THE DISRUPTORS
Yachting World|May 2021
AFTER AN UNPREDICTABLE MATCH, EMIRATES TEAM NEW ZEALAND DEFENDED THE 36TH AMERICA’S CUP – AND COULD ALREADY BE SHAKING THINGS UP FOR THE 37TH. MATTHEW SHEAHAN REPORTS FROM AUCKLAND
MATTHEW SHEAHAN

After 25 minutes and 54 seconds of racing, Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finish line in Race 10 of the 36th America’s Cup. As they did so, they took their seventh victory in the match series, and successfully defended their status as holders of the oldest trophy in international sport.

Emirates Team New Zealand, representing a country of just 5 million people, have won four of the past eight Cups. They’ve succeeded four times out of 10 attempts since setting out on their first Cup crusade 34 years ago.

As the saying goes, ‘win the Cup and you make the rules’. But this victory brings an uncertain future. When the new defender lifted the 170-year-old silver trophy above their heads, they also took on responsibility for it in the future once again. That’s an obligation that can come with a hefty price tag, not just for mounting a defence, but hosting the next event.

NATIONAL PRIDE

Emirates Team New Zealand’s final performance was their most impressive. In front of several thousand boats on the water and a local TV audience reported to be around 1.9 million, the deciding race delivered a thumping response to accusations that their tactics and boat handling had been loose at times. It shrugged off any suggestion that they were unable to get the upper hand in the pre-start. But most clearly of all, it delivered confirmation that their boat Te Rehutai was every bit as slippery as the simulator data had suggested.

With the defenders unable to race against the challengers for real for 10 weeks before the Cup, there had been little evidence to counter rumours that the home team had a significantly faster boat, especially in stronger breezes. The Kiwis were going to blitz the Cup, according to the gossip. There were mutterings of 60-knot training runs. But the experts were less sure.

“We’re the underdogs,” said Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli’s co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill. “They’re the favourites make no mistake. They’re on home waters.”

Spithill and co appeared happy not to be in the spotlight, a combination of sailors’ superstition and avoiding the pressure of expectation. Instead, as challengers, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli had taken the longer route to the Cup and came into the America’s Cup match with momentum. They fought their way through the Prada Cup semi-final beating American Magic 4:0, before despatching INEOS Team UK 7:1 in the Prada Cup finals.

With 21 races under their belts they were match fit and had been able to refine several aspects of their campaign. One of the most evident was the improvements made in the way they sailed their boat and the partnership between co-drivers Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni alternately helming and calling tactics from either side.

But they had also revealed a key part of their armoury. Their ability to be the last boat flying was easy to see whenever the breeze dropped down towards the 6.5 knot minimum that was required to start a race. The Italians had become a slick team in a slippery machine and the Kiwis knew it.

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