.”
Amen to that, and congratulations Emirates Team New Zealand!