Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Oracle have time to foil NZ

Cup defender has resources to claw back Team NZ's advantage, Kiwi sailor believes.

Kiwi sailor Craig Monk believes if Team New Zealand had been able to keep their foiling programme under wraps for even a month longer, the America's Cup would now be as good as theirs.

While still only in the preliminary rounds of the challenger series, an America's Cup showdown between Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle is already being talked up as an inevitability.

With mates in both camps, Monk, who now sails for Artemis, was loath to make a call on who he thinks will have the edge in the cup final, choosing to take the diplomatic approach and suggesting it will be very close.

But he believes if Team NZ had been able to keep their foiling breakthrough hidden from their competitors for longer, the America's Cup final would be as much of a no-contest as the Louis Vuitton challenger series is turning out to be.

"Even if they'd just held [their boat] back a month, and slowed their programme up almost, they would have easily won," said Monk.

"They had such an advantage, they were so far ahead of everyone six months ago. And now it's been like a clawback."

The cat was let out of the bag - so to speak - very early on in Team NZ's testing programme in the new AC72 class, after a sailing enthusiast and amateur photographer snapped pictures of the team out training, which appeared to show both hulls of the Kiwi boat flying clear of the water. The initial reaction from the sailing community was that of disbelief, with most writing off the images as a Photoshop job.

But they did enough to arouse the interest of the media, forcing Team NZ to come clean about their development.

Team NZ boss Grant Dalton told the Herald last month they would have liked to have kept it a secret longer, but "it was like trying to hide an elephant in a phone box - you can't".

Since then the other teams have been scrambling to catch up. With Artemis Racing yet to get their second boat on the water after May's fatal capsize, and Luna Rossa well off the pace of the Kiwi boat in Sunday's first match-up (despite having the same design package as Team NZ), it is clear the two challengers are out of runway. But the concern is that Cup defenders Oracle have got the time, expertise and resources required to crack the foiling equation before the September final.

That is why Friday's jury decision, which overturned regatta director Iain Murray's alterations to the rudder regulations in the class rule, was an important win for Team NZ. Had the changes been upheld, they would have assisted Oracle greatly with their foiling stability - something that they haven't quite mastered yet.

Monk said Oracle still have time to crack the equation, which will be helped significantly by their two-boat testing programme.

While acknowledging Team NZ needed to test the new technology and learn how to sail the boat, Monk can't help but wonder if they would have been better off unveiling their foiling boat once they arrived in San Francisco.

"I almost think maybe the Kiwis shouldn't have even sailed their boat, once they got it foiling; they should have just put it away in the shed.

"If they arrived here and no one knew it would have been all over, there would have been no reaction time."

- NZ Herald

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