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36th America’s Cup Goes the Kiwi Way

Emirates Team New Zealand captured a little ‘luck of the Irish’ in defending the America’s Cup for the New Zealand Royal Yacht Squadron in defeating Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli decisively by 49 seconds while on match point to win 7-3.

Peter Burling holding the America's Cup
The celebration is just getting started for Peter Burling, with his hands firmly on the America’s Cup as New Zealand defends the Auld Mug.
© 2021 Studio Borlenghi / ACE

The race started with a lot of drama and action, with the lead shifting back and forth early before ETNZ made a definitive pass in pressure, taking advantage of a righthand shift on the course to take a lead they wouldn’t surrender.

ETNZ foiling
The acceleration on Te Rehutai as they slip into another gear.
© 2021 Gilles Martin-Raget

Italy made gains on the second leg downwind but unfortunately jibed at the gate under the wind shadow of the Kiwi boat and lost significant ground that they were never able to recapture.

ETNZ got an excellent start. The breeze shifted right immediately after they hit the line. The Kiwis took advantage of that shift, but Luna Rossa hung in there and regained the lead briefly before losing the first cross. From then on ETNZ shut the door, never giving the Italians a sniff of their blazingly fast foiling monohull.

The old saying goes that the faster boat always wins the America’s Cup. That is certainly the case again. Te Retuhai improved from race to race, and the Kiwis sailed better as the series continued and made no mistakes for the Italians to take advantage of.

As well as Luna Rossa sailed, the few little hiccups occurred at critical times, with little mistakes here and there. The Kiwis made them pay for each one!

As soon as ETNZ crossed the finish line Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill offered immediate congratulations and well-wishes. “Full credit to Team New Zealand,” said Spithill. “They developed a fantastic package and are deservedly the champions. We all need to have a beer with those guys!”

“Watched on the telly from afar, but the team in spirit all the way,” weighed in New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “Thank you, Team New Zealand. Through such a hard year, you provided us with such optimism and excitement. You made us proud!”

The NZ government has committed funding toward the next America’s Cup, on the condition that the next defense is held in New Zealand. Rumors run rampant about opportunities elsewhere. When pressed by NBC commentator Shirley Robertson, ETNZ’s CEO Grant Dalton was noncommittal in his response, coyly dodging it by answering, “You wouldn’t expect me to answer that at this moment, would you?”

Whispering aside, it has been all but confirmed that the Royal Yacht Squadron, represented by INEOS Team UK in AC 36, will be the next Challenger of Record.

“We have been getting messages from the Prime Minister to high school kids,” said Peter Burling, ETNZ helmsman. “It just means the world to us as a team. We have been learning all week, and today we really showed what this boat can do. So to win on home waters is something our entire team is incredibly proud of.”

Burling and his Olympic ‘wingman’ Blair Tuke burst onto the America’s Cup scene in 2013, winning the Red Bull Youth AC in San Francisco. Then they won in Bermuda in 2017 in dominant fashion. Now, with this win, he has cemented his legacy as one of the great skippers in the 170-year history of this event.

Italy acquitted themselves extremely well by keeping the Match even after the first three race days, which is unprecedented and defying the odds, with a new America’s Cup Class by not getting blown out at the outset. “We went out this morning determined to win two races and confident that we could do so,” said Max Sirena, Luna Rossa’s team director. “The boys on board were incredibly motivated and focused, and it wasn’t easy for them. They started well, but unfortunately right after the start the wind shifted 20 degrees and compromised the first downwind leg, and at that point the rest of the race.

“Obviously we aren’t happy with the final results. After you have won three races in the America’s Cup you start believing that you can do it. We have given our very best every day out on the water,” said Sirena. “I want to thank everyone in Italy who has supported us throughout these incredible nights. And I want to thank the team, who has worked with me for over three years. I thank Patrizio Bertelli for the opportunity he has given me. These three and a half years have been unforgettable.”

It has been quite a task for regatta director Iain Murray to pick out racecourses in extremely challenging and tricky weather conditions that were light for the most part, but also keeping the local fans engaged with viewing opportunities on water as well as on shore.

Racing along the Auckland cityfront
The America’s Cup hits the fan-friendly stadium course, with Auckland in the background.
© 2021 Studio Borlenghi / ACE

Racing was postponed for a short time at the start until the breezes could fill in throughout the racecourse. “We set the course in Area A, but brought it as far south as we could in order to try and make the best of the compression area for the wind in the Rangitoto Channel,” said Murray.

ETNZ has won the America’s Cup for New Zealand for the fourth time — technically, winning the Auld Mug twice and defending it twice. It was a spectacular achievement for the team and for the yacht club they represent, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Another confirmation that in sailing in the Southern Hemisphere, a country of 5 million people can punch way above its weight.

