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Sail-World.com : 34th America's Cup: A Match of three weeks - Part 2 - Rules Creep
34th America's Cup: A Match of three weeks - Part 2 - Rules Creep

'Emirates Team New Zealand vs Oracle Team USA'    Carlo Borlenghi/Luna Rossa©    Click Here to view large photo

Six months after the conclusion of the 34th America's Cup, Kiwi fans in particular, struggle for the answers as to how Oracle Team USA were able to effect a big performance turnaround, without precedent in an America's Cup regatta. Sail-World's NZ and America's Cup Editor, Richard Gladwell gives his personal perspective and analysis in this three part-series.

Gladwell was on the water for the first eight races days of the Match, flying home on Race Day 8, September 18, which also proved to be the last day on which Emirates Team NZ won a race.


For Part 1 click here and now read Part 2:


Emirates Team NZ - Day 13, Race 16 of America’s Cup 34 -  Luna Rossa - Carlo Borlenghi ©   Click Here to view large photo

As well as losing their complaint to the Int Jury to force Oracle Team USA to reveal their 'In-house Racing' data, Emirates Team NZ also lost the vital protest over the foiling adjustment mechanism interpretation by the Measurement Committee. Despite three Hearings the Kiwis were unable to effect the change they had achieved with the Measurement Committee’s earlier interpretation of the foiling rule.

In the end Oracle’s ability to analyze data, identify profitable information and performance seams, and then effect performance changes, proved to be Emirates Team NZ’s undoing.

Oracle Team USA was gifted the time they desperately needed to make changes, through the delays in the race schedule, derived largely from the tide adjusted wind limits, in Week 2.

They also made bold calls which worked and paid a handsome dividend on the race course.

The length of the series, which ran to its full 19 races, gave the Defender plenty of runway to rectify their initial performance and tactical shortcomings.

The progressive changing of wind limits and other rules associated with the Regatta, is a good example of 'Rules Creep' in the 34th America’s Cup, which doesn’t occur in other sailing regattas – which are sailed on a fairer and more consistent rules basis.

That Creep, with the exception of a couple of Jury Decisions, almost always worked the way of the Defender.

Initially all 11 teams entered in the America’s Cup World Series were allowed to vote on matters concerning the America’s Cup Regatta – even though it was clear they were not going to compete.

It took a trip to the International Jury to have the Surplus Seven cut from the pack – and reduced the voting numbers down to four teams – usually split with Artemis and Oracle on one side and Team NZ and Luna Rossa on the other. The effect of which meant that the Protocol was ostensibly frozen – but in reality was just a challenge to develop new work-arounds by the Defender – who still held most of the power through the Protocol’s right of veto.

Oracle Team USA - Two boat testing session San Francisco (USA) August 30, 2013 -  Guilain Grenier Oracle Team USA ©   Click Here to view large photo

Gaming the Wind Limits
When the original Protocol was drafted and signed by the then Challenger of Record Club Nautico di Roma (Mascalzone Latino), the wind limits set for the regatta were a minimum of 5kts and a maximum of 33kts.

That, we were told, would ensure that there was going to be few race days lost in San Francisco.

It was apparent once the AC72’s started sailing that the top end wind limit of 33kts was not going to be viable for racing and would need to be lowered. That view was accelerated with the Oracle capsize in a similar windstrength in October 2012.

At a Competitor meeting in Newport RI, in July 2012 the wind strengths were altered for the Louis Vuitton Cup – being dropped to 25kts for the Round Robin phase and 28kts for the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals.

Nine races were lost for various wind reasons in AC34 -  ACEA - Photo Abner Kingman ©   Click Here to view large photo

The original wind strength was left to stand, meaning that the Challengers were left guessing as to what conditions their boats would need to be designed for at the top end of the wind range, knowing that 33kts was an impossible upper racing limit.

After the fatal Artemis incident in May 2013, and the subsequent reviews Oracle moved for a reduction of the wind limit for the Regatta down to 20kts. Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa preferred 25kts and the Regatta Director Iain Murray, drew the line halfway and opted for a mid-point of 23kts – a full 10kts lower than the original Protocol – and this was just a month or so before the start of the regatta when major design changes were not possible.

To many the outward appearance of the eventual Challenger Emirates Team NZ, with a suspension system under the 40metre wingsail, looked very 'draggy' from a windage perspective. In contrast, Oracle chose an aerodynamically cleaner system using a torsion system of load distribution.

Emirates Team NZ design sources later said that the reduced wind limits would not necessarily have changed their thinking about the design choices in this area, and in the end did not think that it made a lot of difference.

Leeward gate rounding on Day 5, 34th America’s cup -  Carlo Borlenghi-Luna Rossa©   Click Here to view large photo

Tweaking for the Tide
What did prove to be more crucial than the adoption of the 23kts wind limit, was the decision published just two weeks before the start of the Regatta to adjust the wind limit either side of the 23kt mean to allow for tidal flow.

