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sail-world.com -- America's Cup: Rod Davis - still looking for answers after Cup defeat

America's Cup: Rod Davis - still looking for answers after Cup defeat    
Mon, 6 Jan 2014


Emirates Team NZ coach, Rod Davis, admits he is still a bit stunned, three months after the conclusion of the 34th America’s Cup, and the shock loss by the Challenger, after being on Match Point.

Part of Davis' post-Cup frustration-relief therapy is to go sailboat racing every chance he can - and by is own admission, that is a lot of sailing, at present.

'It’s still hard to believe that we out-prepared Oracle by that much, ahead of this regatta, and lost the regatta', he says with the incredulity of the 9-8 result, still to fully register.

'It is hard to come to grips with it. Normally when you out-prepare a team by that much in any sport, you come away with a victory. And it didn’t happen that way.'

'Suddenly Oracle ended up with a better package, and that’s amazing and depressing!'

For sure, the America’s Cup Defender, Oracle Team USA, realized they were well off the pace in the early stages of the regatta, and began to play for time.

Their first ploy was using their Postponement Card on just the third day of racing when they only had one win from five races, and Emirates Team New Zealand were just two race days away from winning their third America's Cup.

At the time Regatta Director Iain Murray commented that the Postponement Card was intended to allow boats to recover from structural damage, not call for a time-out to allow them to re-group. But this was not stated in the rules, and Oracle Team USA elected to pull the pin on the racing after being passed again, sailing to windward on Leg 3 – a race which Emirates Team NZ went on to win by 65secs.

'If you look at the results, we had 19 races in the regatta, and at the near half-way point, after the first nine races, we were six wins and three losses' says Davis. (Two Oracle wins where spent to offset a Jury imposed penalty, so the points score was 6-1 at that stage.)

'And after the next ten races, we were two wins and eight losses. So the trend was that Oracle was getting stronger all the way through. But in the second half of the series, we couldn’t buy a break', says the Olympic Gold and Silver medalist, with the frustration and disbelief still clear in his voice.'

'We had three races taken off us, and we were leading in all three. As the clock went on Oracle were getting stronger and stronger. With hindsight maybe we should have pushed to do more racing earlier on in the series.'

'We had an option to that and we didn’t,' he says, referring to the decision by both teams not to use a reserve day to make up races lost, early on in the series. Oracle Team USA were later reported to have used the day to make substantial changes to their rudders.

'Honestly I don't think anyone appreciated, at that point, it was going make a difference'

'The call was made not to race on the Reserve Day (September 16)' says Davis. 'As to why? You’d have to ask Emirates Team NZ upper management.'

'So you look back at it, and see it differently now' he reflects.

Davis believes the key error made by Emirates Team New Zealand was showing their hand too early on the foiling of their first AC72.

'The major mistake that I see in the campaign was letting the world know we were foiling way too early. From a Sponsor, Press and Public point of view it was a coup, but for the big picture and winning the Cup, it was a liability' he says.

He discounts the notion that regardless of Emirates Team NZ’s first foil-borne flypast up the Waitemata Harbour, and subsequent foiling with TVNZ on board, the other teams, with their spy and surveillance programs, would have spotted the foiling AC72 anyway.

'They didn’t know the extent of it, however. We could have kept the extent of it a lot quieter.'

'It wouldn’t have happened in the Russell Coutts' era of Team New Zealand. In 2000, they changed bows out on the water, out of sight of spies, so nobody knew they were doing it,' he recalls.

'It says something that if you want to keep secrets, then you have got to be damn serious, truly committed, about keeping secrets,' he adds.

Responding to a question on the wind limits and the effect they had on the racing, Davis believes that both teams got it wrong.

'The funny thing about the wind limits is that Oracle wanted to lower the wind limits and wanted them a lot lower. We said 'no, we’ll go from 33kts to 25kts', and Oracle wanted it down at 20kts, because they wanted to position the limit low in the wind range, because they thought they had a good downrange boat, and our big powerful boat was going to be a good up range boat.'

'But we get into the America’s Cup and it's all wrong!'

'We’ve got the light air boat and Oracle have got the heavy air boat. Halfway through the series Oracle was pushing to have the wind limits increased again! (Oracle Team USA wanted the base limit increased from 23-25kts, which was rejected by Emirates Team NZ as they didn't want a change mid series click here).

'How do both teams get it so wrong?' he asks.

Superstitious New Zealand fans should have known something was likely to happen in Race 13, given their team’s complete lack of luck in the preceding nine days of racing.

The abandonment of Race 13 when the New Zealanders had a lead of 1000 metres, just short of the finish when the 40 minute time limit expired, caused widespread disbelief, given that AC72’s had been sailing at speeds of up to 20kts.

