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America's Cup: "Once again...the America's Zealand's Cup" - five years ago today.

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 26 Jun 05:05 PDT 27 June 2021
Emirates Team New Zealand crosses the finish line in Bermuda to win the 35th America's Cup. © Richard Gladwell /

"It has been 22 years in the making...San Diego 1995 and now Bermuda 2017...Once again...The America's Cup...IS...New Zealand’s Cup."

Those words are PJ Montgomery's immortal conclusion to Emirates Team New Zealand's win on June 26, 2017, local time, on the Great Sound of Bermuda.

On this day, June 27 in New Zealand, or June 26 in Bermuda, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron created sailing history to become the first club to regain the America’s Cup, after Emirates Team New Zealand sailed to victory in Race 9.

On Day 5 two races were scheduled, but only the first was required after the New Zealand team, trailing at Mark 1, passed the Defender on the second leg and then sailed away to a series win by a margin of 54 seconds.

The outcome of the race was never in doubt, once Emirates Team New Zealand gybed first and was able to sail a faster angle to the second mark.

Oracle Team USA, started with a bigger jib than the New Zealand team who looked to be rigged more for conditions in the 9–12-kt range. That was an ambitious call as it turned out, with the breeze never getting above 9 kts.

Once again Emirates Team New Zealand looked to have the better of the start, again taking up the leeward position and allowing Jimmy Spithill to take the windward slot at the start.

The US team seemed to be rigged for a fast first leg, and despite having to sail the longer distance, they shot over the top of the New Zealanders to take a 4-second lead at the first mark. Normally, that should have set the stage for a race win, which would have got the Americans back on the comeback trail, but it was not to be.

Emirates Team New Zealand put 22 seconds on Oracle Team USA on the next beat and then kept a loose cover to seal the race and wrest the America’s Cup from the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

Ashore the fans celebrated a mix of joy and relief. The joy was for the outstanding performance and indeed survival of the team, which had withstood attack after attack off the water since losing to Oracle Team USA in 2013, in the series that spanned three weeks and ran across 19 races.

Add to that the 1-second loss in the seventh race of the 2007 America’s Cup in Valencia, the ignominy of 2003 defeat and the loss of the America’s Cup on the Hauraki Gulf in the second defence.

Further back is the break-up of the then Team New Zealand following the luring of key sailors to Swiss Challenger Alinghi.

There were plenty of lurking demons in the Kiwi America’s Cup kitbag, which were exorcised by the day’s win.

Emirates Team New Zealand’s win triggered several firsts:

• Peter Burling and Blair Tuke became the first sailors in history to win an Olympic Gold Medal and an America’s Cup in the space of 12 months.

• Emirates Team New Zealand was the most inexperienced crew to win the America’s Cup — with just one America’s Cup regatta among the crew.

• Peter Burling became the youngest helmsman to win the America’s Cup.

• Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron became the first club to win back the America’s Cup.

At the presentation of the America’s Cup, there was no hand-over from the previous Defender to the new, as had happened in 2010 in Valencia.

Instead the America’s Cup was brought to the podium by a white gloved security guard and placed on a stand.

Peter Burling and Glenn Ashby picked up the 166 year old Victorian ewer and raised it in triumph above their heads. The sea of Kiwi fans, festooned with New Zealand flags and wearing their team’s livery just roared. The emotion was palpable. The faces of every person in front of the stage or on it was the face of ecstatic individual joy. The America’s Cup had become the People’s Cup

At the winner’s media conference, Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton set the agenda for a new era in the America’s Cup emphasising that holding the Trophy was a privilege not a right.

It seemed that there had been some discussions about the shape of the new America’s Cup, but little in the way of specifics other than the year and venue for the 36th Match.

No surprise was the announcement of the next Challenger of Record, Circolo della Vela Sicilia (CVS) and its team Luna Rossa, which had a long and close association with New Zealand extending back to 2000.

It was a scene that was to be replicated over and over again when the America’s Cup arrived back in New Zealand, and then on the street parades and receptions in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Soon after the finish, the Voice of the America's Cup, PJ Montgomery, put the win into its context in the then 166 year history of the most prestigious trophy in sailing.

"For ETNZ the representative team of the RNZYS it now means TNZ Have become the first team And the RNZYS is now the first yacht club in the 166 year history of the cup to successfully challenge for the AC twice.

"Until today there have only been nine sailors who have won Olympic sailing Gold and the America's Cup. Today two more join an exclusive group - Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.

"Peter Burling joins Russell Coutts and Buddy Melges as the only three sailors in history to win Olympic Sailing Gold and helm an AC Winner.

"And Joseph Sullivan joins another Olympic Gold rower, Con Findlay who was on Courageous in 1977.

"The win in San Diego in 1995 and Bermuda in 2017 may be 22 years apart but with so many similarities - starting with two outstanding crews backed by excellent and innovative design teams.

"One of the excellent last minute decisions was by ETNZ skipper Glenn Ashby to get Murray Jones, "The Captain" and five times winner, to join Ray Davies as the Coaches or Mentors, and Jones helped make this brilliant crew of 2017 believe.

"But all of that could not have been achieved without CEO Grant Dalton, who has overcome past disappointments to lead ETNZ to this stunning victory supported by Matteo de Nora, Stephen Tindall and other committed directors.

"And also COO Kevin Shoebridge who took over a lot of the day to day operations, when Grant Dalton was away for long periods, in search of funding and sponsorship.

"And backed by a wonderful team, from shore crew, to designers, to administrators, the unsung heroes behind this victory."

And of course, just over 15 months ago this remarkable team emulated the feat of the 2000 Team New Zealand, in successfully defending the America's Cup in their home waters, to win four America's Cups in 35 years, or from four of the 10 editions of the America's Cup regattas in which they have competed.

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