We’ve got Barker, they’ve got the edge

September 7, 2013

This post first appeared on the NZ Herald

It seems like it has been a long time building to this point, but finally we are ready to go racing. Despite all the drama and controversy that has marred the build-up to this America’s Cup, there has never been so much expectation and intrigue attached to an opening race.

We’ve heard a lot over the past few weeks over the design merits of each team’s boat, but not a lot about the guys charged with getting them around the race course.

Dean Barker has no reason to fear Jimmy Spithill.

He wiped the floor with Spithill when they met in the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup final, and I think that was the coming of age for Barker.

The two are quite different helmsmen. From a boat-handling perspective I think Barker has some God-given gifts around the startline in terms of the way he sees the picture. The way he turns the boat up to the line and his time on distance judgment is impressive.

Spithill is a bit more gung-ho, he’s likely to take more risks and be a bit more aggressive.

I don’t buy the line that Oracle Team USA are the underdogs. That is just a PR device to try to drum up sympathy to their cause from the American public.

They are the holders of the America’s Cup, it’s their regatta, their rules. They won it in 2010 in a multihull with a wingsail and have all that knowledge to draw on from that campaign.

They’ve got huge resources and manpower and a lot of smart people involved in their programme.

Events in recent weeks, with the hearings over the cheating and misconduct cases, will have had a destabilising effect on the team.

They have had to deal with a lot of disruptions and a lot of uncertainty. But in the end, if they’ve got the better boat, they’ll win.

Which is not to say boat speed will be the only deciding factor in this regatta.

These are only 25-minute races. Emphasis on boat speed was a lot more when they were 90-minute races; now starts and manoeuvres will be very important.

Within the first six minutes of a race the teams will have that reaching start, rounded the first mark and performed about three gybes before hitting the bottom mark.

Then they’ve got that tough gate rounding at the bottom mark. That’s a lot going on in a short space of time for the crew – and as we’ve seen in the Louis Vuitton races, the speed of these boats means a small error in boathandling can cost a team 100m.

So the team’s ability to manoeuvre the boat, particularly the foiling gybes, and get around the corners will be very important.

The ’88 Battle Flag

September 2, 2013

Thanks to Jack Soper for digging up this neat old flag from 1988 BIG Boat Challenge in San Diego


Decision on Oracle will reach into all sports

August 31, 2013

This post first appeared in the NZ Herald

The big news in the America’s Cup world this week is not what has been happening out on the water in the youth fleet, but what has been going on behind closed doors in the jury room.

The international jury has been working for weeks to get to the bottom of the allegations that Oracle Team USA cheated during the World Series regattas by making illegal modifications to their boats. Hopefully by early next week we will have a resolution to this debacle.

While it’s big news in the sailing community, I’m not sure the public have quite twigged how serious this case is. I don’t really blame them – the America’s Cup has a chequered history of jury protests and events being stalled as two sides are wrapped up in litigation over minutiae. On the surface it probably appears this is just another example.

But this is different. This is a sporting issue and every sports fan should be interested in the outcome.

We’re talking about cheating – a team that have, in the words of the measurement committee, deliberately circumvented the rules. The implications reach far wider than the America’s Cup, with Oracle fronting a hearing into whether they have brought the sport into disrepute.

The question the jury will be grappling with, if Oracle are found to have acted improperly, is also a question for the whole sporting world. What do you do with individuals and organisations that are found to have cheated? Whether it’s doping, using illegal equipment or breaching the salary cap, how do you send out the message that cheating is not tolerated, knowing you are also dealing with people’s lives? Because for the sailors involved, this could be career-ending.

I’ve been impressed by how thorough the jury has been with this case. They’ve been under the pump to get a decision out and resolve this whole mess, but they haven’t hurried it. We can be confident the jury is independent and its final decision will be well thought out – I don’t know if we could have said the same in 2007, after some of the shenanigans that went on there. In this Cup cycle, not all decisions have gone the way of Team New Zealand by any means, but the jury is doing an excellent job of applying the rules in a fair and consistent manner.