Wind limits are common in sailing, but this tide variable system has never been applied in any major regatta of consequence, if at all.

The rationale for it is unclear.

Wind limits as applied to race management are always set for True Wind Speed –ie wind speed passing over a fixed point. The effect of the adjustment was to set them for an Apparent Wind Speed ie the boats movement relative to the wind.

Simply the unique system used in San Francisco meant that some races in the regatta were sailed with a limit of 20kts, others with a limit of 24.9kts applying – a variance of almost 5kts over the 15 race day regatta.

The adjusted limit was also adjusted race by race, according to the tidal flow on a computer generated tidal model, using a reference point midway in the race course.

In the second week, when Emirates Team New Zealand was close to sealing up the regatta, the wind limit was reduced between the sailing of the first race and the sailing of the second, in the knowledge that the trend in San Francisco, was always for the wind to increase as the afternoon progressed.

Emirates Team NZ lost two races when they were leading in the second week of the regatta, because the wind exceeded the reduced wind limit. The last occasion being when they were on match point and the limit was reduced to the lowest mark (20kts) of the regatta. That race was called off because the wind had blown for than 20kts in a rolling 30 second period just before the start, and was called off just 4 seconds after the boats had started.

America’s Cup Final 5 - Emirates Team New Zealand vs Oracle Team USA -  Carlo Borlenghi-Luna Rossa©   Click Here to view large photo

The first race of that day, September 18, was the last race that Emirates Team NZ was to win in the 34th America’s Cup. At that point Oracle Team USA had won three races to Emirate Team NZ’s eight wins.

While much is made of the Challenger’s decision not to race on September 16, (when they were on seven wins), the fact is that there were only three races sailed in the next five days of the regatta. In hindsight racing or not on September 16 was of little consequence, other than it was known day off – affording the opportunity to make more substantial alterations if required.

On September 16, wind data from a shore station shows the breeze gusting over 20kts (ashore) with a wind limit anticipated to have been 20.5kts. On the water the wind was much stronger than ashore and racing would have been most unlikely.

Not such a good idea?
The 34th America’s Cup is the only regatta where this tide-adjusted method of determining a wind limit has been used, and is equally certainly to be the last.

America’s Cup Regatta Director, Iain Murray was interviewed by Newstalk ZB’s then host Murray Deaker, the Saturday before the America’s Cup Match had completed.

'In hindsight, I probably would consider changing the way we look at wind strength, with addition or subtraction of the current, and where we measure it', Murray said. 'It has probably been a little extreme, and it has handicapped us on days when we probably didn’t need to be. But it was set quite some time ago, like all these Rules, and they are the rules of the competition, now.'

Emirates Team NZ’s near capsize in Race 8 was a turning point in the 34th America’s Cup -  ACEA - Photo Abner Kingman ©  

As can be seen in the data below, covering the three weeks of the regatta, the permissible wind was 4-5kts stronger in the first week, than in the second. In the third week it was back to the level of the first week, and a revitalized Oracle Team USA was rampant.

The simple point is that this varying wind limit, coupled with the series length, was the key reason as to how Oracle Team USA was able to recover the time lost, prior to the 34th America’s Cup. They had the opportunity to run a very good performance development program during the Match, and their rate of gain was more than the Challenger. The performance program, and the time to execute and play catch-up, gave the US team the win that seemed so unlikely after the first week of racing.

Emirates Team NZ’s problem was that they just did not have sufficient gas in the development tank – both in terms of untapped potential, or the time and resources, operating away from home to be able to effect the same rate of change as the US team.

One of the mantras of ETNZ, the most successful team in professional sailing, was to make sure they entered the Match at the peak of their development. That is quite a call in terms of planning – and from their performance in the first week of the regatta, Emirates Team New Zealand had clearly achieved that goal.

Oracle's key call
Time is the enemy of any America’s Cup campaign – particularly one that isn’t firing on all cylinders at the start of the Match. Oracle Team USA were paying the price for their early and several indiscretions in the early days of the regatta, and needed to buy time.

Along with breaking a winning streak, Ben Ainslie was a bold, and successful, call by Oracle Team USA -  Carlo Borlenghi-Luna Rossa©  
Oracle’s call for a time out at the end of the third race day was emblematic of their plight.

That bold decision was probably the turning point of the regatta. Next day was a scheduled no-race day, followed with a two-race day, and then another scheduled rest day - allowing vital time to rethink and regroup. A bit of quick math on damage control options would have revealed that Oracle could get into the second week, maybe losing two more races, instead of three, if they had not called for the time out.

