I was supposed not to wake up at 3am today. Body clocks, however, are not as easy as iPhones to change. The dog was grateful but no doubt a bit bemused and life goes back to routine and normality. The Cup is done and dusted. The manic obsession can be parked for a while but what a fabulous time it was. This Cup served it all up on a platter richer than a Michelin starred chef’s banquet and confirmed its status at the very apex of not only sailing but of wider sport. The fact that the best team won, is how it should be. We can bore on about the rules being skewed but let’s not detract from the very best applying themselves 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and then coming out smoking. It was truly magnificent to watch.
The America’s Cup moves relentlessly forward but leaves historical images and impressions in its wake. This chapter was a spectacle. The boats were as awkward as a first date but so intriguing that you desperately want to pester for a second. Easy to knock, yes, but really there should be no turning back. The future is flying, displacement won’t cut it and now that we know the nuances – the lower wind limit didn’t work – a plan can be set accordingly in the future conditions from the outset. Careful analysis of what was good will ensure the 37th edition is even better – if that’s possible.
Holding the event in a pandemic in a venue that was almost globally unique, ensured something unrepeatable. The mood was right, something was in the air. Wind-up merchants of the media were excluded by situation rather than desire and that gave the sailors and the event organisers effectively a free run at presenting a compelling narrative. The local media did a great job of stone-turning augmented by organs from afar and as memorable Cups go, although it would have been so nice to be there, it was uniquely special and unforgettable to cover. In fact it was a huge privilege.
The stand out take-aways are many. I felt the sailors were exceptional and when American Magic faltered, the teams stepped up magnificently. Right there and then, as the event feed cut and the Live, Sail, Die team carried on filming through personal devices, streaming to the world, was an electric moment of camaraderie personified. What happened in the coming days was brilliant and huge credit to those now forgotten for their efforts – the Geoff Seniors, the boatworkers, the builders. Heroes all. Magic was my tip for the Match but in 20 seconds and 25 knots it all ended. Cruel sport.
The re-emergence of Team Ineos in the Round Robins wasn’t inevitable but was thrilling to watch. A boat designed for the upper end with a very different crewing style and tactical input, it was enthralling to see potential being realised. That race against Luna Rossa stands out as the pinnacle of the Prada Cup and revved up the contest. That was the turning point of the regatta in a competitive sense. From there on, the game changed. Luna Rossa dispatched the Americans ruthlessly and clinically in the semis ahead of avenging their British nemeses in the Final.
Meanwhile, stalking the Hauraki Gulf was a sensation. Te Rehutai buzzed and flicked all summer, circling like a Great White on a fleshy, bloated whale. Countless emails from well-connected sources suggested that physics was being defied. Newton, Einstein, Galileo, Rutherford and Faraday were nothing in the face of the English engineer with a Phd in mathematical modelling and aerodynamics, and a Cambridge Masters degree in his back-pocket. Dan Bernasconi was seemingly sculpting his own plinth in Trafalgar Square if the rumours were to be believed, such was the chatter and rumour around Te Rehutai. In the end, as is so often the case with the America’s Cup, it was half the truth. Yes the boat was fast but it was greased lightning with the best sailing unit onboard.
And after a testy end to the Prada Cup with what can only be described as an embarrassment of a press conference that should be quickly forgotten by all parties but lessons learned, the narrative of the Cup changed. Into the Match was an irascible Italian crew with fire in its belly and a nation’s support, led by competition personified of Antipodean descent. Such was the Spithill effect that it negated and focused the Italian passion into meaningful development and speed on the water. Truly amazing to watch. Jimmy set the tone from the top and we settled in for what promised not only to be an epic battled on the water but had the potential for fireworks off it.
Roughly 50% of that didn’t happen and psychologist can analyse this long into the distance because New Zealand’s inherent team culture elicited no room for verbiage. They didn’t need the distraction of a loose-cannon on the podium, stuck to humility and killed with kindness. It was a genius play and that comes from the no-nonsense tone set by ‘Sir’ Grant, very much in the image of that other, much missed Kiwi Knight of the Realm, Peter Blake. I honestly thought the best ever was the Coutts/Butterworth masterclass of media manipulation. But in 2021 Burling, Tuke, Junior and Ashby took that blueprint, re-crafted it for the modern era and owned it. Nothing succeeds like success and they just trusted in the overall process, kept to the narrative and devastating success followed.
The Match was everything and more. With vortices coming into the sailing lexicon more than ever before, and even the helicopter circling the course feeling the effects, it was a joy to watch. Did Team New Zealand make a meal of it in the early part of the regatta? Yes. But some honesty from Dalton mid-way through behind closed doors, shook the Kiwis into action and four brilliant wins followed. The Cup was put to bed in light airs on a victory lap in front of a Kiwi public that embraced the event and offered the world hope of a return to normality. The manner of victory was a credit to everything that New Zealand stands for. Rightfully, the team should be lauded. Books should be written, savoured and referred back to in future as this was a defence out of the top drawer of sport. It deserves the best crafted prose from the pens of the greatest authors to live long in the annals.
But as I say, the Cup now moves relentlessly forward. Such will now be the speed, that the 36th edition will fade quickly. More’s the pity. Savouring this is a memory of a happy time and relief from reality. The America’s Cup delivered. The world of sailing is immensely grateful. New fans have been won and foiling is a discipline that many will take the plunge towards, at whatever age, just to feel it for ourselves. Kids can look up, wide-eyed at the heroes of this generation and have a goal to aim at and a toolkit of how it’s done and how it’s won.
The America’s Cup. There’s nothing like it in sport.