• Ian Taylor is chief executive of Animation Research Ltd, Dunedin. This is an edited version of a piece written for Callaghan Innovation on implications of ETNZ's victory for the technology industry and businesses outside of sailing.
On that beautiful afternoon of June 26, on Bermuda's Great Sound, Grant Dalton and Emirates Team New Zealand did more than win the America's Cup. They shone a light on the past and the future for this country.
Fittingly, they did it in a "state of the art" flying machine they called Aotearoa. The name acknowledged this challenge came from "a nation born of sailors". Our Maori ancestors sailed across a third of the planet in giant waka to discover this land. Our European ancestors followed. To make it here you had to come by water.
But there were other messages the victory laid in front of us. Dalton is a traditionalist, a sailors' sailor. Countless times he has dismissed technology, ours in particular, in his typical gruff manner. "I don't understand that crap, got no idea how it works. I just sail the boat."
But Dalton and his team recognised early on that the vision Russell Coutts had set for the future of the America's Cup meant this challenge was not simply going to be about a boat race, but about technology, innovation and thinking outside the box. It was going to be about building an environment of international collaboration where the best in the world could, in their words, "Throw the ball out as far as they could and then do whatever it took to reach it."
It was also going to require the unflinching support of people like Sir Stephen Tindall and Matteo de Nora, the largely unsung heroes who simply believed this team could do it from the bottom of the world. Lord Ernest Rutherford, another Kiwi great, is quoted as saying, "We don't have the money, so we have to think." That is what this team did, in spades. They recognised they were not building a boat that sailed, they were building a craft that flew.
In taking up that challenge they were lining themselves up against design and engineering giants such as Airbus, Cosworth, the Red Bull F1 team, not to mention software giant Oracle. They did it from a base built out of containers in Auckland.
In his press conference following the final race of the America's Cup Jimmy Spittle was asked how it was that the Kiwis had been able to pull this off. His answer, which I paraphrase, should be a clarion call to us all. "They stayed in New Zealand while we all set up here in Bermuda. We didn't know what they were doing. By the time we found out, it was too late. We couldn't catch them."
So often we see our isolation as a handicap. This team showed us what it could be, should be. A strength. It was where the No8 wire mentality was born.
Yet so often today I hear people say we need to move on from that old "down on the farm" notion. The world has changed, they argue. Yes it has, but innovative was always about what people did with that piece of wire that no one else had thought of. That sounds remarkably like this team we have celebrated across the country these past few days.
And the final lesson. They gave the helm to a 26-year-old. In New Zealand we must create a platform, in our schools and in our society, that will enable our young people to take on the world. It's what ETNZ did. And this, the youngest crew ever to sail in an Americas Cup challenge, delivered.
In the week this team won the America's Cup I heard a group of students from Lynfield High in Auckland make an impassioned plea to a working group looking at the future of technology in our schools. They too were world beaters. Nine years, yes nine years, in a row they have won the world robotic championships in the US. It is a phenomenal achievement, accomplished after school hours because we don't include robotics in our curriculum.
That was their plea. Include robotics in the curriculum because, they argued, it embodies all they need to learn: maths, physics, English, design, engineering, innovation, collaboration.... and the ability to compete and win on the world stage.
As Peter Burling and his crew have shown, these young people are up for the challenge. They are our future and we need to throw the ball out as far as we can - and be confident that they will pick it up.