America's Cup: Kiwis seek and hide

By Paul Lewis

Team NZ contest the Louis Vuitton Cup final against Luna Rossa knowing Oracle will be assessing their every move, writes Paul Lewis from San Francisco.

The Kiwi boat has proved to be consistently faster than Luna Rossa. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget
The Kiwi boat has proved to be consistently faster than Luna Rossa. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget

Emirates Team New Zealand faced two opponents this morning - the sailors of Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup final and the intense watchers of Oracle Team USA.

Oracle will have had computers at the ready, analysing and dissecting all the telemetry information beamed back by ETNZ and Luna Rossa. That data is like gold for Oracle.

With it, they can tell just how fast Emirates Team New Zealand are going and what they have to do to beat them. ETNZ have been off the water lately, making speed adjustments to their boat; knowledgeable observers in San Francisco maintain they are faster now than they were a week ago.

But how much of that extra speed will we see against Luna Rossa? In all probability, not much.

There will likely be no need - the Italians are unlikely to trouble them in terms of boat speed and crew work so the Kiwis can afford to drop the intensity a little to mask their real capabilities in front of the telemetry data being fed to Oracle - a kind of officially sanctioned "spying".

Oracle's win in the jury room over Team NZ's efforts to get them to disclose similar information to the challengers was a significant victory. In a measure that hugely benefits the defender, Oracle are allowed access to the data beamed back from the challengers' boats.

But when Oracle's two boats train on the race course, they do not have to send the same data to the challengers. That means Oracle is the only body in the entire 34th America's Cup to know the relative speeds, strengths and weaknesses of all the competing boats.

The punch line? The Herald on Sunday has heard that what they have learned apparently has Oracle worried.

It means Oracle will be watching intently this week and the New Zealand team will be a bit of a bashful stripper - trying not to show too much. In later races, the Kiwis will maybe go fast at the start and then take it easy on the way home.

If you are thinking this preview of an Italian-New Zealand clash contains very little about the Italians, that is the likely harsh reality of the racing. That's unless there is an intervention from one of the great variables of the America's Cup - an accident in these finely-tuned, on-the-edge 72-foot catamarans or a bad gear breakage.

The Italians have famously never won a point off Team NZ in Louis Vuitton or America's Cup finals and, in their history, they have only once taken a point off the New Zealanders in a Cup round-robin race. The smart betting is on a 2-0 result to team NZ this morning and a 7-0 scoreline in the best of 13 races.

The Kiwi boat is faster, the crew more polished and the Italians have yet to show true form at the start - still a vital part of the racing even in these speedy catamarans which were supposed to make overtaking a common sight in the 34th America's Cup.

Longtime San Francisco Bay sailor, America's Cup photographer and videographer John Navas is a man who possibly spends more time out on the water, close to the big AC72 catamarans, than anyone outside the teams. He is positive the Italians can't foot it with the New Zealanders.

"We went out with them today [Saturday] and we were in a chase boat which got up to 35 knots. There was a good wind blowing, about 18 knots, and the fastest Luna Rossa managed was 37 knots.

"The New Zealand boat, in the same wind, would have been doing about 42 knots, in my opinion. Okay, there was an ebb tide and a bit of chop which would have slowed them down a bit but I think they are a few knots shy of the New Zealand boat."

The Italians have improved but it is not likely to be enough - and the rather resigned body language of Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said it all when he said they hoped to take a single point off the Kiwis in this final.

Emirates Team NZ's advantages are estimated to be in at least three areas:

• Foiling gybes

Team NZ are pulling off some gybes at high speed, balancing stably on their foils instead of dragging their hulls laboriously round a mark before bearing away. That is a huge benefit if the opposition are struggling round a mark at half that rate, as the Italians were in the round robin. Team NZ are the most consistent at this, although latest intelligence suggests Oracle are catching up.

Navas thinks the two teams are approaching the same point re foiling but from different directions. Oracle, he says, built on-the-edge, very fast foils but are working hard to make them more stable and consistent. Team NZ began with stable and consistent foils and are now tuning them up to be faster - which is where he suspects they have gained extra speed this week.

• Foiling upwind

Supposed to be a bit of a Holy Grail for the AC72 catamarans, opinion is split whether it is truly as much of a benefit as it seems. America's Cup videographers caught Aotearoa foiling upwind yesterday but the question still arises whether it can be done consistently or whether it is worth doing. Some theories suggest foiling upwind takes the boat too far off course - going faster but covering more ground.

However, one of the Kiwi camp's strengths has been their ability to find the right balance between speed and the shortest course to the mark. The Italians, for example, regularly covered between one and two miles extra in races against Team NZ - a killer in a yacht race - because of the Kiwis' command in finding the best balance between speed and direction. Oracle can also foil upwind but it is thought not as consistently. Team NZ may be able to use this as a burst of speed in the right conditions.

• Crew work

ETNZ have worked hard to all-but eliminate mistakes. That means that Oracle know that boat speed is the be-all and end-all of this Cup. It doesn't mean the New Zealanders can't make a mistake; it means they rarely do. So the Americans will not likely catch them through good, old-fashioned sailing expertise. So all eyes will be on the Louis Vuitton racing this week. Especially Oracle's eyes; firmly fixed on their computers.

- Herald on Sunday

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