That two race, two lay-day, schedule stretched Oracle into the second week – when the lower wind limit would kick in. That lower limit was likely to mean less racing and more analysis and development time. It is hard to believe that Oracle Team USA had not factored this into their thinking after Race 5.

A further twist in the wind limit formula, in the second week, was that the tidal flow (subtracted from the 23kt limit) was actually stronger for the second race than the first – further lowering the wind limit.

Yet it was expected that the San Francisco breeze would build in strength as the afternoon progressed – greatly reducing the chances of sailing two scheduled races on a race day.

In Week 2, only one of the scheduled six race days had two races sailed.

Oracle found her speed at the beginning of the second week. Still making performance adjustments, she began her consistent run on the last day of Week 2, and won every other race sailed in the regatta.

What Oracle did to achieve the performance gains has been disclosed elsewhere. Whether they are the complete picture remains to be seen. No winning team will reveal all its design secrets, as that would give away their edge completely going into the next Cup.

The specific changes made by Oracle are not the point. There was no Silver Bullet. Instead Oracle Team USA were able to make a series of changes which got them into a position where upwind, they were faster than Emirates Team New Zealand, and they were able to make this new speed edge repeatable for a string of eight consecutive wins.

In any sport, if a genuine performance gain has been made, then it should be a repeatable result. With confident crew work and improved tactics, Oracle was able to do that for at least eight consecutive races and score the seemingly impossible win.

Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team New Zealand, Race Day 2 -  ACEA - Photo Abner Kingman ©  

That was quite a different situation from the first week of the regatta, when from an on the water vantage point, it was simply a matter of counting the number of tacks that it would take before Emirates Team NZ caught and passed Oracle Team USA.

In the early races of Week 1, it took just a few tacks. Then the Kiwi’s task became more difficult as Oracle improved, until the passing maneuver was not taking place until close to the top windward mark.

That equilibrium point was reached as early as Day 5, September 14, when although Emirates Team NZ was enjoying a narrow lead, she made an unforced error close to the top of the course, and almost capsized.

Oracle’s luck came into play on the next race of that day, when the 22.6kt wind limit was triggered on the third leg, when the New Zealanders looked to have the race in the bag.

For the rest of the second week only five races were completed when ten were possible.

With a normal wind limit of say 25kts, which is the informal standard at Olympics and World Championships, racing would have been possible on eight of the ten days available. It is not an unreasonable assumption that Emirates Team NZ could have won two of those races in which she was leading, and there would clearly have been a different result in the Match.

Race 13, took three attempts to sail – the first being lost because of a delayed start (the wind limit was reduced for the second start of the day to 20kts against a breeze that was fast rising, but had only been 16.8kts for the opening race that day).

The second attempt at sailing Race 13 was lost when Emirates Team NZ was just a minute away from the finish line, and was over a minute ahead of Oracle Team USA.

The thinking of the race committee was that the wind would increase during the race, and that the lead boat would finish within that limit. That didn’t happen, and Oracle picked up a bonus, winning the third resail of Race 13, in a slightly stronger breeze

America’s Cup Final 5 - Emirates Team New Zealand vs Oracle Team USA -  Carlo Borlenghi-Luna Rossa©   Click Here to view large photo

Oracle's technology edge
Another key factor in Oracle Team USA’s favor was the fact that this was their second multihull campaign in the America’s Cup. They developed a very impressive technology base from the 2010 America’s Cup, sailed in their 120ft wingsailed trimaran.

A detailed explanation of the Oracle technology used for sailing and performance analysis aboard Oracle Team USA can be seen by clicking here



It is most unlikely that the technology used by the Challenger approached the sophistication or resources able to be employed by Oracle Team USA. Their sponsor, of course, was Oracle Corporation, the world’s leading technology company with diverse operations in hardware, software, database and business intelligence technologies.

Much of the technology that was used in the 2013 campaign was overlaid and enhanced from the systems used in the 2010 America’s Cup in Valencia.

Essentially both teams went into the regatta believing that Oracle Team USA was faster in the light and Emirate Team NZ was faster in the heavy winds.

In reality ETNZ proved to be faster in winds below 10 kts. But that was of little value, as it transpired that the set length America’s Cup course could not be completed in an AC72, within the specified time limit, in winds of 10kts or less.

It was another bold call from Oracle, who probably realized that a wind of 9kts average was required to complete the course, in the absence of another boat, and that in 10-11kts the Code Zero and bowsprit were not required – and were just extra weight.

Oracle - once they had regrouped mid-regatta - was superior in the 10-20kts range.

ETNZ was probably better in 20kts plus, just through crew confidence and the boat being more forgiving than Oracle, which made her easy to press hard at extreme speeds.

