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.
Few fans would disagree that the first week of the 34th America’s Cup belonged to Emirates Team New Zealand. The second week was about even, and the third and final week definitely belonged to Oracle Team USA.
Should we have been surprised at the eventual outcome? Before the start of the Match, most of the key indicators pointed to a Challenger victory.
Recent America’s Cups have been won by a team from the Defender or Challenger group - whichever is the better organized.
In 1983, the Australians had the New York Yacht Club on the back foot most of the regatta, over the wing keel issue. Four years later, the defending Australians were in disarray with an acrimonious selection series. The Challengers were strong and prevailed in Fremantle.
In 1992, the Challengers argued over spritgate. Bill Koch with America3 was well organized, and the Defenders won.
Three years later, again in San Diego, it was the Challengers who were on-song. The Defenders elected to have a three boat final, and after winning that Trial, USA’s Dennis Conner decided to switch boats. Again the better prepared, in this case the Challenger, won.
In 2000 the Defenders had a good run-up in Auckland. Prada and America One had their best racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup. Prada emerged as the battle weary, rather than battle-hardened Challenger. The Italians were no match for the Russell Coutts led team on the New Zealand Defender.
It’s much the same pattern as we step through 2003 and 2007.
By rights the 34th Match should have belonged to the Challengers.
The San Francisco Match also broke the truism that five minutes after the start of the first race for an America’s Cup, the regatta winner would become clear. Just over five minutes into the first race, on September 7, 2013, the Defender trailed the Challenger by a little over 4 seconds. A few minutes later, at the end of the first beat (Leg 3) that margin had stretched to a massive 25 seconds.
On that historical basis, the America’s Cup should have gone back to New Zealand, but it didn't.
Oracle catches up lost time
Oracle Team USA came into the Match lacking the testing and development time that had been enjoyed by Emirates Team New Zealand.
After Oracle’s pitch-pole in October 2012, the US team lost five months rebuilding their boat and wingsail. The International Jury penalised them five days for spying inside the 200 metre zone in Auckland. That was followed by another couple of weeks lost in the aftermath of the Artemis break up. Then followed a further six weeks disruption with the AC45 boat tampering Hearings, and the loss of a key crew member just four days before the start of the regatta.
Fortuitously for the Defenders, the Challenger Selection Series, the Louis Vuitton Cup, failed to fire, and devolved into a circus similar to the farcical 1995 Defender Final.
Emirates Team NZ learned little from the Louis Vuitton Cup, other than the AC72’s didn’t go too far on a flat battery. They weren’t seriously pushed by the Italian Challenger Luna Rossa.
Artemis Racing’s America’s Cup regatta consisted of just four races in the Semi-Final of the Louis Vuitton Cup – a campaign which cost about $1million per minute of racing.
For the first time in 30 years, both Challenger and Defender teams went into the 34th America’s Cup underdone. The gravity of the US team’s situation was apparent early in the regatta.
For both teams there were massive learning and performance gains to be had during the America’s Cup Match itself. Oracle simply were able to use the time and opportunity to grab more marbles out of that bag, than Team New Zealand.
After the opening day, Emirates Team New Zealand was rightly confident that they had an edge, and just had to drive their advantage home. Their edge proved to be temporary.
In the end the America’s Cup, like all its predecessors, devolved into an exercise in time management. Oracle Team USA needed all the analysis, modification and training time they could get. Emirates Team NZ had to win the series in short order if they were to cut short the US team’s accelerating development program.
Oracle’s only way out of the America’s Cup hole, in which they found themselves after the first three days of racing, was to gain more time and try and close the performance deficit.
The longest Cup
Fortunately for the US team, this was the longest America’s Cup ever held – with 19 races, in the contest to be the first to win nine points. That schedule gave them plenty of run way to work on performance improvement.
Oracle Team USA’s call for a Time Out after Race 5, was not a sign of throwing in the towel as many imagined in the media. Rather, it was a sign of strength and a realization that they had to put a circuit breaker across the Emirates Team NZ’s performance.
At that stage the score on the water was 4-1, and thanks to the points penalty imposed by the International Jury, Emirates Team NZ had a five point margin, after five races. The Kiwis needed just four more points, a score achievable in just two more race days.
One who had been down this same hole before, was the CEO of Oracle Team USA, Grant Simmer, who back in 1983, then aged 26 years old, had been the navigator of Australia II. Faced with being 3-1 down, the Australian mantra of just focusing on the next race, was applied again 30 years later in similar circumstances.
Olympic Games August 2012. Triple Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie with a crucial lead ahead of arch-rival Jonas Hoegh-Christensen to win a late Gold medal in the Finn class. - http://www.ingridabery.com
Four of the sailing crew aboard Oracle Team USA were Australians and had been suckled on the legend of the never-quit, Aussie-Battler, Australia II.
Being three – one (or in this case 4-1) down was just a starting point, for another Australian success story. Their brave words may have seemed a little hollow at the media conferences, but deep down history told them there was a spark of comeback.
Replacement tactician, Ben Ainslie, had also faced a similar situation in the final races of the 2012 Olympics, where he won his fourth Gold medal. Then, with a bit of luck and a brain explosion in the Medal race by the series leader, Ainslie was able to eke out his win.
