America's Cup: Spectacular AC72s could join Spruce Goose

By Paul Lewis

Emirates Team New Zealand. Photo / Ricardo Pinto
Emirates Team New Zealand. Photo / Ricardo Pinto

You can forgive Russell Coutts, Larry Ellison and Jimmy Spithill a little bit of crowing. They told us so.

The sailors are also hugely enjoying racing the AC72s and the contest has become the tight, dramatic spectacle that was promised. The America's Cup match has rescued the America's Cup regatta.

The nation is in a rare state of suspense. New Zealanders are fingernail-bitingly drawn to the America's Cup right now. We are all starting to think far more highly of the AC72s.

It is hard to imagine anything more dramatic than that coronary-inducing, half-a-degree-from disaster "chicken wing" that Team New Zealand pulled the other day. Unless it was that spectacular nosedive by Aotearoa.

The New Zealand sailors are enjoying the racing and Oracle's Ben Ainslie commented: "This is the most thrilling and exciting sailing I have ever been involved with. The development of these boats by both teams has been so immense, if we were here in six months' time and racing these boats round this course, it would be so much better and faster."

Spithill, asked about the close racing, said: "What you guys are seeing is the vision [Ellison] had and a lot of you guys were fairly critical about it - but look at what we've got now."

So... okay. Time for a reality check.

* The regatta was dire before the two AC72s of Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand got so close in performance.

* The development of the boats hasn't always been so effective. Two of them capsized, one with fatal consequences, and one was smashed.

* The Louis Vuitton was a disaster in spectator and America's Cup terms. There were one-boat races and no-boat races.

* There were only three challengers. If Team NZ had not arranged that design-sharing agreement with Luna Rossa, the Italians probably wouldn't have been here.

* The other challenger, Artemis, actually protested against Team NZ's ability to foil last year, trying to persuade the jury to outlaw it. It didn't do Artemis's cause any good - many accused them of being Oracle's lapdog in issuing a protest that would have looked daft if the proponents of the AC72s had done it. Imagine Oracle protesting about making its own regatta more exciting.

* Artemis, even forgiving them the shock of that capsize and the loss of Andrew Simpson, were not a factor; they were late to the races, needed dispensation and were off the pace.

* Cost was clearly a factor and cut potential competitors out - including Britain's Team Origin. Coutts admitted that it would have been better to build a smaller class of catamaran.

So what about Ainslie's point about the development of the boats? Certainly, if the AC72s were to be the class of boat for the 35th America's Cup, there is a strong likelihood that they would be more competitive across all teams.

If Oracle were to retain the America's Cup their plans seem already known; a yearly global series in AC45s or something similar, with playoffs to find the America's Cup challenger. What is not known is whether the Cup match would be in AC72s or smaller multihulls. The more credibility the AC72s get in the Cup match, the more Ellison may feel like keeping them.

First, he has to retain the Cup. Team NZ haven't given a hint of their plans yet but, if they win the Cup, will be sifting through options.

But Grant Dalton's Concorde simile (the supersonic airliner mothballed after it ran out of customers), given during a radio interview, remains the best. "If you sit at the airport on a jet and watch the Concorde take off in front of you, it's a fantastic thing to see. But the problem is that it's completely unsustainable; it's completely uneconomic ... These boats are not going to make it into the next Cup."

So take a good look at the AC72s over the next day or two or three. It's the last you'll ever see of them - thrilling though they have been.

So was the Spruce Goose, the giant flying boat built by another billionaire, Howard Hughes, for the war effort in the 1940s and which still has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history. Only one was built, it flew three times and is now in a museum in Oregon.

- NZ Herald

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