'I guess no-one really understood that you couldn’t start a race in eight knots and not finish within the time limit.' Davis explains.....

'I don’t think that Oracle knew that any better than anyone else at the time, although they may claim they did now, because Oracle was pushing to race in light with thinking (wrongly) they were going to be quicker in eight knots.

'We knew the time limit was going to be close, but nobody that I know of can say that before that race started, that you could not finish, if you had to use a gennaker or Code Zero.'

'Iain Murray never knew that, none of the other teams knew that. Oracle says they knew it after the fact.'

'We had just never sailed a San Francisco race in that light a breeze before,' he added.

Davis has sailed in 11 America’s Cup campaigns, for four different national teams – as a coach and a sailor. Many consider 'Hot Rod' to be the consummate hired gun. Now the tide is running the other way with many wanting a return to the stronger nationality requirements that existed prior to 2007, and even a return to the near absolute nationality rule that existed from 1958 to 1983, and was only seriously diluted after the 2003 America's Cup, by new Defender Alinghi, who sailed in 2007 with one Swiss National aboard.

'It’s not what I think (Davis says he is in favor of a nationality rule) but it's what Oracle thinks' he responds. 'Oracle is talking about a nationality clause, but if you look at it, why would they want a nationality clause? They only had one American on the boat this time. It makes no sense.'

'Sometimes you don’t listen to what people say; you watch their position and figure that they will do what’s best for them. I can’t see a nationality clause coming out of Oracle.'

'I don’t think Larry Ellison cares if there are not a lot of Challengers, so long as he hangs onto the Cup. I don’t think we will see much change in the nationality rule,' he concludes.

With the Protocol for the next America’s Cup now not expected to be announced until at March, a least. Davis is more than a little skeptical about the reality of cost reduction. With his long America’s Cup experience, he is well aware that cost reduction is a topic that is often discussed, but never delivered.

'We might see some changes in the one-design components of the boat - to try and make the boats less expensive by saving on designer costs.'

'To try and make the America’s cup less expensive is a difficult, difficult thing to do. All you need is one team, one guy, who is prepared to spend more money and time and that will drag everybody else in that direction to match them and be competitive.'

'How are you going to trim the budget by 20%? I don’t see it happening in reality'

'They want to have the AC45’s racing in the future and do the ACWS type circuit. But that has a cost to it. And should those 45’s be modified to be foiling like the AC boats? If so, that’s going to be more expensive, isn’t it? '

'How do you practically pull cost back? I pity the poor guy who is responsible for that', he says, shaking his head.

The cynicism that there will be any change in the Nationality rules, coupled with the re-signing of crew by existing teams, is perceived as making it difficult for new teams to get established – and having to start with completely new sailing talent.

As a highly experienced coach, at both America’s Cup and Olympic level, how would Davis approach crew selection and training with a new team?

'From a sailing team’s perspective, with new young talent you would get stuck into some big, say 60+ feet multi hull racing. And try and get their heads around that. The AC45 will work for them to a certain extent as far as the wings and stuff, because I expect the wings to stay.'

'You want a good balance of youth and enthusiasm and experience, then let the experienced guys teach the new sailing talent how to deal with these boats and what we know about starting and racing and all that. Then turn the youth lose to use their talent and do what what they love to do, race sail boats'

'From a design standpoint you are going to have to draft in from other teams as much design talent as you can, but before you can do that you need to have protocol to know what/if you're designing hulls, boards, wings...

The Challenger of Record, Team Australia look set to emulate this approach – having been unable to sign their established America’s Cup sailors. Instead they are looking to draw on a not insubstantial pool of Olympic and other talent and go without the America’s Cup 'heavies'.

'I don't know if it guarantees a will to win the Cup with that sort of approach,' says Davis, 'but you will do a very good job. And the America’s Cup is up for a revolution anyway, in terms of younger, fresher talent in all the sailing teams. There has to be.'

The five time Olympian sees Emirates Team New Zealand as being in a similar situation, having to rejuvenate a long established team.

'Team New Zealand has gone with the same team from 2007 and that is probably the same core team from more than ten years down the road.

'I think there has to be a new group that comes in. That has to be good news for New Zealand, because New Zealand has got a really good crop of new young sailors coming through right now.

'They might be a click young, but the passion and talent means they’ll close the gaps pretty damn quick.'

'The tricky part, and the part that needs clever management is the balance of experience and youthful aggression. That is not something that just happens, it takes insight to all the different perspectives; the new talent, the experienced veterans, and both their Olympic and AC aspirations. All this has to be blended into dominant, across the board successes. It can be done, it's tricky to do but must be done'

by Richard Gladwell



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