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Marine Resource 2016

Size does matter - 10cm of headfoil and the AC

by Sebastien Destremau on 1 Feb 2008
China Team v BMW Oracle Racing - Round Robin 2 Louis Vuitton Cup. Photo: Heike Schwab China Team / 2007 Americas Cup © http://www.china-team.org
Here's an interesting new 'take' on the present AC courtroom drama, from the China Team tactician, Sebastien Destremau. Do read on . . .

Remember the surprising defeat of BMW Oracle in their match against China Team during the second qualifying round of the 32nd America Cup? This terrible faux pas put BMW Oracle on equal points with two other favourites: the Italian Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand. A loss to the latter for China Team virtually qualified the Kiwis for the Challengers’ final, while the Americans were summarily eliminated.


Given the current America’s Cup turmoil, it seems interesting to dwell on the reasons for the rather surprising victory of a weaker and less prepared China Team against the American ogre.

A few days prior to the race in question, the Chinese boat suffered minor damage during one of their all-too-rare training sessions. The genoa inexplicably pulled off the headfoil several times for no apparent reason. Confused and looking for an answer, the engineers discovered that the headfoil had been mounted too close to the deck - moving it up by about 10cm solved the problem! On a boat as powerful as an America's Cup yacht the margins for error are minute, and small things can have very serious consequences.

BMW Oracle were certainly favourites in the match against China Team, and their management decided to use the occasion give a break to their ‘A’ Team and at the same time reward the ‘B’ Team's long service as sparring partner with a real bout in the ring.

The Danish Skipper Sten Mohr, helped by the French Tactician Bertrand Pace, took charge of the American boat. Well, well, well, history did prove what a mistake this strategy was!

During the pre-start China Team noticed that BMW Oracle’s super-high-tech-carbon-fibre-extremely-expensive headfoil was mounted really low – same as China Tem’s had been - and realised that a gear failure was a strong possibility should BMW Oracle fall into a trap.

They decided to give it a go, and given that the wind was very strong, they started to throw one tack after the other to get out of the American’s early grip. BMW Oracle’s B team, thoroughly confident of their superiority, wanted to crush the small Chinese team and showed a surprising aggressiveness against the last-ranked competitor.

Some of the Chinese crewmembers were wondering if it was worth the effort, but the sight of the American boat was amazing. It looked like the team was responding effortlessly to anything that China Team could throw at them. With magnificent sails displayed and great crew work, the US rocket machine was pedal-to-the-metal and pulling away quickly. Absolutely superb!

Suddenly, disaster struck. After the seventh tack, when BMW Oracle had already built a comfortable lead, their genoa pulled out of the headstay foil, damaging the carbon-fibre track in the process, and the sail was swept away by the wind despite the crew's efforts to recover it.

Injured and flying on one wing only, the American eagle finished this race 3m 15s minutes behind China Team. They might have forgotten the old adage which says that “in order to win you first have to finish.”

The China Team trap had worked perfectly, and she raced to a well-deserved and long-awaited victory. This surprising outcome dragged into delirious celebrations over the one and only win of the regatta for China Team. David had beaten Goliath!

48 hours later, the American staff contacted China Team to ask if they had a spare TuffLuff as they had lost total confidence in theirs! At first China Team thought that this was a joke, but then they invited BMW Oracle to verify whether or not their only spare headfoil could do the trick. After checking the length, the Americans turned down the offer because the TuffLuff was considered to be too short by 20cm!

Someone told me one day that chance does not exist: what we call ‘chance’ is in fact the moment when good preparation meets opportunity. On paper BMW Oracle should never have lost that day … and Team China are not about to forget it!

The worst result ever recorded by an American team in the America’s Cup was undoubtedly the trigger of:

1. An enormous sense of frustration among BMW Oracle management.
2. The beginning of a descent into hell that culminated in the filing of a 'hostile challenge' for the 33rd America’s Cup.
3. The current trial in the New York Supreme Court.

Today this legal battle threatens thousands of jobs in the America's Cup world as well as the short-term visibility of this global event.

All of this because of a miserable headfoil worth 2,000 euros!

[Sebastien Destremau was Tactician with the China Team. He is a graduate of the Australian College of Journalism and has written for most of the major yachting magazines around the world and worked as commentator or host / producer for various water sports shows. He was Tactician on board Le Defi Areva during the 2003 America's Cup, and on Defi Antibes in 1995. He has sailed with some of the greatest skippers in the world including Russell Coutts (Tour de France à la Voile), Paul Cayard (America's Cup), and Knut Frostad (Volvo Ocean Race). Sébastien is known as a tenacious opponent on the international sailing circuit.]
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