It’s especially important with this case that the jury members are thorough, as their processes and decision-making will really be put under the microscope at the end of this. I wouldn’t mind betting this will be used as a case study for all sports in years to come.

There’s also the danger that if Oracle are unhappy with the outcome, this could end up at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, because the implications will be so massive.

On the sailing front, next week we’ve got the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup kicking off. I’m infuriated the America’s Cup has been hijacked by these sideshows. I don’t mind the world series and youth events, but let’s be clear – it’s not the America’s Cup. To brand it that way is a bit of a cover-up for the main event not attracting any entries.

It’s great to see the young guys out there ripping around in AC45s, but we need to keep it in context; it’s a class regatta in 45-foot catamarans, just as the world series was.

Flaws have upside for crew confidence

August 24, 2013

This post first appeared on NZ Herald.

With the exception of a couple of early hiccups for Team New Zealand, the Louis Vuitton finals have played out pretty much as we expected it to: Team NZ have been slick; Luna Rossa have battled.

As much as I would have liked to have seen a more competitive finals series, that hasn’t happened, so the best thing that can happen now is to get the finals wrapped up this weekend without any further delays.

They aren’t being put under any real pressure from the Italians, so it is in Team NZ’s interests to get this thing finished, get back into their own environment and start preparing for the America’s Cup.

I assume they’ve got a couple of final tweaks to make to their boat, so the sooner they can get on to those and get in a few more training days on the water, the better.

For fans watching at home, Team NZ’s nosedive in race one made some people nervous about how they would fare at the rest of the regatta. It didn’t help that the next day the team had a hydraulic breakdown that put them out of the second race.

After such a smooth run through the round robin, I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing for Team NZ to have a few curveballs thrown their way at this point.

Going back to the 32nd America’s Cup in Valencia, the Kiwi team were fantastic when they beat Luna Rossa 5-0, but they probably sailed their best races in the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2007. When they got to the Cup match they didn’t sail poorly, but a couple of things happened that had an unsettling effect and threw them off their stride early on.

Hopefully what has happened here in the first couple of races means they’ve gone through that period earlier. For sure, it has been disruptive for the team, but these hurdles can only keep them sharp for the Cup match.

Again, while the nosedive incident was frightening for spectators, one of the positives of what happened in the first race is that the boat saved the team. The hulls were placed under some enormous loads and didn’t break, with the exception of the fairing, which was cosmetic.

They’ve always been confident in their boat, but the incident has reinforced that Aotearoa is a boat they can trust and can push hard. They know it’s not going to bite them.

I don’t know if you can say the same about the defender.

Oracle Team USA haven’t been out in a lot of wind, and they’ve capsized one boat, which has got to make you nervous. Whereas Team NZ know if something happens as it did in race one, they know they’ve survived it and been able to keep going around the course. For that, we’ve got to give huge props to the backroom guys – the designers, the engineers, the builders, the guys who monitor the boat and the shore crew that maintain it.

Probably what has impressed me the most is their attention to detail. Because in the end the little bits make up a big chunk.

Finally getting down to the nitty gritty

August 17, 2013

This post was first published by the NZ Herald.

After a long, farcical challenger series, we are mercifully finally getting down to the nitty gritty in the Louis Vuitton Cup.

While it is tempting to hope for a Team New Zealand walkover, in reality the best thing for Dean Barker and his crew at this point is to get in some close, competitive races. It is vitally important to their chances of taking out the America’s Cup that the Louis Vuitton finals is more competitive than what we saw in the round robin.

Fortunately Luna Rossa appeared to step things up in the semifinals against Artemis – both mechanically and with their crew-work. The Italians have made a couple of subtle modifications to their boat, including putting new foil tips in, while they’ve cut back on those ugly boat handling mistakes they were making in the early rounds.

The crew now look much more comfortable sailing the boat, and over the course of the semifinals Luna Rossa’s percentage of foiling gybes improved significantly.

