Emirates Team New Zealand cyclists Simon Van Velthooven, Andy Maloney, and Josh Junior, flight controller Blair Tuke, trimmer Glen Ashby, and high-performance helmsman-savant Peter Burling delivered the decisive blow to Oracle Team USA today in a move they’d practiced many times, but never had the chance to deliver in a race.
Right time, right move.
The opportunity presented itself early in Leg 2 of Race 9 of the 35th America’s Cup Match as Oracle Team USA led the New Zealanders toward the first boundary after Mark 1 with a 10-meter lead. The playbook says he who jibes first gets the jump, and racing sailors know the move well as the “no-look jibe.”
“Basically we have the ability to fire the windward board and jibe without sending anyone to leeward, so they didn’t know we were jibing,” says Tuke. They trained for this exact scenario knowing that the team that follows through Mark 1 has to beat the boat ahead to the jibe.
As was the case throughout this lopsided series, Oracle didn’t see it coming, was late to react, and slow out of its jibe as well. As soon as both boats were up and foiling again, the writing was on the wall, and the New Zealanders were stretching away with a jump.
“It’s something we trained a lot on, and when you pull it off in racing it is a nice feeling,” added Tuke. “To do it in the last race was pretty cool. We can jibe without anyone moving, just like we can when tacking, which means we can reduce our standby time by 5 or 8 seconds.
“That’s how we designed the boat, to be able to get out of a lot of technical situations and be able to change direction without anyone moving. We knew it would be powerful come racing. It’s not always the best VMG move but a powerful one in a tactical situation and it helped us in the end.”
Once in control, the New Zealanders sailed as they pleased into the first gate. In order to get a split, Oracle had no option but to try its “Albatross” double jibe-rounding, which didn’t help their cause. Emirates Team New Zealand sped away from the opposite gate at 21 knots with Oracle struggling to get to 13.
Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill did his best to will his teammates back into the race, but it was a lost cause. Team New Zealand simply extended with its trademark flawless boathandling and cruised to a 54-second win to put the final nail into Oracle’s coffin.
This time, there would be no comeback. No three-peat. The scoreline reads 7 to 1, but remember, it’s 8 to 1, and even that 1 was a missed-shift gift from Peter Burling.
Behind the sailors of Emirates Team New Zealand is team of teams, one that crafted the most sophisticated boat of this America’s Cup. As with all other challengers left in Emirates Team Zealand’s wake in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Series, the 35th defender never really stood a chance. They had the wrong tool for the job and no amount of desperate modifications would help.
From the isolation of the proud Kiwi Nation came a squad that was determined, one that dared to be to different, and the tool they brought to Bermuda is a masterpiece of innovation: radically different appendages, efficient hydraulic controls, dynamic wing trim, intelligent software, and yes, the game-changing cycle-powered hydraulics that allowed them precision trim and on-demand oil. All of this, handled by a young sailing team flush with experience winning at the highest levels, was a combination that no one came close to in the end.
The fastest boat won, there’s no doubt about it, conceded Mr. Spithill after racing, the raw emotions of the defeat revealed in an uncharacteristic quiver in his voice. “They fully deserved it,” he said, “they had all the speed.”
For skipper Ashby, victory came with much relief. He explained that they learned lessons from the Cup in 2013, but most importantly that they had to be “extremely innovative” if they were to win in Bermuda. Team director, Grant Dalton, the driving force behind campaign, later explained in the press conference that after San Francisco they knew they couldn’t outspend the defender. They had to outsmart them.
After a “brutal debrief” following the loss, says Dalton, they adhered to a team ethos that they would “throw this one as far as we can and try to get to it. With no restrictions on design.”
“We had to invest in technology on a pretty limited budget and we had to invest in the people that could provide that technology, or handle that technology,” he says. “We had to get our arms around this new generation of yachtsmen that were coming.”
That new generation, of course, was young Peter Burling, the 2013 Red Bull Youth America’s Cup winner, Moth world champion, and Olympic medalist (all accomplished before the age of 26). Dalton’s first meeting with Burling was a private one away from the base, in 2013, at which time Burling asked to be helmsman. Ashby, however, the lone Australian in the sailing team, would prove to be a key one to lead the charge, along with longtime Team New Zeland tactician Ray Davies, who assumed an invaluable coaching role.
Ashby, says Dalton, was looking at pedaling early on and was convinced that investing in traditional grinders for the America’s Cup World Series’ AC45s would lead them down the wrong road. They “invested in knowing we had to be different,” says Dalton, “and having the right people that could think differently and knew what they were doing.”
As was said early, Emirates Team New Zealander dared to be different, and that is what will define the outcome of the Match. Tonight they will celebrate on this tiny island in the North Atlantic, return home to their own island next week by way of Dubai, and then take on the enviable, or cursed as some would say, task of defending the America’s Cup.
They will do so with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s acceptance of a challenge from Italian Challenger of Record, Circolo della Vela Sicilia. Luna Rossa returns, close this fascinating chapter of Larry Ellison, Russell Coutts, and the reign of Oracle Team USA, and where it goes from here nobody will say, but if the words of Emirates Team New Zealand’s benefactor Matteo de Nora provide any insight, it’s that the Cup is “headed back to the future.”
The future is Auckland, 2021.