Head to Wind

Amidst the itty-bitty crumbs of news emerging from the dockside as the Cup goes into yet another hibernation was the reveal that Auckland airport’s freight division had been busy over the weekend as Luna Rossa has flown in new sails and parts from Italy. An already quick platform is about to get additional horsepower in its race to bridge the gap to the rumoured rapier-fast Te Rehutai. With the measurement of the hull and foils done on Monday, just how much further they can develop that already beautiful sail-plan is an argument for those that have never sailed in development classes and it will be very interesting to see what has been allowed to flourish having secured the golden ticket to the Match. For sure, every avenue of design and improvement has been green-lighted as Patrizio Bertelli throws everything and the marble, diamond encrusted sink at this probably once-in-a-lifetime shot at the greatest prize in sailing.

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However, taking the temperature over the weekend of the sailor interviews and all of them are, after considerable pushing by the interviewers, marginally falling to a Kiwi win so long as the breeze stays in. The muscular hull-form of the Kiwi boat lends naturally to that argument but with the new tiny, flat foils it now looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime up top attempting ballet with Margot Fonteyn’s pins down below. Whether the Muscle-Mary-meets-prima-ballerina combination works is one that we will find out only when we get racing and goodness me, this regatta has stretched out.

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Is it just me or do you agree that racing has been thin on the ground in this regatta? If I were the chump shelling out for a team I think I would feel a little short-changed and thoroughly under-entertained – I certainly wouldn’t want to be looking at this on a cost-per-race basis. This is a problem that could have been easily overcome with more round robins amongst the Challengers with weightier points towards the business end and perhaps, with entrant numbers light, early repechage rounds that included the Defender.

With all the World Series regattas cancelled due to Covid it wouldn’t have taken a genius to work out that the schedule looked very light but stretched would have given the teams like American Magic and the other one, the chance to address performance issues and develop naturally through the round robins. The interminable scheduling and regrettable delays between racing has been a passion killer akin to wearing socks in bed. Goodwill seeps away as momentum stalls and with Covid in the air – it was unfortunately always there waiting in the wings – the likelihood of delays throughout this regatta were inevitable.

But to get to the promised land would have required consensus and it’s clear that relations between all the interested parties – ACE, COR, ETNZ and LRPP – have been fractious at best. Strong minded individuals and a clash of cultures is never going to have a happy outcome with disagreements over everything from media accreditation to podium attendance to scheduling of racing and even some barbed jibes in the measurement committee notes. At times it has felt like walking through glue but it really depends on which side of the fence you sit.

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If you were to take a step back and strategise from a Defender or Challenger position for sure you would want to use your seat at the table to unsettle the opposition. In this respect, the Challenger of Record has done a magnificent job. Dennis Conner had a fine line about the Cup not being a popularity contest but Larry Ellison took it to a whole other level when he sat on the podium and admonished a journalist saying:

“Fun? You think we’re here for fun? Do you think losing is fun? I don’t. This is professional sports, not a third-grade T-ball game. Is sailing fun? Yes, if you want to sail to Sausalito and sit and do a little fishing or sunbathing out with your family, that can be fun. If you’re sailing in the America’s Cup, if it’s your job, you are supposed to work very hard. We are here to win. Winning, that’s my idea of fun.”

And that’s what it’s all about. Getting under the skin of the opposition and ripping this Cup away is the only way to do it. The dice are too loaded to play nice. Behind the razzmatazz and the dignitaries and the functions, it’s an utterly ruthless game played just as much off the water as on it. And it was interesting to see everyone’s reactions across the teams as the Challenger of Record started to play hardball, culminating in that unnecessary press conference and tit-for-tat with ACE issuing a statement moments before.

It was classic Cup politics but it gave the world a wake up call that what looked from the outside as a nicey-nicey gentleman’s regatta sailed by professional athletes with pitch-perfect back stories on behalf of generous benefactors, held amidst difficult global circumstances, was anything but. The Italians are here to win it and the best part of a quarter of a century of coming so near, yet so far, hurts. They’ve been on the other side of scheduling decisions, poor design, near misses, crew and equipment failures during their storied Cup history. This time it’s different. Good on them. Leaving no stone unturned and playing the game hard and at times seemingly unfair, depending on which lens you view it all from, is what wins you no friends but could win the America’s Cup – and that’s what matters when all is said and done.

Watch out as the schedule gets tight. A cakewalk for the Kiwis this isn’t going to be.

