Technology and mind games

As the hype ramps-up in the countdown to the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda, speculation is swirling round who will take on Oracle Team USA in the starting box, Saturday 17 June 2017.

Written by Scott Alle
Photography by ACEA

23 May 2017


Nearly four years from one of the most celebrated comebacks in sport, Jimmy Spithill and Oracle Team USA stand poised once again to stamp their authority on sailing’s greatest contest.

Oracle, as the defender, is guaranteed a spot in the America’s Cup Match series, with the other five teams battling it out over the next few weeks. Oracle can take part in the round-robin races but not in the play-offs.

Skipper, Australian Jimmy Spithill sees it as a mixed blessing already having qualified for the final. “Look I think it’s great that we’re in the final, obviously,” he says. “Straight off the bat it gives us a chance of winning.

“But conversely, we don’t get to compete in the semi-finals. The team who comes through that is essentially arriving on form and battle-hardened,” he acknowledges.

The majority of the sailing media have picked Artemis Racing, (skipper by another Aussie, Nathan Outteridge), to win the Louis Vuitton series, with Emirates Team New Zealand snapping at their transom.


The number of ways of tweaking speed in an America’s Cup have never been fewer. With the sail power and hull platform being one design, the critical design variable will be the underwater foils. Some teams will get this right, and the observers seem to agree that Artemis is leading the field at the moment.

“It’s been said the fastest boat has won the America’s Cup for the last 160 years and I’m not sure that is about to change,” says Iain Percy, Team Manager and Tactician for Artemis Racing.

“The daggerboard is the appendage that we fly the boat off and also transfers side force into driving force. Millimeters of difference make knots of difference so the optimal manufacturing and design of the daggerboard is absolutely critical.”

A well-informed website, Sailing Illustrated, run by AC insider Tom Ehman, a champion yachtsman and former America’s Cup executive, rates ETNZ as the boat to watch. It somewhat harshly reasons, “they’ve shed their arguably weakest link from 2013, Dean Barker. Unless the other teams gang up on them yet again, whether on the water (collisions) or off (more rule changes) Peter Burling and co. should get through to the finals.”


Then there’s Land Rover BAR, skippered by the uber-competitive Sir Ben Ainslie which won the year-long lead-up Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series. The British challenger hasn’t achieved the results in practice racing, including a bingle with ETNZ which ripped a metre-long gash in the Kiwis hull.

Both boats have been off the water for days while urgent repairs are carried out some acrimony. A tweet from the British team confirmed that: “During a pre-start, @LandRoverBAR bore away behind @EmiratesTeamNZ and clipped their hull, sustaining limited damage to our bow.” Blair Tuke, the Olympic 49er champion, who is part of the New Zealand crew, responded with a biting tweet: “Just clipped you reckon?!”

Peter Burling, Tuke’s fellow 49er gold medallist, didn’t hold back at Ainslie: “He ran straight into the back of us. It was so unnecessary.”

Jimmy Spithill can afford to be magnaminous about all this pre-bout scrapping, observing Land Rover BAR will probably save their best sailing for the semi-finals.

Which brings us to the question how much have Oracle been foxing about their true form? With capsizes and appearing to lack speed through critical manoeuvres such as tacks, it’s part of the psychological armoury of which Spithill is a master – just remember the way he so ruthlessly crushed the Kiwis’ spirit in 2013.

Other reasons why Oracle can win; the best weather information and the greatest ability to keep improving the boat and crew.

That’s an important point to bear in mind, there are potentially some big hardware upgrades to come, so we haven’t seen these boats sailed in their final configurations.

Much of the nuance will be lost on the massive anticipated TV and online viewing audience, but we still think it will be a fascinating and absorbing showcase of our sport.


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