Somewhere in New Zealand right now, there are teenagers looking up at this most memorable of America’s Cups who will one day be the Pete Burling or Blair Tuke of their generation. There are future superstars in our midst right now. The 38th or 39th America’s Cup will be their turn. The dynasty is set. Maybe their grandparents brought them down to the dock or perhaps Mum and Dad skipped work on this sunny summer’s day to show them just what this is all about. Maybe they spent the day out foiling and will catch up later. Who knows? But if those kids need a blueprint of how to win the America’s Cup on home waters then Team New Zealand just laid it down for future generations to analyse and see how to do it in style.
On St Patrick’s Day in Auckland, the Kiwis didn’t so much beat the opposition as annihilate them. They left nothing on the table on the day. Stop the clocks. Remember the date. History was made today and with the mark of the very greatest champions in sport, they made it look easy.
Today promised it, but was never going to be a nail-biter. There was no need to hide behind the sofa. The dog snoozed through the entire thing, barely raising an eyebrow, such was the utter dominance of Team New Zealand and its quite excellent package, that from the off there was just no doubt. Burling was on fire. Tuke was coolness personified. Ashby made all the right calls. The crew performed. Every generation has their heroes. These are the America’s Cup champions for 2021 and one of the greatest ever to etch their names on the Auld Mug.
After a short delay, racing got underway in a little over 10 knots on the feared Course A where, all season, we’ve seen next to no passing lanes. The premium was all on the start but unlike previous races, Team New Zealand came in with a plan of disengagement and a firm desire to control from the right. As the seconds ticked down, Te Rehutai sat on Luna Rossa’s hip developing speed, hitting the line at 32 knots that allowed them to bounce off immediately as the gun fired and head out on port tack. It was a crucial split and a marker of intent to use the undeniable inherent speed to its advantage. They had worked it out. Finally. Onboard Luna Rossa there must have been a sinking feeling. In effect, with a mindset to run and hide, Team New Zealand could play to their steed’s strength of dynamite boatspeed and eke out the all important initial lead.
It was tight, but it wasn’t. Luna Rossa knew this was a step too far. They had faced down the Haka, challenged impressively but ultimately were succumbing to world sailing’s All Blacks. Eden Park has rarely seen a performance like this. Te Rehutai peeled off at mark one with a seven second delta, roughly 100 metres up but it was like watching Usain Bolt in his prime, a step ahead, a generation above.
After a bit of nip and tuck down the first run as both boats looked for pressure, Team New Zealand were, at some points, sailing anything up to five knots faster, and it all came down to the leeward gate. Luna Rossa slowed, carrying a double board at the gybe into the mark, Team New Zealand rounded wide but got flying rapidly and suddenly 100 metres was 200 metres and from there it was game over. Relentlessly the delta increased, leg after leg. It was sailing, the likes of which we rarely see. A team so on song, they could do no wrong. We were seeing a massacre of sporting ambitions by one of the greatest teams to ever sail in this competition. Professional, controlled, measured, rational – Team New Zealand were quite simply awesome as they pedalled to the floor and showed what front-running is all about. This is how you do it. This is the level the world can only aspire to. By the finish line it was 46 seconds. In reality they were a generation ahead.
Wild scenes of celebration? Not a bit of it. That can come later. In private. Yes a few bottles of champagne sprayed, but it was respectful, a classy acknowledgement of a job well done, executed with a combined team effort by an outstanding group. It was right for the global times. It was pitch perfect. The team got together on the boat, waved the flag, congratulated each other and you get a sense that this isn’t the end. With the billionaires circling desperate for Team New Zealand signatures, desperate to sample the Kool-Aid of an unbeatable team, as they came shoreside you could see the togetherness and camaraderie that make them such a unit. Prising them away will take mega-bucks.
For now, the Cup stays resolutely upstairs in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and whether another Yacht Squadron from Cowes in England becomes the Challenger of Record is a story for another day. Whatever happens, the Cup has a bright future. The Italians will be back. They’re too good now not to but where and when is the question. They can reflect on a campaign that they executed to near-perfection. They played the great game of the Cup admirably, aggressively but with elan and style, winning the hearts of their nation and coming so, so close. Tonight they can reflect on a job well done and leave Auckland with their heads held high.
The glory goes to Team New Zealand. For sure, the knighthood for Grant Dalton must follow. Hero status was cemented and generations of young Kiwis have seen what sporting brilliance and pressure sailing looks like. Congratulations to New Zealand as a nation. Your team not only won the America’s Cup, they won the respect of the world.
Outstanding. Brilliant. Breathtaking. Thoroughly deserved. Whatever next?