Thanks to an improbably spectacular America’s Cup, Oracle’s improbably exciting comeback from an 8 to 1 defecit, and the improbably dazzling AC72s, today’s final showdown between Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand is one for the ages of not just yacht racing, but all of sport. As a result, it’s getting unprecedented mainstream media coverage and has converted lots of folks who previously had no interest in sailing.
Today’s race wouldn’t be happening if Oracle hadn’t won both races yesterday to extend their winning streak to seven, to tie New Zealand 8 to 8. In yesterday’s breezy first race, the Kiwis approached the starting line a little too early, which gave Oracle’s always-aggressive Jimmy Spithill the opportunity to put two penalties on them right at the start. While the Kiwis threatened a couple of times to make it a close race, Oracle prevailed by 27 seconds. The vibe at the Cup Village was now predominanatly pro-Oracle after so many Kiwis have had to go home because the event was supposed to have ended on Sunday.
After a considerable drought, the Kiwi’s Dean Barker got the jump on Oracle in the critical second race, to lead at both the reaching mark and the leeward mark. It was on the beat for tidal relief in the cone of Alcatraz that the winner of the Cup was likely revealed. The Kiwis, with an ever-so-slight lead, tacked back to port to work the cone of Alcatraz with Oracle, which was also on port, but closing at high speed on their windward hip. The Kiwis were able to accelerate out of their tack so the two boats were side by side at nearly identical speed. Then Oracle started to foil to weather, the result being the same as if she’d turned on turbochargers. She pulled ahead, tacked with the lead, and continued on to win by such a large margin — 54 seconds — that it may have broken the back of the Kiwi effort.
Indeed, at the press conference following the race, Kiwi’s Dean Barker and Glenn Ashby all but marveled at Oracle’s new found upwind speed. "We’ll do our best tomorrow," Barker said. That’s all anybody can do, of course, but it’s a bit of a loser’s mantra.
Oracle’s Spithill, on the other hand, sounded much more confident, repeating for the umpteenth time how the team’s many adversities had only made them stronger. When asked how he felt before the seven-race winning streak, when they were down 8 to 1, he replied, "You can either get yourself wobbly at the knees or you can just look straight down the barrel [of the gun] and smile." It should come as no surprise that Spithill is an amateur boxer.
We put Oracle’s chances of victory today at 80% — even if they lose the start. The boats might be almost even downwind, but in a stark reversal from the first half of the series, Oracle is now superior upwind. They’ve been able to foil to weather quicker, longer and more effectively than the Kiwis, which has given them a big advantage in windward ability — and confidence. Oracle can come from behind, the Kiwis can’t.
Make no mistake, the Kiwis do have a chance to win, but they’ll need a combination of a great start, perfect tactics, and a little luck. When it comes to luck, the Kiwis have clearly gotten the short end of the stick during the Cup. Remember, they were almost a kilometer ahead of Oracle in the light-air race that was called for exceeding the time limit. Had the race limit been 45 minutes instead of 40, or the course a mile shorter, the Cup would have arrived in Auckland about a week ago.
The Golden Rule is the likely answer to how it can be that Oracle now has the faster cat. You know the Golden Rule, don’t you? He with the most gold rules. Here’s how we think — but don’t know for sure — it’s playing out in the America’s Cup. The much better-funded Oracle has a big shore team of data analysts, designers, boatbuilders and whatever. As Spithill has repeatedly said, these guys have been staying up very late each night analyzing the boat’s daily performance, coming up with improvements, and implementing them in time for the next day’s race. We’re talking about changes to the foils, the rake of the masts and we’re not sure what else. Oracle has made at least 15 modifications so far, while the Kiwis, who don’t have the same unlimited resources, have made about half that. To non-sailors, small changes in the boats may seem like they couldn’t make huge differences, but they do, particularly when the designs are so new.
Oracle’s Larry Ellison has so many mansions, yachts, jets, islands and what not, that we’ve always wondered how much he really cared about the America’s Cup. Was it something he was involved in because you gotta do something with the spare tens of billions you have lying around, or was he truly passionate about sailing. That question was emphatically answered by his actions yesterday. Slated to give the important ‘Cloud Keynote’ speech at Oracle OpenWorld, the conference in San Francisco that more than 60,000 people from around the world have paid $2,500 to $3,000 to attend, Ellison not only kept the crowd waiting for 45 minutes, he ended up being a no-show. When it was announced that an underling rather than Ellison would give the important presentation, many of the miffed attendees walked out. This ‘what’s-more-important-to-me’ move was commented on immediately by both the Wall Street Journal and on CNBC.
A month ago we figured the chances of the America’s Cup being held on San Francisco Bay again were about zero. They are much higher now, thanks to the very good chance Oracle will retain the Cup, and the fact that many officials and locals are now realzing that, while the initial wildly optimistic expectations for the event could never be met, it still might be an excellent event for the Bay and the region. To date, more than 1,000,000 people are reported to have come into the America’s Cup compounds, although we have no idea what’s meant by ‘compound’. Were there another America’s Cup to be held in San Francisco, in less expensive boats that would encourage much greater participation, we believe there would be an exponential increase in the number of sailors and superyachts from around the world that wouldn’t miss it for anything.
Speaking of things not to miss, history will be made starting at 1:15 this afternoon. You don’t want to miss it. As a nearly deliriously happy Lynn Ringseis of Novato told us yesterday, "I’m the biggest Giants fan there is, but this America’s Cup has been way more exciting than either time the Giants won the World Series." How about them baseballs?
As the 34th America’s Cup winds down to a thrilling finish, there’s another America’s Cup going on that is likely off your radar: the International C Class Catamaran Championship, also known as the ‘Little America’s Cup’ which is taking place right now in Falmouth, England. In 1959, two Englishman threw down a challenge against the New York based Hellcat, which was claimed to be the fastest sailboat in the world at the time. What has ensued since then is more than 50 years of thrilling racing that has done nothing but push the performance envelope and drive innovation.
In fact, much of the current AC72’s DNA is derived directly from the C-Class cat which has seen carbon-fiber wing-sailed catamarans for years. With seemingly everything on the planet being modified to foil in the past year, the C-Class is no different. These guys have been playing with the boards for years. When engineering daggerboards and foils, there’s almost no one better than Franck Cammas. Former around-the-world record holder and Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper of Groupama 3 and Groupama, Cammas is now well on his way to adding the C-Class champion to his über-impressive rockstar resumé. With arguably the most advanced foils in the fleet, Groupama C has seen speeds over 30 knots, while foiling.
With two out of three qualifying days completed, the French Groupama C has dominated to claim five wins and a second in the 11-boat fleet. Firmly in second place is Swiss entry Hydros. After the next day of fleet racing, the top two will match race for the title while the rest of the fleet will race for positions 3-11. Follow the foils on the event website.