The right stuff

Bermuda (BDA) - 35th America's Cup Bermuda 2017 - America's Cup Match Presented by Louis Vuitton, Day 5 - Emirates Team New Zealand, Emirates, New Zealand Prizegiving

Skipper Glenn Ashby, helm Peter Burling, flight controller Blair Tuke, and the rest of the Emirates Team New Zealand squad put on a masterful performance in Bermuda over the past month to win the America’s Cup on Monday afternoon.

The explosion of joy across New Zealand surely reverberated through the oceans all the way to Bermuda. This was a team flying high on the hopes of a nation.

So how did they do it? Was it they cyclors? Was it the kinky foils? The X-box wing controller?

What made the winning difference over ORACLE TEAM USA? 

Nathan Outteridge on key differences between Challenger and Defender

 

The answer of course is all of it. A winning America’s Cup team is much more than the sum of its parts.

Credit must be given to the innovative design features that gave Emirates Team New Zealand a speed edge in the light to moderate conditions the teams faced for all nine races. Their control system was immaculate, giving the sailors confidence in all of their maneuvers.

It was the right tool in the hands of some of the hottest sailors on the planet. 

Burling and Tuke must be considered generational talents. Both are in their mid-20s, with Olympic silver and gold medals to their credit, World Sailors of the Year, and now America’s Cup winners. These are very special sailors. So too is skipper Glenn Ashby, who has too many world championships in multihull classes to count.

But a great deal of credit for this win must go to Burling, the 13-time world champion, who was helming in his first America’s Cup.

 

More people have walked on the moon than have steered a foiling America’s Cup Class boat in a race over the past two America’s Cups (Burling, Dean Barker, Franck Cammas, Ben Ainslie, Nathan Outteridge, Chris Draper and Jimmy Spithill) and yet Burling stepped into his role with aplomb.

By all accounts he is hard-working, humble, curious, and with an engineering background, he can speak with the designers in their own language, a significant advantage in the highly technical modern America’s Cup.

While various pundits thought his youth and inexperience might be a limiting factor, Burling met every challenge in his own laconic style. And on Monday, he was an America’s Cup winner.

“I’ve grown up watching this competition as a fan and to be a Kiwi taking the America’s Cup home is a dream come true.

“To be able to win this event at such a young age is an unreal feeling. However, I’m just a tiny part of a massive team and it is incredible to be able to reward the hard work of those hundreds of people who have supported us, not only here but back home in New Zealand as well.”

© Ricardo Pinto

Like his rival on ORACLE TEAM USA, Jimmy Spithill, young Burling was always quick to credit his team for the success, to the point where his tributes to the ‘shore team’ became a ritualized feature of every post-race press conference.

The desire to deflect credit to the larger team is a trait Burling and Spithill share. It is almost impossible to get either of them to speak about themselves. It is a measure of both men’s characters that they are such devoted teammates.

True to character, they fought each other to the end on the water and then praised each other when the battle was over, their teams even sharing a beer (or three) at the Kiwi base at the end of racing.

Both have the right stuff to be winners. But in the America’s Cup, there can only be one.

For this entire Cup season in Bermuda, it has felt as though Emirates Team New Zealand had a good shot at winning the America’s Cup. The boat has been fast from the beginning and the team has improved how it sails with each hour on the water.

But more than that, it felt as though this time, the stars were aligned for the team.

If at the last America’s Cup in San Francisco, the team missed winning a deciding race when the time limit expired as the wind died, this time, Team New Zealand had all five race days in their favored wind range. Today, the day after the match has been decided, ORACLE TEAM USA fans will bemoan the fact the wind is 14-17 knots.

If last time it was ORACLE TEAM USA making a last gasp wing repair that miraculously held up for the final, deciding race, this time it was the Kiwis who only lost one point when they capsized, because it happened in the second race of the day, not the first, and they then picked up an extra 24-hours to effect repairs when strong winds didn’t allow racing the following day.

If last time, it was destined for ORACLE TEAM USA to win the America’s Cup with a historical comeback, this time, it was Emirates Team New Zealand who had the right stuff to reel off 8 race wins for a comprehensive 7-1 victory.

The better team won. The America’s Cup is going back to New Zealand. A nation celebrates its heroes, the sailors with the right stuff.

@CupScribe