Tricks in the foiling box

As the 36th America’s Cup heads into the pointy end, both teams have still got potential to burn.

Written by Rebecca Hayter

16 March 2021


Races 7 and 8 in the 36th America’s Cup showed what Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) has been up to while Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (LRPP) honed its skills in the Prada Cup.

The Italian’s have developed some race-winning foiling skills such as staying high on a leeward boat’s hip, darting in and out of tacking duels, and controlling the racecourse with its exhaust gases, and ETNZ has been developing another set of skills.

On 15 March, that combo of competitors provided one of the most thrilling days in America’s Cup history. The teams arrived with three wins each but, with light winds predicted, the assumptions were that the pre-start would write the script of the race.

That probably favoured the Italians but I didn’t want to say that out loud.

The Italians crossed the line with a click more speed and built their advantage, although Emirates Team New Zealand did take a cheeky bite at Luna Rossa’s space.


It was a luff that didn’t stick but the attempt didn’t hurt the Kiwis. Further up the course, ETNZ initiated a tacking duel – even though LRPP is the king of tacking duels.

This was interesting, but the Italians were at a disadvantage. Their headsail choice, made 10-minutes before the race’s start, was bigger than the Kiwis’ headsail. Once the Italians were up on their foils, that extra sail area became more of a drag than a driver in the 10-plus knots.

The last time these boats raced, on 13 March, ETNZ was revealing some of its rumoured, devastating speed. Prior to that, it had appeared the extra speed was a no-show, but it was concealed behind less efficient tacks and gybes, and lower sailing angles upwind.

Now, combined with more breeze, time in the simulator and the perfect jib against LRPP’s too-big-jib, that extra speed was a 3-4 knot advantage on VMG.

On leg three, ETNZ got past. The smaller jib and foils were low-drag, high-speed weapons.

ETNZ won by 58-seconds and soon it would have an even bigger story to tell.

Race 8 may have had LRPP against the ropes, but Jimmy Spithill never looks back. The breeze dropped to 7-knots and this time the Italians’ jib was perfect, the Kiwis, not so much. They were under-powered.

Again, the Italians emerged from the start in a better place but ETNZ stayed in touch and mowed down their opposition on the first downwind leg. We were heading for the first downwind pass of the America’s Cup until, suddenly, the Kiwis blew it. They gybed to take Luna Rossa to starboard, hit an invisible wall of air from the Italians’ exhaust and an unfortunate lull. The Kiwis’ small jib lacked the grunt to sail them through and they splashed down to disaster.

Meanwhile Luna Rossa sailed on as ETNZ desperately sailed the wrong way, trying to generate lift in apparent wind. That lead grew to 2300–metres.

Then, disaster for the Italians as they failed to foil through a soft breeze-tack on approach to the third gate. Even their bigger jib couldn’t get them up as they copped two penalties for being over the boundary line.

Around the same time, ETNZ pulled out another new trick – the ability to recover from splashdown while underpowered. From being behind by over four minutes behind at the third gate, they managed to be four minutes ahead at the finish line. The Italians had recovered, but it was too late.

Looking ahead, we may never know all the tricks the Kiwis have in their box. But we do know that the Italians have carbon fibre-strength determination to win this America’s Cup.

Going into Races 9 and 10 scheduled for today, there are four possible options:

Racing is cancelled due to lack of wind, which is unlikely; ETNZ wins both races, winning the America’s Cup; LRPP wins both races, evening the score to five–all; ETNZ and LRPP take one race each, putting the Kiwis on match point.

Either way, make sure you take your brave pills and tune in.

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