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America's Cup- Reality check for Emirates Team NZ in San Francisco

by Richard Gladwell on 27 Aug 2012
Emirates Team NZ crosses just ahead of China Team in the final of the Fleet Racing Christophe Favreau © http://christophefavreau.photoshelter.com/

Emirates Team NZ were the first of the five America's Cup teams to confront the dual projects of campaigning an AC45 in the America's Cup World Series, launching and working up an AC72 - compounded by winding down a Volvo Ocean Race campaign.

While the projects are great for their sponsors - most of whom are involved across all three - the focus for the team was made apparent in San Francisco over the past five days.

Something had to suffer and the ACWS effort was it.

The team went worse as the event rolled on, and crossing tacks for last place, with the financially challenged China Team in the final fleet race, was the low-point of the series.

The New Zealanders short comings were highlighted by other teams, which have been newer to the AC game - notably Team Korea who punched well above their weight, with 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, Nathan Outteridge showing his class.

The two Luna Rossa teams both sailed well, and again the 49er Olympic medalist, Chris Draper, was another class act.

It was the America's Cup Defender, Oracle Team USA who swept the field in both the Fleet and Match Racing. It remains to be seen quite how much of this was attributable to sailing on their home track and understanding its nuances over the past month. And also size of the bonus of the time spent in a two-boat program understanding how to get the best out of an AC45.

But with the dual focus of AC72's and AC45's the other four teams will have to undergo the juggling of priorities that Emirates Team NZ has been required to cope with over the past month.

They too, will have to cope with the ridiculous sailing days limitation rule in an untested class of boat, where breakdowns would be expected during the workup phase.

(The rule designed as a cost limitation, limits teams to just 30 days sailing in an AC72 from 1 July 2012 to 31 January 2013. The effect is that is team must get a full day on the water to avoid wasting sailing days, as even if they go out for an hour or two for a specific test, that counts as a full day, or if a day is interrupted by gear failure, that is a full day - and a perfect weather window is required so that team maximise their time on the water. It has never been properly explained how the rule saves money, as the sailing teams are employed regardless of whether they are sailing or not. For teams attempting to sail during their winter, the rule is very difficult. )

The trade-off for all teams will be balancing time spent with the development on the AC72 program with getting race sharp in the AC45's.

Time scrimped from the AC72's for a good showing in the AC45's will show up in July-September 2013, when the Louis Vuitton and America's Cups are sailed.

Emirates Team New Zealand looked rusty and were not race sharp. Advantages gained at the start were not often retained. They should not have been beaten by Oracle-Spithill, in the semi-final of the match racing, and but for tossing a winning lead in that race, they would have been in the final this morning, and would have emerged with some credibility.

In the fleet races their starts looked good, but tentative - and on the short reaching leg they paid a huge price as the fleet rounding the first mark.

Probably of most concern was their ability to slide down the fleet, even from being mid-fleet position. Normally we are used to seeing the odd stumble resulting in a consolidation, and then a rebuild into something respectable. That didn't happen in San Francisco, and usually the slide was downwards rather then upwards.

Whether that is a shortcoming on Emirates Team NZ's part, or an uplift in the skill of the competition, remains to be seen. Maybe it is a bit of both.

Artemis Racing are another team that suffered 'distractions', in the build up to this America;s Cup World Series. They straddled Emirates Team NZ on the final leaderboard and also need to balance competing demands on their priorities. For the Challenger of Record they will be looking to re-group out of San Francisco, but will need to juggle the demands of an AC 45 program with getting an AC72 running as soon as possible.

Another reality that hit home in San Francisco is that far from being an ocean course, free from headlands, the proposed America's Cup course for 2013 is a patch of water 4.6nm long by 0.6nm wide - and enclosed by man-made or natural boundaries. Laid over the Auckland Harbour that is a track that extends from the Harbour Bridge to Northern Leading beacon, and about the width from Stanley Point to the Viaduct Harbour.

While that too would make for a real spectacle for fans, many would question whether it was a fair America's Cup course - with all the constraints that are implicit in such a rectangle.

That is an argument for another time and place. But in the short-term will there be more Wednesday night racing for Emirates Team NZ in the SL33's and maybe AC72?

San Francisco and the 34th America's Cup venue is what it is, and that is one of the things that Emirates Team NZ and the other Challengers are going to have to come to accept and work with, if they are to prevail in September 2013.

This regatta should be as bad as it gets for Emirates Team NZ. A summer of sailing AC72's and SL33's in conjunction with Luna Rossa should get the team tuned up and focussed.

Trying to winter over in San Francisco will not be a pleasant experience for Oracle Racing and Artemis Racing. Plus dealing with the ridiculous sailing days limitation in the context of an AC72 development and racing program.

Clearly this regatta signalled the end of the beginning for Emirates Team NZ - the first of the Class of 2013 to have to face this reality. For the others their time is yet to come.

Emirates Team NZ saw the final day and regatta this way:

Emirates Team New Zealand returns to New Zealand overnight to jump headlong into the AC72 testing programme and turn around its poor form in racing the AC45.

Ahead of the team is the demanding AC72 programme and one month to get the formula right for the next San Francisco America’s Cup World Series regatta.

Skipper Dean Barker said the team had been flat all week. 'We didn‘t spark – we let ourselves down.'

Yesterday they were knocked out in the sudden-death match race semifinals by Oracle 4 (Spithill) and finished fourth on the leaderboard. Oracle 5 (Coutts) won the final against teammate Spithill today. Artemis White took third place on the leaderboard.

In today’s final fleet race – which scored 40 points for the win against 12 for earlier fleet races – the team’s lack of form was again evident. The start was reasonably good but they were luffed at the first mark and slipped back through the fleet and never recovered.

Barker said: 'We have a long way to go to get back to our best.'

Barker said the one positive for the regatta was that 'a week ago we had never sailed a catamaran on the Bay. Now we have some knowledge of local conditions even though our understanding is far from complete.'

Barker said that in the weeks ahead 'we have got to find the balance between working the 72 and racing the 45.'

Grant Dalton, who spent the regatta in a chase boat, acknowledges that the team has a lot of work ahead of it.

'We have never been off the podium since the unsuccessful 2003 defence of the America’s Cup. San Francisco is the team’s worst result since then.

'Throughout this week, I kept expecting it to come right but it never did. It was more than just one of those regattas that didn’t go our way.

'We have only a month before the next regatta to turn it around without losing sight of the AC72 programme.'

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