But the Italians themselves recognise that they are massive underdogs against Team NZ, who have really set the benchmark during this whole campaign. Since first lining up in the final of the 2000 America’s Cup in Auckland, Luna Rossa have never taken a point off Team NZ. As skipper Max Sirena noted in yesterday’s press conference – simply winning a point will be a big step forward for the team.

While the Italians have made gains, Team NZ have also moved their boat along over the past couple of weeks and it will be interesting to see whether they show their full hand during the Louis Vuitton finals, or whether they hold a little bit back for a Cup match-up.

I had the privilege of going out on the water with the team last week and it is incredibly exciting with where they are taking things with this boat.

In the past at this point in the campaign you’d see teams take the throttle off and focus on making sure the boat is reliable rather than pushing for more performance. But this time around the gains to be made are so significant – we’re talking taking quantum leaps forward – that we’ll be seeing teams continue to roll out new stuff on their boat right up to next month’s big showdown. That one last push could be the game changer.

Of course Oracle Team USA aren’t sitting still either, they had their boat back in the shed for 3-4 days last week and have emerged with a new aerodynamic package that incorporates the forward section of the boat and the bowsprit, taking a step forward again in terms of reducing drag.

It will be interesting to see if Team New Zealand now follow suit – I think they have to. It could only take the smallest of tweaks to their aerodynamic and hydrodynamic systems to find the breakthrough.

While all this is going on Oracle are also dealing with an investigation into their operations after they were found to have cheated during the AC45 regattas. The international jury are now trying to get to the bottom of how deep this thing goes and the fall-out could be serious. There’ll be a lot more come of this is the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime, I think there needs to be an independent review on the AC72 measurement procedure.

The measurement committee is under pressure and I think it would be worth getting an independent body in and audit their work, and make sure it has considered different options. I’m not questioning the committee’s integrity by any stretch but sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes.

Given Oracle have been caught out on the 45s, public confidence needs to be restored that they’re not hiding anything on their big boat.

Do you tweet?

August 13, 2013

Follow me on Twitter – @peterlesterNZL

First Week in SFO

August 9, 2013

I’ve now been in San Francisco for just over a week. The racing area for the Louis Vuitton and America’s Cup is a lot smaller than I expected, I just wonder if 10 challengers had of turned up how would’ve they been able train, test and race in the confined space between the City front, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge?

I’ve managed to spend time at Emirates Team New Zealand with Joey Allen and Grant Dalton. They have been helpful and willing to pass on their vast experience and knowledge getting me up to speed with the racing their AC 72.

There has now been two races in the Louis Vuitton semifinals between Luna Rossa and Artemis. Prior to the start in the first race LR had a problem with a split in the fabric covering the wing sail. By the time LR had repaired the damage they had run out of pre start preparation time resulting in a late pre start entry. Artemis’s Nathan Outtridge took advantage at the start and was leading at 1st mark by 5 seconds. At the first gybe AR lost the lead to LR when LR was able to complete a lovely foiling gybe to pass Artemus. AR inability to foil gybe looks like being their main weakness. On the first up wind leg AR closed to within five boat lengths by the third mark only to loose ground on leg 4. That was the end for AR, LR went on to win the first race of the semifinals by 1.57 seconds.

Race 2 was a walkover to LR, off the line it was again AR who we’re dominant after Chris Draper made a prestart error gifting the advantage to AR. LR made the pass on the first gybe again, LR went on to win by a comfortable margin 2.06. LR bottom mark lay line judgments were poor.

Points of interest that I’ll be looking out for on Fri. Chris Draper has limited match race experience and he must be under pressure from with in LR to improve his starts. He has not won a start so far in the LVC, I just wonder if Francesco Bruni might be a better starting helm option for LR.

For Artemus just completing race one was surely an achievement. In race two Artemis again showed their inability to gybe which effectively gifted the race to LR. Improved gybing technique, would give AR a chance of getting a win against LR

Tune in on Friday


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