In the end, the best boat won after all. Displaying a lethal combination of superior boat speed and flawless tactics, Emirates Team New Zealand dispatched Oracle Team USA on Monday to win the 35th running of the America’s Cup. The final, decisive score was 7-1. Fourteen years after the Kiwi’s lost the Cup to Alinghi in 2003, the gaudy Auld Mug is on its way back to the sailing crazed city of Auckland. Later, Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton said that the city endured traffic jams at 4 a.m. so residents could get to work in time to watch the racing. Along with a new address, there’s little doubt that there are radical changes in the Cup’s future.
Prior to the final day of racing, the one matter hanging over the heads of the New Zealander’s was the specter of 2013. That year, in San Francisco, the Kiwi’s were leading the series by an 8-1 score and only needed one more win to capture the Cup. It never happened. Instead, Oracle executed one of the most unlikely comebacks in sporting history to win the trophy in astounding fashion with 8 straight victories. As the day began, that was the prominent question: Could history repeat itself in Bermuda?
At its outset, the determining race was a close contest. Both boats hit the starting line at speed in a dead even heat, though Oracle went on to win the initial drag race to the first mark to take an early lead. It appeared the American team still had some fight in them.
It didn’t last long.
Early in the second leg, as has become their practice, the Kiwi’s executed a flawless jibe and took their first lead; Oracle, just to leeward, was a tad slow and a tad late. It proved to be the race’s signature maneuver. At the second gate, the New Zealander’s held a 5-second advantage.
There were still five legs to go, but the race was essentially over. Executing classic match-racing tactics for the remainder of the contest, the Kiwi’s eventually opened up a 300-meter lead and never looked back. The margin of victory at the finish line was a conclusive 55 seconds.
The Cup was on its way to the Southern Hemisphere.
In defeat, Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill was gracious and straightforward.
“Man, what a campaign those guys ran,” he said. “I didn’t see any weaknesses. As an athlete and competitor, the only thing you can do is take your hat off to them. At the end of the day, their crew was a cut above. All you can do is pay your respect to them. A stronger team beat us and it’s as simple as that.”
Meanwhile, to the winners go the spoils, in this case the right to defend the Cup, and now the New Zealander’s have wrestled it away from Oracle software billionaire Larry Ellison. So what will the next Cup look like? “We do have a plan,” said ETZN’s Dalton, adding that Italy’s Luna Rossa syndicate has already filed the paperwork to be the next Challenger of Record, meaning they will work in tandem with the defending Kiwi’s to hammer out the details of what boats will be sailed, when the regatta will take place, and all the attendant logistical matters. Dalton said that plan would be forthcoming in a couple weeks time.
“Rest assured, we’ll do the right thing,” added Dalton. “It’s a privilege to hold the America’s Cup, not a right.”
With that, the victorious New Zealand sailors also chimed in. At 26, Kiwi helmsman Peter Burling, a gold medalist in the last Olympics, is now the youngest driver to ever win an America’s Cup in its 156-year history – a title once held by his rival, Jimmy Spithill. Skipper Glenn Ashby, the lone Aussie on the Kiwi crew, is the only holdover on the sailing team from the last Kiwi challenge, which lost the Cup in devastating fashion in San Francisco.
“There’s a feeling of relief, and of satisfaction,” he said. “We knew with this (racing) format that we had to be extremely innovative and aggressive in our philosophy. Our cycling system (for grinders) and our wing control system was very different from what Oracle used. 2013 was absolutely brutal. So this is a relief. We put our best foot forward for this campaign. (Today) we have a lot of proud yachties from New Zealand.”
But the last words go to Burling, the star of a young Kiwi team with who knows what future is ahead of it: “We’re blown away by what we were able to achieve out there today. It’s just sinking in. As a Kiwi, growing up in New Zealand, seeing Team New Zealand race for the America’s Cup, and win the America’s Cup, and lose the America’s Cup four years ago, to come here to Bermuda and win it, it’s just sinking in. We’re going to celebrate tonight.” And rightfully so. END