To be continued

America’s Cup Final 5 - Emirates Team New Zealand vs Oracle Team USA -  Luna Rossa - Carlo Borlenghi ©   Click Here to view large photo


Oracle Team USA - day 13, Race 16 of America’s Cup 34 -  Luna Rossa - Carlo Borlenghi ©   Click Here to view large photo


More more detail on the 34th America's Cup and a Race narrative click here

34th America’s Cup - Race by Race

 

Date

Race

Winner

Wind Limit

Actual Wind

Notes

Races

Pts

Week 1

7 Sept

Day 1

1

Emirates TNZ

24.4kts

16kts Av.

21kts Peak

 

1-0

1/-2

7 Sep

Day 1

2

Emirates TNZ

23.4kts

16kts Av.

21kts Peak

 

2-0

2/-2

8 Sept

Day 2

3

Emirates TNZ

24.4kts

16.8kts Av

19.3kts Peak

 

3-0

3/-2

8 Sept

Day 2

4

Oracle Team USA

23.4kts

19.5kts Av

23.3kts Peak

 

3-1

3/-1

10 Sept

Day 3

5

Emirates TNZ

24.9kts

20kts Av

24.1kts Peak

 

4-1

4/-1

10 Sept

Day 3

6

No race

24.5kts

No race

OTUSA call Time-out

 

 

12 Sept

Day 4

6

Emirates TNZ

24.4kts

11.6kts Av

13.4kts Peak

 

5-1

5/-1

12 Sept

Day 4

7

Emirates TNZ

24.8kts

16.3kts Av

17.8kts Peak

 

6-1

6/-1

 

Week 2

Date

Race

Winner

Wind Limit

Actual Wind

Notes

Races

Pts

14 Sept

Day 5

8

Oracle Team USA

21.7kts

16.6kts Av

19.6kts Peak

ETNZ near capsize when leading – Leg3

6-2

6/0

14 Sept

Day 5

9

No race

22.6kts

Called off Wind limit exceed

Leg 3 - ETNZ ahead when cancelled

6-2

6/0

15 Sept

Day 6

10

Oracle Team USA

21.4kts

18.3kts Av

22.3kts Peak

 

6-3

6/1

15 Sept

Day 6

9

Emirates TNZ

20.8kts

17.6kts Av

20.8kts Peak

 

7-3

7/1

16 Sept

 

Scheduled race day but teams agreed not to race when given the choice

17 Sept

Day 7

11

No race

20.1kts

 

 

25kts

 

 

Boats sailed in start area – no start – wind limit exceed

7-3

7/1

17 Sept

Day 7

12

No race

20.3kts

7-3

7/1

18 Sept

Day 8

11

Emirates TNZ

21.0kts

15.4kts Av

18kts Peak

 

8-3

8/1

18 Sept Day 8

12

No race

20kts

Called off Wind limit exceed

Race called off 4 sec after start – ETNZ lead

8-3

8/1

19 Sept Day 9

12

Oracle Team USA

22.2kts

14.8kts Av

16.3kts Peak

 

8-4

8/2

19 Sept

Day 9

13

No race

20.3kts

20.0kts

Start delayed to 1425 and called off

Wind limit lowered to 20.0kts as wind increased

8-4

8/2

20 Sept

Day 10

13

No race – time exceed

23.3kts

 

Race called off when ETNZ 1 min from finish

8-4

8/2

20 Sept

Day 10

13

Oracle Team USA

21.3kts

9.8kts Av

13.2kts Peak

Resailed race

8-5

8/3

 

Week 3

21 Sept

Day 11

14

No race

No racing wind too far south (175-180 degrees) competitors decline to race on alternate course.

8-5

8/3

21 Sept

Day 11

15

No race

8-5

8/3

Date

Race

Winner

Wind Limit

Actual Wind

Notes

Races

Pts

22 Sept

Day 12

 

14

Oracle Team USA

24.4kts

11.4kts Av

14.9kts Peak

 

8-6

8/4

22 Sept Day 12

15

Oracle Team USA

23.3kts

12.9kts Av

18kts Peak

 

8-7

8/5

23 Sept

Day 13

16

Oracle Team USA

 

12kts Av

14.1kts Peak

Start delayed to 1345hrs – winds <10kts

8-8

8/6

23 Sept

Day 13

17

No race

 

Unable to be sailed due to start time deadline of 1440hrs

8-8

8/6

24 Sept

Day 14

17

Oracle Team USA

24.7kts

16.8kts Av

20.0kts Peak

ETNZ penalized 2x in pre-start

8-9

8/7

24 Sept Day 14

18

Oracle Team USA

24.1kts

19.3kts Av

21.8kts Peak

OTUSA sailed past ETNZ Leg 3

8-10

8/8

25 September Day 15

19

Oracle Team USA

24.4kts

18.2kts Av

21.3kts Peak

 

8-11

8/9

 


by Richard Gladwell


  

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