'Flying machines' elevate America's Cup to new levels
Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA in action during race three of the America's Cup finals. (Getty Images)
September 9th, 2013
11:22 PM ET

'Flying machines' elevate America's Cup to new levels

The first thing to say about this year's America's Cup between Team Oracle USA and Emirates Team New Zealand is that the racing has been amazing - and it is not often you can say that in sailing.

To watch boats literally flying - up and out of the water, and only held into it by tiny carbon foils - has been mind-blowing. I've watched it from all angles and just did not expect to be as impressed as I was.

Many of us had been a bit critical and cynical of the vision held by Oracle head Larry Ellison and his chief executive Russell Coutts, but it has been incredible.

From my view on the water on Saturday, I could see the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay with a whole host of boats on one side, spectators all lined up on the other and then, right in the middle, giant speed machines flying through the air, manned by guys dressed in body armor.

I simply cannot get my head round how a boat weighing six tonnes, with sailors on board as well, can get enough lift to come out of the water.

Read: Stormy start to America's Cup

The speed of the fastest boats to ever compete in the event, by some distance, is also amazing.

The races last less than half an hour but the guys, who are phenomenal athletes, look exhausted afterwards because sailing the boats is just so intense. Then when you hear them, they are so pumped up it is though they have been racing a car at well over a hundred miles an hour.

All editions of the America's Cup have criticism and controversy - but this one has had more than most.

It started with the tragedy, when Andrew Simpson lost his life in a training accident. After his death, everyone was watching the boats and thinking that there would be another horrendous crash and that someone else would die - but I think most people have stopped thinking like that now.

It's by no means forgotten, especially by those in the sailing community, but we can now see how the boats are being sailed so well, which is no easy thing, and that the teams look comfortable.

A few months of practice have passed and they have more and more confidence that they can sail the machines hard. I think the two teams are pretty exceptional.

Before it began, the general consensus was that one team would walk away with the competition but that is not how it is turning out.

Traditionally, the first day of the America's Cup tells you everything but even though Team NZ won both races on Saturday, I think this competition will be slightly different by not being so clear cut.

Since the defending champions do not compete in the Louis Vuitton challenger series, Oracle have not had so much competition and so are still learning how to race - whereas the Kiwis have had the whole summer of racing.

By Sunday afternoon though, when Oracle won their first race by eight seconds to trail 1-3, they had definitely improved. They are not slower, just not quite as polished.

I think that the whole scandal that preceded the start of the race also shook up Oracle far more than you might imagine. The jury took six weeks to make a decision after the initial allegations against them of illegally modifying their boats in a build-up series to the Americas Cup.

Then the damning verdict came just four days before the first race.

Docking them two points means they have to win 11 races to win the series, whereas the Kiwis only need nine, and another body blow came when Dirk de Ridder was one of the three team members banned.

He is a key player, having been with Oracle for a long time and running the accelerator, so they literally lost their wing man with just days to go.

There are mixed views about the most severe punishment in the competition's 162-year history. Many people think it was harsh but a lot of those in the sailing community do not and feel a fine would have been insufficient.

Oracle just have to put it out of their mind now as they have to win races, but the decision could easily affect the outcome of the 34th America's Cup.

I don't think the weather will be so much of a factor though since San Francisco is one of the most reliable places on the planet for being windy.

Meanwhile, the spectators are loving being so close to the action.

There are two main areas from where to watch on the shore, one of them at the finish. Normally, you see little as the boats are so far away and there is often a huge exclusion zone as well but since it's a short course, the race fits in the bay so you can see the whites of their eyes as they cross the finish line.

The people of San Francisco were promised a summer of sailing but until the America's Cup finals began, it has not lived up to expectations.

In the last few days, everything has changed and it's hard to find anyone saying a bad word about it. Thousands are coming to watch, they are cheering at the big moments and they appear to be loving every second.

I have a feeling it's just going to get better and better...

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Filed under:  Sailing
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Graeme Swan

    Having watched ETNZ sail in Auckland New Zealand from August last year and over the southern summer and on occasions in conditions gusting into the high 30 knot range we new the ETNZ boat was safe and well sea tested. It was structural failure that killed Andrew Simpson when the cat broke up. Of course what we didn't know was "are we speed competitive". Now we know. But there not much in it. As for the cheating, drug cheats in sports get tossed out of the sport, even when the athlete doesn't realise they have taken or been given a performance enhancing drug.

    September 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm | Reply
  2. maxwycisk

    The money and the lawyers (or people who hire them – looking straight at you, Larry) have ruined the Cup. Finally and forever I'm afraid, although I hope i'm wrong. Whoever seems to have won the cup, ever since old Dennis Conner days more or less, had New Zealand skippers to bring it home for them – that is the nation that has dominated the races, although sometimes as mercs, and rightfully owns the cup – has for decades. The cup going back there is the best thing for the sport. Sanity may prevail in the future. As for the races, it would be really exciting to watch the races, hulls flying, those beautiful big cats foiling out of the water – if it wasn't for the fact that the Kiwis found a magic formula again for the upwind leg and no matter how many starts Americans win, and how well they sail, they are doomed, because the Kiwi cat is sooo much faster upwind. Very, very boring. Sucks, too.

    September 12, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  3. Tom Wheaton

    Sucks? As a Yank I rather enjoyed it! ;-) I do hope they make it a requirement that boats be built and crewed within the countries concerned. I have every confidence that the US will not need mercenaries to win when we put our minds to it. Until recently I thought kiwis were sportsmen, but the comments I have heard recently sound like sour grapes and more like American rednecks than New Zealanders.

    September 26, 2013 at 3:18 am | Reply

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