America’s Cup

url - America's CupMy answer to What did Oracle Team USA do to their boats over the last eight races to beat Emirates Team New Zealand …

This was my first time seeing a match-sailing series and it just happened to be one of the greatest sporting comebacks in history.  So enthralling was this event that Larry Ellison missed his keynote at OracleWorld to watch the event.  I won’t judge but it was a spectacle.  These boats literally flew past the spectators on shore.  When you bankroll these boats to the tune of $100 million, there seems to be nothing that these giants can’t do with their top speed of over 50pmh.  Anyway, I digress.  Team New Zealand got out to a quick 4-1 lead after five races mostly due to the fact that they were faster against the raw wind.  By all accounts, Oracle Team USA should not have won.  To regroup, the Oracle postponed the sixth race for 48 hours.  During this time, Oracle brought in a new tactician, Sir Ben Ainslie (the British four-time Olympic gold medalist) and went to work on making a better boat.

When the race started up again, the Oracle boat was harder to maneuver and the improvements were not all that much of a change.  Team Oracle ended up outpacing Team New Zealand upwind.  However, Team New Zealand was a formidable competitor and won 2 of the next 4 races.  Team New Zealand was within one race of winning but Team Oracle made the boat better after each race to put together a ridiculous run of winning 8 races in a row.

Team Oracle won because of 2 things – technology and tactics.

Team New Zealand’s boat was further up its design evolution ladder than Oracle’s when the race began because of an Oracle boat accident last year.  This caused the New Zealand boat to have more actual water time as opposed to practice.  More importantly, it was probably as fine tuned as it could be so improvements were slight.  Alternatively, at the start of race 6, Oracle’s boat had a shorter bowsprit (the pole sticking out in front) and other modifications that were well within the rules by the race committee.  Also, being that the boat is funded by one of the largest technology companies in history, the team crunched the ‘big data’ that was collected during each race (about 3,000 variables are recorded ten times a second) and created virtual models with a supercomputer, mathematicians and designers.

In spite of a better boat, the improvement was not yet decisive. While the Oracle boat was faster, it was harder to maneuver.  That meant that the sailing crew were more likely to make mistakes than the slick New Zealand outfit.  Undoubtedly, the Oracle guys were sailing the boat better than ever and making hardly any mistakes. Mr Spithill was dominating the starts against Dean Barker (his opposite number on the New Zealand boat) and the afterguard of Sir Ben and Tom Slingsby (an Australian Olympic gold-medal winner) had formed an impressive rapport and was calling all the right shots.  The knowledge that the team was learning to sail an ever impressive boat was destroying the morale of New Zealand’s team.

Oracle used both tactics and technology to foil upwind at 30 knots with extraordinary stability.  In short, it was an extraordinary team effort in the face of adversity that won the 34th America’s Cup: it took old-fashioned sporting qualities to find and exploit what became a decisive technical edge.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.