Team NZ on brink of America’s Cup victory

HAMILTON, Bermuda: Emirates Team New Zealand takes to Bermuda’s Great Sound on Monday with a mission, to finally wipe out the hurt inflicted on the sports-mad country by Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup. But while leading 6-1 in the first-to-seven final should make victory a near certainty, the Kiwis are not complacent.
“We are not taking anything for granted,” New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling said after coolly steering his space-age 50-foot (15 metre) catamaran to yet another win on Sunday over the team’s nemesis, Oracle Team USA’s skipper Jimmy Spithill.
It was Spithill and the team bankrolled by Oracle founder Larry Ellison who in 2013 turned an 8-1 deficit against New Zealand into a 9-8 victory and a successful defence of the oldest trophy in international sport.
Burling, who at only 26 could also unseat Spithill as the youngest ever person to helm a winning America’s Cup team, has exuded a disarming calm on and off the water.
He won Olympic gold in Rio last year in the 49er skiff class with fellow crew member Blair Tuke and has brought a youthful confidence to New Zealand’s campaign to regain the “Auld Mug”, which was first won by the schooner “America” in 1851.
If New Zealand triumph, many will put it down to the revolutionary “cycling” system developed to power the hydraulics needed to control the catamaran’s foils, which lift it out of the water, and the vast “wing” sail which drives it along.
Their “cyclors”, including an Olympic cycling medallist, have kept their heads down throughout the contest, pedalling furiously to provide enough oil in the system to allow the boat to perform almost balletic pirouette manoeuvres on the water. Wind conditions were forecast to be good, with Regatta Director Iain Murray confident of getting racing under way on schedule just after 1700 GMT, although there was a chance of shiftier breeze later in the day.
Both crews were out practising ahead of the racing, skimming over the crystal clear waters of the natural sailing “arena” that made Bermuda a favourite location for the competition.
But while the America’s Cup is as much a design as a sailing race, with tens of millions of dollars invested in the racing boats, psychological games are also crucial.
The charismatic Spithill has more expertise in match racing, the sailing equivalent of a boxing contest, and the benefit of nearly two decades of America’s Cup experience.
Even after losing two races on Sunday, Spithill was not in any mood to give up, conceding that the US crew had been outsailed by Burling and his five Kiwi team mates, but vowing to come out fighting again on Monday and take one race at a time.
None of this seems to have rattled Burling, despite a capsize in a semifinal race which nearly ended the Kiwi dream. If he can show the same composure on Monday, the man who has become the face of the New Zealand team could win himself a place in yachting history.
Spithill, who after Sunday’s double defeat did not rule out handing the wheel of his catamaran to another member of the team, was down as helmsman on the crew list lodged with the organisers on Monday, although changes to positions can still be made.
Whether or not New Zealand win on Monday, the event’s regatta director Murray said he expected the close-to-shore format which has won a non-sailing audience to persist. “The days of the America’s Cup being three miles from land are gone,” he said. — Reuters