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Gary Jobson's Notes from the 34th America's Cup

The America's Cup Trophy. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget.

The America's Cup Trophy. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget.

Gary Jobson, President of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, is posting a series of notes on the America's Cup, which began with his thoughts during the Louis Vuitton Cup and will continue each race day during the America's Cup.



Note 7: Great Racing at America's Cup PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 8, 2013

    When Oracle Team USA's sailors and shore crew arrived at their compound at Pier 80 early this morning, the America's Cup trophy was sitting on a pedestal in front of the AC 72. No one knew how it got there. But, it was an inspirational reminder of their mission. The sailing team looked fired up for Day Two of the America's Cup, even though they lost both races yesterday. Everyone around the waterfront in San Francisco was wondering how the American team could turn things around?

    And, just like that, Day Two of the 34th America's Cup defense became a thriller for the sailors and their fans. Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA each won a hard fought battle that included brilliant tactics, breathtaking speed, and some mistakes too. In my AC Report 5, I predicated that the USA would win the match after a close battle. Following yesterday's racing that pronouncement looked mighty suspect, but not anymore. Either team can win this regatta.

    In Race Three, OTUSA was fouled by ETNZ at the first turning mark. The penalty was quickly absolved. The chase was on. These boats can very quickly separate by a few hundred yards. The boats seem far apart but that distance can be made up with a single gust of wind. At times the boats sail at remarkably even speeds, and occasionally New Zealand looks faster. It is rare that the American boat has a speed advantage. At the end of Leg Two the USA held a slim lead. Sailing upwind against the tide NZL started to gain on each tack. Oracle's tactician, National Sailing Hall of Famer John Kostecki, worked to match every move the Kiwis made. The big moment of the pass came as the two boats closed on the boundary along the city front near Pier 39. New Zealand tacked onto port, as did the USA. But the American crew was slow to accelerate and lost control of the race. Kiwi tactician, Ray Davies was masterfully managing his boat's position on the racecourse. This guy is a joy to watch. He is clever and rarely makes a mistake. New Zealand sailed away for their third win.

    Just 32 minutes later the second race of the day started. Oracle Team USA's Australian skipper, Jimmy Spithill, timed the line perfectly and took the lead. He held the Kiwis high on the first part of the short reach leg and then bore away for a beautifully executed rounding. Downwind the boats were about even. At the leeward gate NZL closed. It looked like the Kiwis might be able to pass again early on the beat to windward. This time, Kostecki told Spithill to sail a more strategic race as if there were 20 boats on the course. OTUSA wanted to avoid the close quarters battle that did them in the previous race. It was a good call. The USA held the lead at Mark 3. At the final turning mark NZL closed to within five seconds. At 40 knots, that equates to about four to five boat lengths. Oracle Team USA crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand and received a thunderous ovation from thousands of people on the shore line.

    Monday is a lay day. Both teams will spend the time analyzing the performance of their boats, look for ways to increase speed and plan their tactics for the next round of races. New Zealand seems to have an edge at times, but not always. In strong winds of 23 knots toward the end of Race 4 the USA really looked strong. Winning a race after losing three certainly gives OTUSA a big boost of confidence going forward. New Zealand needs to stay aggressive. If Dean Barker can win the start, he will be hard to pass. James Spithill knows how important it is to get the jump at the gun. The pair has each won two starts. New Zealand needs to win 6 more races, while the USA needs to win 10 more. Based on the two races we saw today, this America's Cup is going to extend for some time before someone wins.

    Every race will be carried live on the NBC Sports Network starting at 1pm Pacific time (4 pm Eastern) on Sept 10, 12, 14, and 15. My partners Todd Harris and Ken Read and I look forward to explaining the action. Hold on tight; there are some good races ahead.

 

 
Note 6: New Zealand Opens with Two Wins PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 7, 2013

    One day doth not an America's Cup make, but it sure was an eye opener.  Emirates Team New Zealand completely dominated Oracle Team USA in the first two races of the 34th America's Cup defense. The most interesting thing for me was watching the body language and attitude onboard the American boat as they began to realize that their AC72 was off the pace compared to the challenger. Oracle's design team will work hard to find ways to increase the speed of their boat, however one has to believe each boat started the series with their best equipment. Simultaneously, the sailors and their coaches need to take a critical look at their sailing performance. The USA was off in just about every aspect of the race.

    Oracle's skipper Australian Jimmy Spithill is known as a very aggressive starter. In Race One he did not engage New Zealand at any time during the two-minute pre-start. From my vantage point on the Race Committee boat, Regardless, it was obvious that it was advantageous to start at the windward end of the line with a one knot flood current. New Zealand's skipper Dean Barker timed it perfectly at the windward end, accelerated and easily sailed into the lead. Downwind, the strength of the wind seemed to lighten as they headed for the turning gate. It was close. The Kiwis made a mistake by misjudging the lay line and made an extra jibe. As Barker turned the mark, he headed too high. Spithill was less than one length behind and by sailing a lower and faster course he gained an overlap. Barker tacked away to stay clear. The New Zealand boat was slow going into the tack, and slower coming out of it. Oracle Team USA took the lead.  

    I think everyone on the San Francisco shoreline and aboard the 300-boat spectator fleet was cheering. Not because the USA had the lead, but for the first time in this America's Cup, we actually had a real race. The wind dropped to about 13 knots.  The speeds between the boats looked even. As they worked their way to windward in the flood tide, the breeze filled in to 17 knots and the Kiwis took off. It was an impressive display of speed. From that point the Kiwis sailed away and easily won the first race.

