Since Gavin Newsom walked down the steps of San Francisco City Hall with Larry Ellison three years ago to announce that the 34th America’s Cup would be held in the great city of San Francisco, I’ve been following what would become of this great tradition. Around since 1851, I’m not sure anyone has ever seen match racing like this, nor have they ever seen a comeback the likes of what Oracle Team USA just pulled off.
I keep watching the YouTube videos of the races, the press conferences, the post-race analyses over and over. There were no shortage of issues, mistakes, and controversies during this America’s Cup. But despite all of it, I’m so excited to be a part of it.
With the America’s Cup, there’s a lot to hate. And that’s probably what upsets me the most.
To start it off, Oracle Team USA was penalized 2 points (meaning they start at negative 2 points in the racing) due to a crew error in last year’s America’s Cup World Series (think of that like the “world championships of swimming” versus the “olympics of swimming”). Regardless of what happened, the issue was discovered by the Oracle team, disclosed to the race officials, and Oracle voluntarily forfeited any races where that boat was used — and in turn, the America’s Cup World Series championship.
But beyond the 2 points, which is clearly moot at this point… we all thought the AC72 boats were a bad idea. They’re too big. They’re too dangerous. No one can afford to race them. And while most of that is true, they provided just spectacular racing. Take this, in contrast to the 2010 America’s Cup (AC33). There were only 2 very long (~40 mile) races, and if you screwed up the start on one, you didn’t have many chances to fix it. AC34 was a best of 17 (which became best of 19) series, and that’s where the beauty lies. Oracle Team USA didn’t have the best, or the fastest, boat at the beginning of the series. But with 17 (19) races, there’s a lot of time for adjustment. And the adjustments that Oracle has done to foil upwind were just spectacular.
In 2010 (AC33), Oracle figured out that they could build a trimaran within the rules. They did so to spectacular advantage which ended up giving them the Cup by all accounts. In contrast, Emirates Team New Zealand was the first to figure out they could foil in this year’s AC72 boats. And they later admitted — “we shouldn’t have told the Americans we were foiling as early as we did.” The difference came when Oracle Team USA figured out how to foil upwind.
For those that don’t know about foiling, it is a technique where you can balance the boat on a surf board sized platform extending from the daggerboard. It makes the boat look like its flying. And by doing so, you gain about 15% more speed. Emirates Team New Zealand tried upwind foiling in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, and Oracle Team USA quickly noticed and decided they needed to do it too.
After being down 8-1 (that’s 8 wins for Emirates Team New Zealand to 3 wins for Oracle Team USA), it was clear the Americans needed to do something new. So they figured out how to foil upwind. How they did it? No one really knows yet. But it made the difference.
Regardless of all the technical amazingness, the whole regatta was amazing. We thought it would be a blow out. It wasn’t. We thought the boats were too dangerous to sail. They weren’t. In fact, they provided some of the best match racing in a 25-minute course you’ll ever see. While boats broke all the time during the Louis Vuitton Cup, there wasn’t a single breakdown during the America’s Cup.
And the fact that a team that was down 8-1 could come back to win the America’s Cup 9-8 is just truly spectacular. San Francisco was the perfect venue, and inshore racing with real spectators is the future of the America’s Cup. I hope more people get into racing. I hope that James Spithill and Ben Ainslie and Dean Barker and the rest of the amazing athletes of the America’s Cup competitors inspire a new generation of sailors. I hope more kids sail Lasers or Hobby Catamarans. In fact, I may just go out and sail one this weekend…
Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget