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Gladwell's Line- Welcome to the Stadium of Sailing

by Richard Gladwell on 9 Sep 2013
America’s Cup - Day 1, Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team NZ - Race 2 - flying past Alcatraz © Richard Gladwell http://www.richardgladwell.com

Walking to the America’s Cup yesterday felt much the same as going to a major rugby match. Crowds were shoulder to shoulder. All going the same way. All in plenty of time.

They were wise to be early, there was a capacity house at all venues. Organisers quoted some impressive click-in numbers for the spectators, but from the water it was apparent those didn’t even scratch the surface.

The main pier was closed by Police after its maximum legal capacity was reached, and there were similar stories from around the waterfront.

Those up on Marina Green had two shows – the America’s Cuppers, followed by the Flying 18’s.

The latter were probably more the swimming 18’s as strong winds and an strong tide, ebbing seems to be an understatement, played hell with the fleet and the practice race was abandoned. Several boats were swept out under the Golden Gate Bridge – fortunately all were eventually retrieved, however there were some very cold boys afterwards.

The Kiwi 18fter sailors have had an interesting few days. After their plane was delayed for several hours they enjoyed the hospitality of an airport lounge with all you can eat and drink. They finally boarded, well fed and watered – and had the hangover set in about two hours into an 11 hour flight.

The physical 'punishment' continued a night or so later, with the boys having a quiet little drink in their local 'The Twisted Pig'. At the point they were about to head for bed the winners of the Red Bull Youth AC turned up with one of their winnings, in the form of a double decker Red Bull Bus. Theirs for the night – and empty.

The Kiwi 18fters poured out of the pub, into the bus and had a night touring San Francisco – again with all you can drink. Does it get any better than this? That was another night out, with the Kiwis keeping the great drinking traditions of the class alive, and finely honed.

The hangovers the next morning were duly suffered, with all sorts of promises being made to live a quiet life for the rest of the week.


On the America’s Cup course, it was a very steely affair as the two gladiators faced each other in the San Francisco Stadium.

This was the Rumble in the Jungle, that the sport had been awaiting for years.

No-one knew the outcome.

Some suspected the Emirates Team NZ, the Challenger, might have an edge. It looked that way at the first mark as Dean Barker steamed over the top of Oracle Team USA’s Jimmy Spithill and round the first mark a clear leader.

Emirates Team NZ was the first to gybe – their standard foiling number.

To the surprise of some, Oracle reciprocated – and everyone realized there was going to be a boat race, not a walkover.

Next surprise was on the downwind leg, as Oracle seemed to be sailing lower than the New Zealanders – again the first time that has been seen all summer.

A close rounding at the bottom mark, and Oracle was through the Kiwis. Cheers all round from the spectators and USA supporters on the Media Boats.

For a few minutes it looked like being a long week for the Kiwi’s as they trailed the Defender. But then we saw the theme of the day, as Emirates Team NZ pushed one way and then the next and crossed ahead of the US team.

Barker said afterwards that the atmosphere didn’t change on the Kiwi boat, when they got behind, nothing different was said, and they sailed the same way they always do.

From there it was a matter of sailing out the course. Oracle did not seem to have the answers to the Kiwis questions, and Barker maintained a small but useful lead at the top mark which multiplies by a factor of two, in terms of distance as they flew down the final run hitting speed that would have been expected to be in the vicinity of the high 30 -40kts.

Race 2 was a repeat of race 1, without the lead change at the bottom Mark. This was a more convincing affair with the Kiwis always in front.


What were the differences?

Essentially it was a matter of finesse and more time in the boat. Emirates Team New Zealand slipped through their 100th day of sailing about the time of the start of this America’s Cup.

Oracle Team USA certainly have a fast boat, they seem to be able to sail the same angles as the Kiwis – downwind anyway.

The performance data would indicate that they are pretty good upwind too, with both boats sailing the same distance in one race, and the US team sailing the shorter distance in the other. Given what we have seen previously in this regatta with the NZers sailing up to 1800metres less than their rivals – those distances sailed are a telling statistic.

The New Zealanders have too many modes and tricks for the US team – on what we have seen today at least. Their ability to shift gears and work this with a tactical and boat positioning strategy has to be seen to be appreciated – if you can see it at all on any one medium.

The key difference seemed to be upwind, with the Kiwis able to roll tack their boat using the foils – so they were quicker out of the tacks – and that could explain the lead gain out of the bottom mark in Race 1.

They were also able to move into upwind foiling mode, with consummate ease – and used that to extend as required.

Oracle Team USA may have the same arsenal – but should have been able to hold the lead they enjoyed over the Kiwis in Race 1 - and a loss for the Kiwis in the opening race would have been a severe cage-rattler, which would probably have given Oracle the confidence to do the same again in Race 2. That would have wiped out their Jury penalty, and it would have been back to all square today.

As it now stands the Kiwis have two of their nine points, and for Oracle the slope created for them by the Jury penalty, has got steeper, and they cannot afford the same outcome after Day 2.

Overall the Day was just outstanding. Everything that had been promised. These boats are just fantastic to watch on the water and it is a huge privilege for anyone who is here in San Francisco to see with their eyes what cannot be seen on the TV.









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