Luna Rossa’s story is far from over. Sirena confirmed that Prada boss Bertelli is committed to carry the team forward. “It is not finished and with all this experience in the team we will try again,” said Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni. “Thank you Italia, grazie Italia.”

The celebrations began onboard after the Kiwis crossed the finish line and will continue on throughout the night after the prize-giving. “What a beauty! Time to enjoy it. To win the America’s Cup on home waters was unbelievable!” said Tuke.

Celebration onboard
The Moët Champagne moment for the Kiwi crew aboard their rocketship AC75.
© 2021 Studio Borlenghi / ACE

After winning the Cup in Bermuda in 2017, Dalton wanted to create a new America’s Cup Class, to promote fast, close and exhilarating sailing. With the AC75 they have achieved this and more, changing the perception of yacht racing forever. It looks as if these foiling monohulls will be coming back for an encore in the 37th America’s Cup. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

We’ll have more in the April issue of Latitude 38, coming out on March 31.



  1. Jim, SV Cheyenne 3 years ago

    The foiling monohulls are fascinating and impressive machines. But for the most part, the windward/leeward racing in such a confined course is not nearly as interesting. In honor of the original race around the Isle of Wright, future races should be required to go around a sizable island as part of the race course. That would improve spectating opportunities, improve the background scenery for the cameras, add more passing lanes and uncertainty to the outcome after the start, and probably make it all much more relatable to non-sailors.

    • Mark Reid 3 years ago

      I would like to see a longer, wider racecourse next time with maybe 8 legs. Races should be 35 minutes or so. That would still allow TV to stay on their 2 hour broadcast window. We will find out more in the next month or two about 37th America’s Cup. I’m thinking it will be in 2023/24. I think it will be close to Larry Ellison’s vision of holding Round Robins and Eliminations in Portsmouth and Finals + Match in Auckland.

    • Regan C. Matus, Wayne, Pa. 3 years ago

      I think that is a great idea, the race would benefit from including the original concepts.

  2. Jose Kanusee 3 years ago

    I hadn’t before missed an AC race, dating back to 1983. Once the foiling became the thing, haven’t seen (nor cared to watch) another race.

    • Mark Reid 3 years ago

      Sorry to here that. I grew up in the 12-Meter era and the most spectacular racing in my life was in Fremantle, WA in 1986/87. Also, it was fun having 3 teams here that spring training and racing!
      I do enjoy the new foiling monohull Cup Class. That is what the young sailors in our sport are in to. They like the speed! I know the NYYC American Magic team was hoping to return racing to displacement boats, but their effort was a bit disjointed and when the capsized it was over. Give it a watch though. All the races are on You Tube. Watch Prada Cup Round Robin 1 Day 3. The action is incredible!

    • Ron Turner 3 years ago

      Oh dear.

  3. Christopher Ashley 3 years ago

    I think this is the best AC series ever. The foiling monohulls are amazing. However, I am very disappointed in the NBC Sports Network. They carried the Christmas Series and the Prada Cup Series but during the actual AC I was only able to see/record race 1 thru 4. What happened? Is seems they stopped covering it when there was a day where racing was aborted due to low winds. I hope they don’t do that with Formula 1 racing that starts this month!

  4. Laurie Fullerton 3 years ago

    Great coverage Mark! Thank you.

  5. Bill chambers 3 years ago

    I have watched AC back to 1983 huge fan of stars and stripes and Dennis Conner who made me love to watch the AC racing and very proud of the Kiwis team . I would hope they would make the course much larger and more legs to watch. Keep it going love AC racing

  6. Chuck Greene 3 years ago

    Would love to see the old rules back in play again… Boat, sails, materials, and afterguard, all from the country of origin. Anyone tempted to buy into these ‘New’ rules may not realize they mostly benefit New Zealand. So tired of seeing American afterguard composed entirely of aged sailors from Australia or New Zealand. We must grow our on if we’re ever to succeed in this sport again.

  7. A Daoud 3 years ago

    Lets race all class boats and keep everyone happy. Why not.. cheers

  8. Timothy Otterbach 3 years ago

    I have watched all the America Cup Races since the 60’s in Newport, except for the Debacle on the Bay in SF.
    I look forward to the next challenge with eager anticipation, and trust the Race Commitee and their leadership will establish a longer triangular or rectangular course, perhaps a 45 minutes to 1 hour race, with more legs, giving both the crews and the boats greater challenges, and the world-wide spectators a more exciting competition. Also, It would be great to watch 4, 5, 6 or even seven boats all racing simultaneously for the cup!

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