For the second time in history, the America's Cup is headed to New Zealand after a comprehensive victory over Oracle Team USA in the 35th Match.
The old adage says that the faster boat always wins the Auld Mug. Team New Zealand definitely had the superior design package, especially in the light winds in which the final series was sailed. But these high-tech cats are difficult to sail and a disaster is only one mistake away. So supreme credit must go to Peter Burling, Glenn Ashby, Blair Tuke and the “cyclors” who powered the systems. They were calm, confident and sailed superbly to deservedly take the ultimate prize in sailing.
Today began with glorious weather and a breeze of around 8.5 knots, a range that favoured the Kiwis. They were on match point, leading defenders Oracle Team USA 6-1 in the first-to-seven series, and watchers waited with anticipation to see what, if anything, Jimmy Spithill and his predominantly Australian crew could do.
The answer was very little. Dominated in the starts by his younger rival until now, Spithill put his boat in a good position during the pre-start and had enough speed to break the inside overlap and lead around the reach mark for only the second time in eight races. But when the Kiwis gybed for the first time and sped away with two knots more boat speed, the writing was well and truly on the wall.
In this crazy world of apparent wind sailing, even when running downwind the boat in front puts wing wash on to its chasing rival. Oracle fell further behind and NZ had the luxury of throwing in a couple of extra tacks at the beginning of the first beat, so they could cover the enemy.
With nearly a knot better VMG upwind, the only danger to the Kiwis was that Oracle tactician Tom Slingsby would find a big wind shift. Burling took this out of the equation with old-fashioned match race covering tactics. Every time Oracle tacked, TNZ covered. It cost them some of their lead, but they had plenty of that to spare.
Sure enough, near the top of the course, a slight wind shift did lift the American boat to within 100 metres, but by then New Zealand was lining up the layline. Flawless in their manoeuvres, they turned downwind and ran away from Oracle.
Both boats were quiet as an air of inevitability settled over the course. On the second beat, Oracle again went looking for the miracle wind shift but the Kiwis covered every move. They ran away again down wind and crossed the finish line 55 seconds in front.
Finally Burling, who has been dour and repetitive in his interviews, relaxed, smiled and enjoyed the moment. He had become the youngest ever winning America's Cup helmsman and paid tribute to his sailing crew and the shore team that had put the boat back together after a pitchpole in the preliminary series.
“We're on top of the world,” he told the TV commentators. “It's been three years of hard work. Yeah, we're all on top of the world. It's going to be a good night.”
Understandably, the mood on Oracle was sombre as they crossed the line to applause from their Kiwi rivals. An emotional Jimmy Spithill was gracious in defeat. “We're disappointed, obviously,” he said. “But all credit to New Zealand. They made fewer mistakes than we did. It's an incredible job they've done.”
More analysis will be done over the next few days, but the simple facts are that the Kiwis sailed the faster boat extremely well. There are reports that the cycling system on Aotearoa, the NZ boat, put 30% more pressure into the hydraulic systems.
This allows a very complex and highly efficient wing control system to operate. Glenn Ashby trimmed the wing without a winch or sheets. It was all done with an X-box system that gave fingertip control of the all-important twist at the upper edge.
The Kiwis also had a very different foil design to the other teams, with a marked upturn that appeared to give much better performance in light airs.
The faster boat has won the Cup yet again. And with Glenn Ashby the only member of the sailing team who is over 30 years of age, it has been a triumph of youth over experience.
We now wait to see whether the Kiwis will retain the same or similar format for the 36th Match in Auckland in two, three or four years time, or whether CEO Grant Dalton will sacrifice the advantage New Zealand has over the other teams simply to spite his mortal enemy, Sir Russell Coutts, who put this concept together.
– Roger McMillan
Selected quotes from Emirates Team New Zealand, ORACLE TEAM USA and America’s Cup Event Authority
Peter Burling, helmsman, Emirates Team New Zealand: “We’re just blown away. We came here to win the America’s Cup and right now we’re taking the America’s Cup back home to New Zealand.
“To be able to win eight races in Beautiful Bermuda in front of a big crowd of our own fans is overwhelming, we’re just happy to be able to share this moment with them, we’re just blown away.
“I’ve grown up watching this competition as a fan and to be a Kiwi and taking this Cup home is a dream come true.
“To be able to win this event at such a young age is an unreal feeling. However, I’m just a tiny part of a massive team and it is incredible to be able to reward the hard work of those hundreds of people who have supported us, not only here but back home in New Zealand as well.
“We’ve had to go through some incredibly tough times to get to this point. It has been an incredibly tough path to get past the rest of the challengers and then ORACLE TEAM USA and it’s credit to every team that competed.
“It’s so unique to get to sail these boats, every day they can be different. Our incredible shore team gave us that edge and to be able to reward their hard work and bring this Cup home with us is an amazing feeling.
