1. A solid defence
It appears from the outside, Team NZ did everything right to build a campaign that would successfully defend the America’s Cup. Not an easy feat, especially when you throw in a global pandemic.
They had continuity – keeping virtually all of the winning team from Bermuda in 2017. They had innovation – once again creating the fastest boat (even if they had a little head start in drawing up the AC75 rule, a perk of being the defender).
And they continued to build on Team NZ’s legendary team culture, which began back with Sir Peter Blake in 1995.
While the defenders had Peter Burling – already one of the world’s most successful sailors at 30 – he was part of a strong five-man afterguard, alongside sail controller Glenn Ashby, foil controller Blair Tuke, offside trimmer Josh Junior and onside trimmer Andy Maloney.
Continually ‘learning’ – Burling’s most often-used word in this campaign – his skills in the start box up against the master Jimmy Spithill, improved during the match, and he got better at wrangling the foiling beast every race.
But he won’t take the credit for Team NZ’s historic victory. On the day Burling’s parents were going up North Head to watch racing, I asked why they didn’t get one of Team NZ’s chase boats to pick them up on the way back from the racecourse. “We don’t have that kind of pull, and Pete would never ask,” his father, Richard said. “He’s just one of the team – he doesn’t ask for favours and doesn’t expect them.”
2. Back to the future
The AC75s were the right choice for the latest evolution in America’s Cup yachts. Team NZ promised to take the Cup back to monohulls after a generation of multis, but created a foiling boat like no one had set eyes on before.
They proved they can match race, turn on a dime in the start box, complete a six-leg race without the hull touching the water, and hit speeds over 50 knots.
“These boats are absolutely phenomenal. For the first generation of the AC75s, I think they are a beautiful boat – beautiful looking, beautiful at rest, beautiful in anger,” Team NZ trimmer Glenn Ashby says. “They tick so many boxes.”
3. Safe as houses
Very little difficult weather meant there wasn’t a lot of damage to the AC75s – other than the dramatic capsize of American Magic’s Patriot. And even then, the sailors were thankfully unhurt when the boat flipped.
These yachts proved safer than the foiling catamarans before them. And the fear that they may come at each other doing 40 knots and lock foils – resulting in carnage – was never an issue with a virtual boundary encircling each boat.
4. Creating the dream course
The vision of Team NZ’s CEO Grant Dalton was to take this Cup to the people. He battled authorities to use the Stadium Course – Course C – inside the Waitemata Harbour, and it provided the best racing of the Prada and America’s Cup (the nine lead-change duel between the Brits and the Italians; the Race 9 showdown won in the final leg by Team NZ in the Cup match).
Sadly, there wasn’t enough of it – it was only used in a south-westerly, which blew once during the Cup match.
But the few times it featured, thousands of Aucklanders took advantage of ring-side seats without the need of a boat.
5. A peculiar summer
Auckland turned it on this summer, and the world – in particular the seven million Italians in lockdown who tuned in every night of the match – saw it in all its glory. Through both the Prada and America’s Cups, only one day was lost to the weather (not enough wind). That’s a far cry from the weather dramas in the 2000 and 2003 Cups here.
The one disappointment? Not seeing what the victorious Te Rehutai could do in wind at the higher end of the scale, where she was expected to be in a class of her own.
6. The absence of women
There were some incredible women involved in running this America’s Cup – from Tina Symmans chairing the America’s Cup Event (ACE) to event manager Carmen White and assistant race director Melanie Roberts – but there were no females in any of the four sailing crews in Auckland.
There’s no real reason for it. Yes, the boats need burly grinders to generate power, but there are other roles in the crew that don’t require brute force. But then again, imagine Lisa Carrington on the handles…
It’s time to introduce a rule in the America’s Cup – as there now is in the Ocean Race and Sail GP – that each team must have at least one female sailor on board the race boats.
7. The curse of a pandemic
Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the America’s Cup regatta, but in a second-hand way.
Closed borders meant hundreds of superyachts and thousands of spectators, team supporters and media weren’t able to come into the country. Lockdowns and changing alert levels affected some of the off-the-water events and limited the number of people coming through the Cup village. A community outbreak of Covid in Auckland delayed the start of the Cup match by four days.
The pandemic cancelled so many racing opportunities. The World Series events in Cagliari and Portsmouth were cancelled, meaning less time for teams to get accustomed to racing these new boats. There was no Youth America’s Cup, which would have allowed more young yachtswomen to get involved in the event.
It’s hard to know yet just how much money the New Zealand economy lost. But the fact that Auckland was able to host a live sports event on the scale of the America’s Cup is still mind-boggling.
8. The cost of a campaign
Before Covid was even a word, there were only three challengers who would go the distance and compete in Auckland. They were all strong teams, but sailing’s pinnacle event needs a more global representation.
The cost of building and entering a team in the America’s Cup remains hugely expensive. The price tag for a challenger was between $100-150 million, which is often the case when you introduce a new class. But keeping the same class of boat for the next Cup reduces the cost and helps close the gap between teams.
One of the heftiest expenses for a team is swallowed up by design, creating the hulls, foils and sails – around 70 percent of a team’s budget. Team NZ had 35 designers in a team of around 120.
The rule deigning the hulls of America’s Cup boats must be made in the nation of the challenging yacht club needs to be reconsidered – so emerging teams can buy some of the eight existing AC75s to either learn from or race in the next Cup.
9. Gracious losers
Luna Rossa put together the most successful Italian team in the America’s Cup, taking out three races in the first-to-seven match.
While the behind-the scenes politics between the defender and challenger was a distraction, it fortunately didn’t affect what transpired on the water. Luna Rossa gathered speed throughout the Prada Cup, and their superb crew-work pushed Team NZ every day of the fiercely contested match, forcing the Kiwis to come up with new strategies – including how to sail in the start box – to shake them off.
The Italians opened their base to media every day to watch the sailing team leave the dock. And Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni were outstanding in their daily interaction with reporters (Spithill still comes out with the best lines).
10. The biggest bid
In the aftermath of every America’s Cup there are rumours that swirl like emptying bathwater. This time it’s a one-off Deed of Gift match in England next year with INEOS Team UK.
It’s hard to see it happening – but maybe it’s setting a new path for the America’s Cup, with events held in the country of the highest bidder?
Well, it’s already trending that way. Bids have now closed to overseas cities interested in hosting the next Cup, and the New Zealand government and Auckland Council have three months to try to seal a deal to keep it here.
With funding in place, New Zealand could hold the next Cup at the start of 2023, with much of the infrastructure on the waterfront now in place, and existing teams able to roll on their campaigns. An America’s Cup held every two years would be good for the continuity and stability of the event.
The New Zealand public will always love the America’s Cup like nowhere else on earth. Eight thousand craft took to the Hauraki Gulf this summer to watch (1600 the highest daily count); 195,000 people came through the America’s Cup Village during the week of the Cup match.
There will be disappointment there isn’t a parade to celebrate the victory, as there was in 1995, 2000 and 2017. But there will be serious discontent if Team NZ end up taking the America’s Cup to another country for the next event.