Out of the blue
Since taking control of the America’s Cup in 2010, Larry Ellison’s “Oracle” team has revolutionised this sport by choosing faster boats and focusing on the media coverage of events. A dynamic which may well change after the Kiwis’ victory! Analysis.
The 34th edition of the America’s Cup* was an opportunity to open the event to the public in front of the Golden Gate Bridge; the 35th edition elevated the event to Formula 1 levels. How? Above all, by promoting competition and technological innovation to stimulate fascinating performance: the AC45 boats are smaller - 45 feet compared to 72 at the last edition - and can only accommodate 6 crewmen. These changes allow teams to start out with a smaller budget. When the Japanese were unsure, the Americans sold them their technology so that they could jump in the water with reasonable chances of success. Each team receives the same boat: it’s up to them to develop the best design for the foils (the carbon blades which help boats to fly) and the most efficient commands. That may be the irony of the current system according to Louis-Noël Vivès of Team France: “The money saved on boats and the team is directly reinvested in the research and development budget”.
Innovation & sailing
The New Zealenders surprised everyone when they arrived in Bermuda with bikes on their boat in the place of traditional winches! But there are plenty of less visible details which help to decide the race too. Research departments work hard to analyse thousands of pieces of data, sent in real time. Everyone remembers the reversal of fortunes in San Francisco in 2013, when the Oracle team came back from 1-8 to win 9-8 and retain the trophy. Sailing itself has changed enormously. Winches are no longer used to direct the sails: they simply provide the enormous amount of energy required to make the foils work. In other words, four out of six crewmen could be replaced by batteries, something which is unpopular with purists! Each team puts buttons in place on every post: this allows the team to activate different commands, just like in aeroplanes - except it’s more about sails than wings.
With increasing media coverage of the event, it’s become an impressive spectacle in 3 acts. The six skippers all have plenty of charisma, intensified by the media to win over the public. King Spithill, distinguished Sir Ben Ainslie and his mind-boggling budget, avenging Dean Barker and the solo ace Frank Cammas. With heroes like that, it’s easy to maintain suspense over three acts: firstly with the qualifiers, in which the 6 teams compete. For the first time since the trophy was created in 1851, the American team, as “Defender”, took the liberty of gauging its competitors at this stage, gleaning a point for the final. France was knocked out at this stage. During the play-offs, the 4 remaining challengers competed at a level which left spectators dazzled. The New Zealenders not only finished as the winners but as battle-sharpened victors after particularly tight matches and long nights spent improving their boat, their strategy and their sailing. Their progress was such that they utterly dominated the final, which was entirely one-way. 8 victories, 1 defeat. The new king of sailing is called Peter Burling.
Next stage: Auckland!
After the New Zealand team’s victory, the cup is heading to Auckland and, in accordance with the “Deed of gift”, the All Blacks will be able to determine the future of the cup: boats, race formats, marketing and more. Larry Ellison is definitely going to have trouble sleeping, because his plan was to stay in Bermuda. That being said, whether the founder of Oracle finances the next campaign to win back the cup or not, it’s thanks to him that the most prestigious sailing race in the world has been transformed from an excursion at sea for a small group into a global sport.