What’s right and wrong with America’s cup? Right – the racing, wrong perhaps the bias toward Oracle commentary at times! Let’s hope the wind allows racing to continue tomorrow.
“If you didn’t enjoy today’s racing you should probably watch another sport,” said Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, competing in his fourth America’s Cup.
“I can honestly say this is the most fun and exciting sailing I’ve been involved with,” said ORACLE TEAM USA tactician Ben Ainslie, a four-time Olympic gold medalist.
I’d agree not much wrong with the racing after watching Race 10 yesterday from Marina Green. Just stunning with an almost complete view of the race course. There are many nuances to America’s Cup from rules for boats and the regatta to new and emerging technology. The complaint this time round appears to be not enough challengers and budgets that are in the 100m dollar realm.
In the early going the Kiwi’s established themselves winning races 1 to 3. Each time clearly faster upwind. In race 4 they were beaten. Hard to know what exactly went wrong there. Then with Kiwi’s leading 6-1 (let’s not count the penalties right now) on Saturday race 8 looked good for the Kiwi’s until the boat almost capsized. Oracle was definitely close when the capsize happened at a cross. Oracle went on to win although the capsize effectively threw the race in their favor. The Kiwi’s regained their composure and went out to race again. However, wind was at the maximum and after a delayed start with the Kiwi boat in a tight lead the race was cancelled.
So Sunday with the announcers all over how great Oracle was the previous day and how improved, Race 9 was about to start. I know announcers have to make a match of it. That’s TV, and Jimmy Spithill does a great job of helping to promote their side of things. It’s fun, and yet to a real watcher it’s not really news it is entertainment. So let me reframe it.
Coming into yesterday and Race 9. We had Oracle winning two races. ETNZ coming from behind to win in other races and leading from the start in a number. The previous race 8 was a gift or a loss driven by a big error. ETNZ almost lost the whole campaign in 10 shocking seconds. What we learned from Race 8 was Team Oracle USA was now a lot more competitive upwind in these conditions. As a watcher that appeared true. Although never spoken about is the Kiwi’s apparently higher speeds downwind. My guess is there has been a trade-off by both teams. NZ have dialed their boat for a little more speed downwind while Oracle has gone all out even cutting parts off to help improve upwind performance.
So Race 9. Team USA had a great start. What excited the announcers was the upwind portion where the two boats split. Oracle simply ran away with the race at that point particularly after NZ again got a little high in the water. It seemed like a great win. I’m more inclined to believe the tides and wind on different course sides made a difference. The win was still down to 47 seconds (from memory). With a lead of 6-3 now in races (6-1 really and for the scorers) the competition was looking up.
Race 10 began and it was the most exciting race ever. It’s the reason this formula of AC72′s shouldn’t be forgotten or quickly moved away from. This is where sailing needs to go. As a Hobie Cat and Tornado sailor in the 70′s I still remember first arriving in NZ and looking at the winged cats that were being experimented with. The boats we see today are very different and in the same way leading edge. America’s Cup has always been leading edge and the technology improves as the teams race. I can’t find the link although I still remember reading that Dennis Connor applied a film to Stars n Stripes in the 1987 Cup which enabled him to beat NZ and go on to beat Australia and regain the cup. The film via the aeronautical industry meant water traveling past the boat surface would go faster. Note KZ7 was the first “Fiberglass” 12m yacht – a huge innovation at that time.
Back to Race 10. The Kiwi’s got an ok start and held on to the first mark (apparently better than in earlier races – no announcer comment) and drew a penalty and rounded the mark first. The rest of the race was as close as anything that you will see. It came down to minor errors and better tactical calls. The announcers effectively suggest Oracle would have won but they made a bad tactical move on Leg 4. I’d conclude that in these wind conditions (at the max agreed for racing) the boats were fairly evenly matched. The Kiwis won race 10 leaving the score at 7 to 1 or 3.
From a NZ standpoint they lost the right to challenge when up 4 to 1 in 1992/93. It’s not won until it is over. Odds are that Oracle doesn’t get enough favorable conditions, or enough boat improvements to close the gap and win at this point. However, there is huge motivation in both these teams. ETNZ wants to win it for NZ and that provides the most security in terms of sailing team jobs going forward. Oracle – well these guys are fighting for their lives and the resources that are being applied between races are likely to be far greater than ETNZ has.
So Tuesday will show us something new. I’d of course like ETNZ to win both races so we can conclude they were emphatically better and the Cup is off back to New Zealand. If NZ wins the cup. I hope they tighten the rules and continue with the AC72′s. There will never be many many challengers. There does need to be a core group of challengers and one from America. I’m for including a rule that requires a team to set sail with the majority of their onboard team (60%+) from the country of challenger origin. That’s probably realistic for the next series. It also has the advantage of promoting sailing around the world. Auckland is easily San Francisco’s match as a venue.