The comeback culture and self-belief in adversity was in the DNA of the Defender, but they also needed a bit of luck.
As Emirates Team NZ tactician, Ray Davies noted at a media conference mid-series. 'Luck’s a great thing. Luck beats skill every time.' His comment proved to be very prophetic.
He might have also recalled the quote, dating back to the Julius Caesar – 'Fortune favours the Bold'.
What Oracle needed was time to effect a turnaround, and a lot of luck – or have things to go their way, at crucial times, plus make some big calls.
Kiwis began on a dream run
Emirates Team NZ’s build up to the 34th America’s Cup could not really be faulted.
Compared to the other three teams, Emirates Team New Zealand made constant progress throughout their time in New Zealand.
They assembled a very strong design team early in the cycle, only missing out on one designer they wanted. That team was in place in good time, and included Pete Melvin and Gino Morrelli – top multihull designers, and architects of the AC72 rule.
Emirates Team NZ was also the first team to launch an AC72 in July 2012. They were the only team to use up all of their allowed 30 sailing days in the first phase of the program – as allowed by the Protocol.
And theirs were long days, unlike the other teams. They also pushed themselves hard in the high winds that were prevalent in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, coming home on the back of a tornado, on one sailing day.
There were no apparent breakdowns or failures – unlike the other teams. They were the only team not to break foils.
Emirates Team New Zealand were the first to hydrofoil the AC72, proving that the concept was viable. In doing so they showed that their test platform of the two SL33’s had good crossover into the AC72’s – probably the only team to be able to run a proper development program from a small boat test platform.
Of their opposition, Artemis broke a wingsail early in the campaign and never really recovered. Additionally the Swedish team was the last to be able to foil, having to convert their AC72 from being a semi-foiler to a full foiler.
Oracle Team USA launched their AC72 much later than the Kiwis. It suffered badly from platform twist. As CEO Grant Simmer later commented, 'it was supposed to twist, but not that much'. In the end, Oracle’s twisty structure became pretty academic when the boat nosedived in extreme conditions. After the regatta, their first boat was said to be faster than the one their used to win the America’s Cup, but she was difficult to control.
Oracle Team USA turned that disaster into a positive by rebuilding Boat 1 to remove her more obvious shortcomings, and when re-launched she was closer to Boat 2, giving a reasonable two-boat training platform.
Luna Rossa, while intended as a race training partner for Emirates Team NZ, was late into the game, and never really caught up. Their racing program with Emirates Team NZ, which was so-often a target by opposing teams, never really eventuated with only a few, one-sided sessions being sailed. The upshot was that Emirates Team NZ went into the America’s Cup having never been seriously pushed on the race-track.
That is not what the Louis Vuitton Cup is supposed to be about.
The other Challenger, Artemis Racing, sailed just four races in the Louis Vuitton Cup and despite being the Challenger of Record, contributed little to strengthening the Challengers as a group, and trained with the Defenders.
Ashore Artemis Racing’s usual stance was to side with the Defender in many matters further undermining the position of the other two Challengers, and forcing a stalemate in most votes taken.
Kiwi success in the Jury Room
For the first time in 27 years of Cup competition, Emirates Team New Zealand had a good run in the protest room, winning some key points, most notably their case to have a Measurement Committee ruling reversed, in effect allowing the AC72’s to foil.
But as the start of the regatta neared Emirates Team NZ lost two crucial protests. The first was over a loophole that Oracle Team USA had worked in the Rules.
Under the Protocol, the Challengers were required to make their tracking and some other performance data public, including the actual data feeds, once the Challenger selection series, or Louis Vuitton Cup, started. The Protocol stated that the Defender would reciprocate.
But the Defenders elected not to call their racing a Defender Selection Series, labeling it in-house racing instead. The International Jury ruled in favour of the US team, who were able to get sailing time on the America’s Cup course, without having to reveal their sailing data, or be subject to full TV coverage. Oracle was also able to see helicopter video replays of the Challengers sailing – including crew choreography during maneuvers.
The TV helicopters afforded views that were not previously available under the Protocol’s Surveillance rules (which restricted Oracle from being closer than 200 metres to Team NZ and Luna Rossa). The degree of detail in the data feed coming off the boats was such the few in the media (for whom it was intended) could have analysed it. The data would have only been of interest to an opposing team, who could develop the required analysis software. Oracle’s data was not published in VirtualEye during their 'in-house racing', yet the Challenger’s was there for all to see in the Louis Vuitton Cup.
In short the data and video from the Challengers, and particularly Emirates Team NZ, gave the Defenders some basis for comparison with their own in-house data and video of their own boats, plus what they were able to see from on the water observations of the other teams. In playing the game of catch-up access to that sort of video and data would have been vital to any team – particularly if they did not have to share their data or video – preventing the Challenger identifying their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
Whether Emirates Team NZ and Luna Rossa revealed their full hand in the Louis Vuitton Cup is not known – possibly limiting the usefulness of performance data and video.
To be continued
by Richard Gladwell - 8:24 AM Tue 1 Apr 2014 GMT
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