7 thoughts on “Head to Wind

  1. so far weve watched ONE single exciting race they ought to have organized many more races i have a tendency to support the underdog peoples perception is the kiwis are faster dont underestimate the power of pre starts … or the force in the bite of a cornered pitbull my money is on lunna rossa prada pirelli to win it! maybe then we can get back to planet earth in sport the story has to do with humans not tech the ac has lost 90% of its appeal to the rest of us sailors suspensein a regatta isnt achieved at 50 knots boat speed! the world has gonne so mad that ironically, it will have to be an italian team that brings common sense back into the equation!!! i hope!

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    1. Hey, Mario good article, and I totally agree that speed is a misdirection. As a sailor, I miss that pretty sail that used to fly out the front of the yacht and can’t believe we have 8 people on a yacht grinding mindlessly.

      As a Kwi I hope the Italians win and we go back to actual yachts,

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  2. I totally agree that racing is a bit thin on the ground. A pity this time around and it is the same with my favourite sport, the DN racing. Just one day due to Covid-19. No travelling to other countries. But the sun is still shining in Kiwiland and there is hope for a grand finale! As many races as possible after the shutdown eases.

    And let them play hardball now. After everything is done and dusted, no matter who will win the Cup, I am sure, the celebrations will be all over the place and old friendships will be renewed. At the end we are all in this sport to enjoy.

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  3. Well, it is a new class of craft. It is an aircraft. The foils are now merely there to keep the craft attached to the water and steer the course. The closest to that concept of an aircraft is ETNZ followed closely by LRPP then Ineos then American Magic. The public thought this was about getting a boat to fly. It is really about ensuring an aircraft stays in its natural habitat, the air. ETNZ approach is not that of the other competitors in that they have more fully adopted this single idea or flight as No. 1 priority as driving all other aspects including hull shape, including foil shape. Flight is all about power. I watched the debrief of Ineos with Ben and Grant Simmer today. I understood Simmer’s decision making as the CEO as to where to put his money and resources, given that both Ineos and American Magic had effectively only from September 2018 to begin work on it (and time cannot be bought or got back). But the basis of Simmers brief was clearly that of making a boat fly. Which is why he put sail plan as a third and later priority and put foils as No.1, boat shape, No.2, due to the amount of development time. He claimed sails came third because you can make them quicker than foils and hull and you can “always change them later on, down the design path”. I disagree. But his thinking was based I suggest on the wrong brief – “take boat and make it fly”. if you changed the brief to a CEO or Team and said “how can we make sure this craft really FLIES and stays flying”, then you can start to see how ETNZ version 2 and LRPP version 1 and 2 were designed. Sails are the power and ETNZ in my opinion, made POWER their No. 1 priority. Aircraft “power to weight” ratio is key to speed and manoeuvrability. Everything else has flowed from that. The size of ETNZ sails, the half metre greater depth to sails and longer effective mast, the funnelling of wind to the lower part of the sail using the sides of the craft and reducing parasitic drag by total enclosure of crew, the shape and size of foils to reduce inherent drag, the foiling shape of the upper deck of hull to increase wind speed across sails, the shape of the under hull and the little winglet end of foil arm to give a touch of ground effect lift. Power to weight is everything to ETNZ. I agree with this article though – and Ben’s and Mario’s comments today, the fascinating thing is the human element – how do you control your aircraft, especially when it is SO powerful??

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    1. Your leading comment “Well, it is a new class of craft. It is an aircraft.” sums it up. This means it is certainly not a monohull and basically means the kiwis have taken a gun to a knife fight. Nice insight. Peter.

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  4. I sadly expect the minimum number of races be sailed to claim the cup, too.

    Magnus, I like your writing, but you always seem to hedge. You’ve stated how far along ETNZ are, and how all sources are reporting they have a significantly faster boat, yet you say “A cakewalk for the Kiwis this isn’t going to be.”

    Which is it? Will ETNZ take the cup in a clean sweep (yes), or will it be an epic battle? I understand you don’t have a crystal ball, but if you make strong claims, at least maintain your stance.

    The Italians are here to win. They are desperately trying to make their boat not get destroyed by what all accounts seems to be a significantly faster boat. A set of new sails is highly unlikely to make up for the massive performance gap between them and the Kiwis. A cakewalk for the Italians this isn’t going to be.

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  5. What’s with now not writing INEOS in the recent entries? You seemed pretty happy with them up until they went out? What’s the scoop on them?

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