“It’s just sinking in really and I think that will be the same feeling for all of those Kiwi fans watching us win the America’s Cup back home.
“For me I think the reason we won was because of what happened four years ago. This team has gone through some really tough spots from San Francisco and to be able to reward this team with the America’s Cup is the best feeling, because they are such an incredible team.
“I’d like to say thank you to Bermuda. It has been an amazing venue for a sailing event and I’ve absolutely loved this place, I’d love to come back at some stage.
Glenn Ashby, Skipper, Emirates Team New Zealand: “It’s just an amazing feeling of satisfaction to have finally won the America’s Cup.
“It has been an incredibly tough journey to get here. We came across late to Bermuda from New Zealand and to be able to get the boat into good shape in such short time is all credit to our amazing team.
“I’m just so proud to be a part of this team and to be able to bring the Cup home and I want to thank the support of the whole country.
“What happened in 2013 was a brutal experience for everyone involved, to be so close was extremely disappointing and is something that will live with all of us for the rest of our lives.
“So to be able to come here a few years later and pull off an unbelievable victory has really redeemed that situation for New Zealand and it feels like justice has prevailed.
“I think we’ve seen some unbelievable advancements here with the boats and the type of races we’ve seen and it’s great for our sport. From a sailing perspective it’s going to be hard to sail anything else after what we’ve seen in these boats, the technology is just absolutely amazing.”
Grant Dalton, CEO, Emirates Team New Zealand: “We’ve done it, finally!
“We probably don’t realise how big a deal this is back in New Zealand. I’ve been told that there was traffic jams at 4am with people trying to get to work just to see the races, which is utterly incredible.
“We’ve had a phenomenal group of guys, we’ve battled some serious adversity but as a group we’ve overcome everything. There have been a lot of people behind that and none more so than Matteo De Nora, who has stuck with the team through thick and thin and believed in everything that we have done. New Zealand owes a lifetime of gratitude to him for what we have achieved.
“We thought outside of the square and we did it our way. After San Francisco we knew we couldn’t out-spend other teams here so we had to out-think everyone. One of the things to come out of San Francisco is that we were out-designed and we knew this time round that we had to push that area.
“This time round we had no restrictions on design. We just wanted to see what we could come up with and we have achieved some truly amazing things that have been revolutionary in this sport.
“After San Francisco we had a pretty tough debrief and came up with 20 points that we had to change. One of those was that we had to invest in technology and the people that provide it. We also had to get our arms around the next generation of yachtsmen that were coming through and Peter (Burling) was one of those.
“He told me he wanted to be helmsman, so it was all about investing in the right people and giving them the responsibility to go out and achieve what we knew we could.
“It is important that we make the next America’s Cup affordable but we also need to remember that it is the America’s Cup and it is one of the top sports and not a little beach regatta. It is never going to be cheap.
“It is a fine balance between not making it prohibitively expensive, but not being so cheap that it devalues the competition.
“At the core of what we believe, we have to create an event that takes a lot of the good that has happened here, because there been a lot of good here. Just because we didn’t sign the Framework Agreement, that doesn’t mean to say there weren’t elements we didn’t agree with, it was just didn’t agree with every element.
“To me it is a privilege to host the America’s Cup. It is not a right and we will put in place rules and an organisation of our own that will do everything to be good enough.”
Jimmy Spithill, Skipper, ORACLE TEAM USA: ““On behalf of the whole of ORACLE TEAM USA, congratulations to Emirates Team New Zealand. What an incredible team. They’ve been a class above everyone in the 35th America’s Cup and we take our hats off to you. Well done.
“They sailed better than anyone else out here and so, rightly so, they are the 35th America’s Cup champions.
“The defeat hasn’t really sunk in yet and it is definitely weird looking at the trophy and knowing we won’t be taking it home.
“With hindsight there are a lot of things you would like to change but I think it’s far too early to say what might have gone wrong.
“Finally, I want to say, to Bermuda, you’ve welcomed us to your beautiful island and we’ve loved every moment of it. Thank you.”
Sir Russell Coutts, CEO, America’s Cup Event Authority, was quick to acknowledge the first New Zealand victory in the America’s Cup since 2000, saying, “I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations and praise to everyone in Emirates Team New Zealand for winning the 35th America’s Cup.
“Helmed brilliantly by Peter Burling, with the guiding influence of skipper Glenn Ashby, supported by a world class sailing, design and shore team, they performed magnificently here in Bermuda, winning in dominant fashion.
“I know just how much this victory means to the team and to the people of New Zealand. This is a remarkable achievement, one that will be rightly celebrated in Bermuda and across New Zealand and I hope those celebrations live long in the memory, much as the team’s victory in Bermuda has now written a new chapter in the history of the America’s Cup. Congratulations Emirates Team New Zealand. You deserve your victory, you deserve the accolades coming your way, and now, you deserve to enjoy it.”