A week can make a big difference and Oracle USA finally came out today with a boat capable of beating the Kiwis.
After four defeats in a row last weekend to Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle Team USA needed to come up with something big and fast – a further three losses would see the Cup lost. For all the talk of Kiwi skipper Peter Burling’s lack of aggressiveness on the start line, the New Zealand boat won all four starts, rounding the first mark in the lead each time. It wasn’t the starts though that impressed me the most, nor the ‘cyclors’ continuing to give the Kiwi boat a small but important advantage in the powering of their hydraulic systems. Rather it was the sheer difference in boat speed that stood out so starkly. The extra Kiwi boat speed, which at times was as much as 5-10%, enabled the team to pull away in such a dominating fashion.
it was the sheer difference in boat speed that stood out so starkly last week
GBR Landrover BAR and Swedish Artemis Teams can feel somewhat vindicated of their own performances against the Emirates New Zealand team. After all, Landrover BAR’s Ben Ainslie and Team won nearly every start against the Kiwis, but what use is that if your boat is slower by such a big margin? As the America’s Cup commentator, Volvo Ocean Race skipper and President of North Sails Ken Read reminds us, a tacticians best friend is boat speed and the Kiwis have seemingly had more than anyone else. At least that was the case perhaps until today.
a tactician’s best friend is boat speed…after all, Landrover BAR’s Ben Ainslie and Team won nearly every start against the Kiwis, but what use is that if your boat is slower
Team Oracle USA apparently stripped more than 80 Kg of weight from their boat during this last week and it showed. Even in race 1 yesterday which the Kiwis won by a significant margin, the America boat was matching the New Zealanders’ boat speed in a way we have not yet seen. The big margin win came more through mistakes by Spithill and crew in boat handling rather than boat speed, enabling the Kiwis to pull away. Aside from picking up a penalty at the start, Spithill when asked after the race confirmed that they had had to pull out some of the control systems from the boat to reduce the weight. The team were out on the water much of last week re-learning to sail the boat with this different set up, but their mistakes in race 1 suggest they still do not yet have a proper handle on stability.
Even in race 1 yesterday which the Kiwis won by a significant margin, the American boat was matching the New Zealanders’ boat speed in a way we have no yet seen
Things were different in race 2 though. For the first time in the America’s Cup finals so far, Oracle Team USA won the start. It was the confidence boost they needed. Peter Burling and Emirates Team New Zealand remained calm and sat on the USA tail, just as they have done when behind in numerous other races – ready to pounce. And pounce they did at the rounding of the windward mark at the end of leg 4. The American team overshot the lay line giving up valuable distance and the Kiwis leapt ahead.
Last week, that would have been race over for the American team. They would have tried to play the wind shifts and hoped for an opening, but in all likelihood the Kiwis would have shot off up the race course. Not so anymore – the Americans were still very much in the race. With almost identical speeds down leg 5, Oracle Team USA split half way down the course heading left, leaving the Kiwis to the right. After a number of crosses, with the Kiwis holding their tender lead, the split paid off enabling the Americans to come in on starboard at the top mark dialing down on the Kiwis before rounding at speed. The move didn’t produce the requested penalty and did not stop the Kiwis rounding, but it did reduce their boat speed. With the Americans at 30 knots and the Kiwis at 25 knots, a 200m advantage to Oracle Team USA opened up which they maintained and held to jubilant supporters as they foiled across the finish line.
with almost identical speeds down leg 5, Oracle Team USA split halfway down the course
So there we have it. The Americans now have boat speed. Could this be the beginning of the start of another epic comeback?