The joke going around the 34th America’s Cup this morning likened the media center to Hotel California, you can check in but you can never check out. While scribes, photogs and TV folk from around the world scramble daily to change their departure plans, today’s postponement of Race 14 offers a chance to take stock of where the match stands.
On the scoreboard its simple: Emirates Team New Zealand needs one win, one bloody win to capture the America’s Cup. ORACLE TEAM USA needs six wins to retain the trophy it won in 2010. Back on Sept. 9, the first scheduled off day of the 34th America’s Cup, we suggested that the longer the series dragged out the better it was for the defender, and that’s proving true.
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ORACLE TEAM USA skipper Jimmy Spithill admitted that Emirates Team New Zealand had a speed advantage at the beginning of the match, particularly upwind, but the defender seems to have overcome that advantage. How? There are two converging scenarios.
First, the defender went to school on the Kiwis, who were far ahead in crew maneuvers and outright speed when the match started. The discrepancy between the teams makes one wonder what the defender was doing for four months in its two-boat testing, but that point is moot now. The challenger and defender are dead even in boatspeed, with the edge going to the lead boat, the lead dog. It’s always good to be the lead dog because you can chose your points on the racecourse to cover or sail for a wind shift.
The defender has also smoothed out its crew maneuvers and tactics, and that can be attributed to bringing Ben Ainslie aboard and also going to school on the challenger’s boathandling and tactics. ORACLE TEAM USA bottomed out at 16.8 knots in a tack in Race 12. Conversely, the Kiwis bottomed out at 13.6 knots in a tack. That’s a significant difference in a maneuver, aided by the handling of the daggerfoils.
ORACLE TEAM USA’s jump in boatspeed can’t all be attributed to watching tape of its rival. The AC72 relies on the wing sail to harness the wind and the hydrofoils to propel it through the water. As Artemis Racing design team member Adam May noted last month, “If you want to change the mode of the boat in any way, the foils are the big-ticket item.” ORACLE TEAM USA looks to have a real speed advantage when foiling upwind, as evidenced by the 32 knots boatspeed in 16 knots of wind in Thursday’s Race 12 win. Dockside scuttlebutt suggests the team has changed the angle of attack of the foils and also changed the technique of the wing trim.
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Dockside scuttlebutt also suggests that the Kiwis have sapped every bit of speed possible from their AC72, but that hasn’t stopped them from looking for more. This week alone the Kiwis have alternately chopped down the fairings on the front crossbeam, added them back the next day and then chopped them down again yesterday.
“At the end of the day there’s a set of forces acting on the boat,” said Kiwi designer Nick Holroyd. “Any time you generate lift there’s a certain amount of drag that comes with it. We’re just looking at those equations and how to generate those forces most efficiently.”
A look at the match stats reveals some interesting numbers. Emirates Team New Zealand has posted the fastest outright speed, 47.02 knots in Race 8, and ORACLE TEAM USA has posted the fastest elapsed time, 21 minutes and 53 seconds, in Race 9 on a 10.02-nautical-mile course. (Note: The course length has varied slightly from race to race, ranging from 9.71 to 10.27 nautical miles.)
Races 4, 10 and 11 rank in the top 10 of closest finishes in America’s Cup Match history, and tomorrow the match will tie the 2003 America’s Cup for longest in history at 16 days.
As time marches on, Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker is putting forth a calm front. He and tactician Ray Davies kept reminding everyone at Friday’s press conference that the odds are in their favor to win the America’s Cup; needing just one win to the defender’s six. But if the match extends much longer, the folks at Emirates Team New Zealand might feel like they’ve checked into Hotel California.