All the clamor — mostly from New Zealand, but also from the United States — that Oracle Team USA ‘must have’ cheated in its spectacular comeback from 8 to 1 to retain the Cup is rapidly dying down. There are a number of reasons why.
First of all, on Saturday, Kiwi honcho Grant Dalton firmly denied rumors that the Kiwis were going to sue, allegedly on the basis that Oracle had used an illegal or semi-illegal automatic system to improve the stablity of their cat. During a Radio Sport interview, Dalton said, "Absolutely not [to a legal challenge], in any shape, form or any other way. It would be an incredibly bad thing to do."
It’s the last sentence that epitomizes why so many sailing fans — Latitude included — have such love and respect for the Kiwis. They are perceived as true sportsmen, who care so much about sport that they only want to win on the water, not in the courtroom.
The defeat was very hard on members of the Kiwi team, particularly helmsman Dean Barker, who is known to be particularly sensitive, and no doubt felt he had been carrying the weight of the country on his shoulders. Dalton, who is as rough and tough as they come, said he was having a "brutal" time of it, too, but for a slightly different reason. Having long said that the 34th would be his last America’s Cup, he was devastated by the fact that the team he worked with so hard for the better part of three years was coming apart, as other sailing bodies were trying to entice team members away.
A second reason the clamor is dying down is that Barker has said that, by the end of the Cup, Oracle’s cat was simply set up better and faster.
Did Oracle have an illegal, automatic Stability Augmentation System that made their cat easier to control than the Kiwi cat, as many have alleged? Not according to highly-respected journalist Matthew Sheahan of Yachting World, who had access to some pretty good sources. While Sheahan said he didn’t know exactly what Oracle had, he was led to believe it was a ratcheting system, sort of like gears on a bicycle, for different fixed settings for angles of attack. It should be remembered that the board could move on three axis.
Writing in his America’s Cup blog for Yachting World, Sheahan seems to have gotten more inside poop than other journalists about differences in the Oracle cat and the changes that were made to her in the middle of the Cup.
1. Oracle had lower drag foils that were faster, but had to learn from the Kiwis, after the Cup started, how to pop up on them quickly. The Kiwis, by the way, had had many more days on the water with their cat. Oracle’s foils had less curve and were three feet less deep.
2. Oracle added a filet on their T-shaped rudders to reduce cavitation, and perhaps ‘nose cones’ on the front of the rudders.
3. Oracle added an ‘interceptor’, or vertical plate, on the transom to modify water flow.
4. Oracle had or went to an asymmetrical set-up, with more of an angle of attack on the starboard board to improve upwind performance on port, which was the tack you wanted to be on when the wind cranked left on the windward leg. The asymmetrical set-up was also an advantage going downwind.
5. Oracle added more mast rake, just as Jeff Thorpe had hollered about, for better upwind performance and balance.
6. Oracle added more vertical leech on the lower sections of their wing, and more twist off the top.
According to Sheahan, Oracle made the biggest changes on October 16, when they were down 7-1. They still lost the next race, but won the next eight to retain the Cup.
In the humor department, Oracle apparently dubbed their boats the ‘Mistress’ and the ‘Wife’. The Mistress, which was the first boat, was more wild and wayward. You’ll remember she’s the one that flipped and broke apart, then had to be rebuilt. They won the Cup with the more reliable Wife.
While at the St. Francis YC Big Boat Series, we ran into Gino Morrelli. Naturally our discussion turned to the America’s Cup. Morrelli, who is half of the Huntington Beach-based Morrelli & Melvin design firm that drew up the huge Oracle trimaran that wrestled the 33rd America’s Cup away from the Swiss, says sailing can now be divided into two eras: BF, or before foiling, and AF, or after foiling.
After Oracle won the 33rd Cup, they commissioned studies on what boat should be used for the 34th Cup. M&M was put in charge of coming up with proposals for multihulls. "Trimarans as well as catamarans were considered, but trimarans had to be dropped from consideration because they couldn’t fit into a 747 for shipping," says Gino. Under the rules of the 34th America’s Cup, AC72s had to be capable of being disassembled for shipping in under 48 hours. The idea was that they would be flown from city to city on a world tour. That idea was dropped in favor of the AC45, which were shipped from site to site for World Series events.
Early on, it looked as though monohulls were favored for the 34th Cup, but ultimately it was decided to go with 72-ft cats — with certain limitations. A number of design constraits were put into the AC72 formula to keep them from foiling. But they weren’t enough. "As soon as it was agreed the cats could have T-shaped rudders, we knew we could get them to foil," says Morrelli. "We didn’t know exactly how, just that it would be possible."
Latino Mascalone, the Challenger of Record, had the power of veto on the design. According to Morrelli, they agreed that the cats could have boards that could be raised and lowered, the pitch changed, and canted, but nothing could be done with the rudders. "It was like insisting we design airplanes with no controls on the tails, which would result in a dead stick." The AC72s ultimately would foil, but not nearly as well as they could have if there had been no limitations on the rudder adjustments.
It took about four months for all the interested parties to hammer out the parameters of the cats. It then became basically Morrelli & Melvin’s job to come up with a formula for the AC72s, and to then try and find loopholes in it.
While Oracle is always the one accused of working loopholes and pressing the boundary of the spirit of the event, it must be remembered that it was the Kiwis, whose boat was designed by Pete Melvin, who shocked the world by foiling. Once that happened, everyone else had to struggle to catch up, particularly Artemis, whose first cat was not supposed to be a fully foiling cat.
Morrelli says he doesn’t know what control device Oracle had for their boards, but halfway through the Cup he suspects they started to use a system where, by pushing just one button, they could alter the board on more than one axis at once. The Kiwis, he believes, could only control one axis with a button, and had to do the others with winches and such, which was slower and thus less effective.
To put the final nail in the ‘Oracle cheated’ coffin, Kimball Livingston pointed out in Blue Planet Times that the Kiwis requested the International Jury consider the legality of Oracle’s system for controlling their boards. On August 8, the jury — which included one Kiwi but no Americans — said they had investigated and ruled that the system was "human controlled" and therefore legal. In fact, the only component of the system New Zealand was challenging was a small spring in the linear actuator. If you read Public Interpretation PI-49
you’ll see that although not human powered, springs are allowed.