Yachting: Wing sail shift gives Oracle an edge - Dalton

By Dana Johannsen

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton. Photo / NZ Herald
Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton. Photo / NZ Herald

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said Russell Coutts' bold new vision for the America's Cup, which involves a move to wing-sailed technology, puts defenders BMW Oracle at a clear advantage. But Dalton is bullish about his team's ability to put together a winning programme in time for the 2013 regatta.

As he opened his press conference in Valencia early yesterday morning, Coutts, BMW Oracle's chief executive, proclaimed "regeneration is on the agenda". As part of his sweeping changes which promise to bring the staid old regatta in to the 21st century, the Kiwi sailing great announced the event will be sailed in swift 72ft (22m) wing-powered catamarans.

But there was little of the announcement that came as a surprise to Dalton.

While BMW Oracle claimed the design consultation process was completely open, there was really no question in Dalton's mind that the next regatta would be held in multihulls.

Dalton said the official challenger of record, Mascalzone Latino, had not even spoken to any of the challengers who they are supposedly representing.

"I'm not aware of any conversation any team has had with Mascalzone Latino, or even know how to get hold of them," he said. "They're just a puppet."

Coutts said the change to a wing-powered catamaran would lead to "racing that meets the expectations of the Facebook generation, not the Flintstones generation".

Wing sails are more aerodynamically efficient than sails made of flexible material, although they have barely been tried on sailing boats.

BMW Oracle introduced the radical wing-sail design in their 90ft (27.4m) trimaran that blitzed Swiss syndicate Alinghi in the deed of gift challenge in February, returning the oldest trophy in international sports to the US for the first time in 15 years.

Coutts is clearly enamoured by their higher performance, which he believes will be vital to create interest. The team is keen to expand the sport's popularity, particularly with younger generations, and want to make the event more television-friendly.

Dalton said it probably also helps that the defender is most experienced with this technology.

"If the America's Cup was tomorrow, [Oracle] would win. They are ahead in that area at the moment, you'd be blind if you thought any different."

Still, Dalton said Emirates Team New Zealand are not "running scared" from the challenge. He is confident that if they decide to mount a challenge - and at this stage it would only be financial reasons that hold them back - they have the skills to be successful.

Team New Zealand will not compete in the TP-52 circuit next year, instead Dean Barker and his crew will focus on gaining experience in multihull classes.

"Our intention is to be in the America's Cup and after [the Louis Vuitton Trophy in] Dubai we won't be back in a monohull for the foreseeable future," said Dalton. "We need to sail other boats as well - A-class cats, extreme 40s, F-18s, other boats that have relevance to transferring the skills across."

However, he said they still needed time to properly look over the protocol and run the numbers before making a final decision over their entry for 2013.

"We're in, unless we convince ourselves that we shouldn't be. The fundamental decisions we need to make over the next two weeks before we make a final decision are - can we afford it? How big is that technology gap? And can we find the right people to bridge that gap?"

- NZ Herald

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