    Throughout the day there were at least 7 protests by the two boats. The umpires gave each incident a green flag, signaling no foul. Before the second race, Spithill and tactician John Kostecki discussed not sailing the second race. Apparently, there was some de-lamination on the wing sail.  Each boat is allowed to postpone one race in the series. Kostecki thought it was too early in the series for a time out, and Oracle decided to race. During the second start, the boats might have touched at one close encounter.  Spithill looked to be in good shape with 25 seconds to go. But Barker did a better job accelerating, had the windward end again, and took an early lead. This time the USA never challenged. It quickly became a parade.

    We still have a lot of racing ahead of us.

The Kiwis need to win seven more. Oracle Team USA needs to win eleven races.  Normally, you must win nine races in a 17 race series. But OTUSA was docked two points for cheating during the America's Cup World Series last year with two of their AC 45-footers. As part of the penalty, wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder was disqualified for this America's Cup. He was the person who illegally altered the boats to give them more speed. Three other team members were also disqualified for the Cup. The International Jury gave the American team the appropriate penalty for their ill-advised transgressions. Dirk de Ridder's replacement, Kyle Langford, did not look to be in sync with Spithill during the race, particularly during maneuvers.

    Sunday is another day.  Spithill could easily take the starts. He and Langford will certainly get better with more sailing. Their speed, however, is a major problem. If the wind is under 14 the USA can make it close. When the wind builds the Kiwis look fast, and they maneuver with greater efficiency. It would be fun to be a fly on the wall over at the USA camp and listen in to what Syndicate owner Larry Ellison and his CEO Russell Coutts are saying. There is still plenty of time to turn this around, but the USA better come out swinging on Sunday, or this America's Cup will be over soon, and the trophy will be on a plane back to the City of Sails, Auckland, New Zealand.

    Todd Harris, Ken Read and I will call the race action tomorrow on NBC at 4pm ET (1pm PT) live from San Francisco.

 

 
Note 5: On to the America's Cup Defense PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

August 28, 2013

    Wake up sailors! We are going to see a unique, and most likely, one-time sailing event that I think will be an unbelievable spectacle. So far, the blowout races, breakdowns, one-boat contests, and weather delays have marred the America's Cup. But we should all put that in the past. Beginning Saturday, September 7 this battle is going to be emotional, hard-fought, fast and exhausting. Can the tiny nation of New Zealand reclaim the America's Cup, or will business titan Larry Ellison hold on to the Cup in his home waters?

    As always with the America's Cup, the stakes are high. The winner chooses the next venue, boats, format and date. The actual Deed of Gift was envisioned to be a challenge-driven event, however the defender ends up making the rules. You can be sure both New Zealand and the USA have future challengers in their hip pocket that will be pulled out just after their boat crosses the finish line when, and if, they win. The future look of the 35th Defense is certainly an open question. But, right now, we will see a lot of sailing before anyone can talk about the future.

    I have been in a good position to watch both the defenders and challengers this past month, aboard the race committee boat Regardless. On the water, I also used the AC LiveLine graphics and television pictures to help me with my part of the NBC commentary team, along with Todd Harris and Ken Read, who were back on shore. There were a lot of interesting things to see on the water. These included subtle differences in boat handling, speed and maneuvers. I also paid attention to pre-race warm up routines. Proper tune up is important in sailing, just like every sport.
    
     Like everyone else here in San Francisco, I am wondering who will win the match? The truth is, no one has any real clue, and that will make this regatta so much fun to watch. I am sure both boats will get their share of wins. It's easy: just get a better start, sail faster, cover when ahead, and don't make any mistakes. Nothing to it, right? No, of course not. This will be a hard event to win. There is no doubt both teams are hungry for victory.

     Emirates Team New Zealand is a well-prepared team. They have more time on the water than the other three teams here. New Zealand is a joy to watch. The crew is a well-choreographed unit on nearly every maneuver, except during Race One of the Louis Vuitton Cup final, when NZL nose-dived while rounding the windward mark. Two of their crew were washed over the side. It was a scary moment. New Zealand had a hydraulic failure in Race Two, and was unable to finish. Since then the Kiwis have been flawless.

    New Zealand skipper Dean Barker will have to sail the series of his life to win. Around the waterfront he seems calm and ready. On the racecourse he faces Jimmy Spithill from ORACLE TEAM USA. Spithill is a ruthless competitor and fearless helmsman. He will push his boat and crew to the limit around the racecourse. Historically, Spithill has finished ahead of Barker more often than not. The battle during the two-minute pre-start sequence will be epic. Both helmsmen will be well coached on each other's tactical moves. Both crews will have to flawlessly execute their boat handling. There will be very little time to gain an advantage. The boats will have to enter the starting box precisely on time, and get their boat in a position for the final sprint to the line. The AC 72s can sail one length in one second. If you are late by three seconds you are in trouble. It will be close, and I expect frequent protests by both boats. The Umpires will have their work cut out to make the right calls. I also expect most of the protests will be waived off with green flags (no foul, keep racing). If we see lots of protests you will know the emotions are running high. I predict in ten starts Spithill will win five, draw two and lose three. We will see.

    In the one unofficial scrimmage between NZL and USA two weeks ago, the speeds seemed to be about even on a downwind leg. During one simultaneous jibe NZL appeared to gain more than a length. The defending team has had good in-house racing. Spithill has the advantage of sailing with the varsity crew, and is always on the newer boat. He wins many of the races, but their trial horse skipper, Sir Ben Ainslie, has also won his share, and always pushes hard. These races have helped the USA improve. New Zealand looks more polished while maneuvering than the American boats. In this area I give the Kiwis the edge. However, their advantage will diminish as the races progress. The Cup final is a best of 17 series. Both teams will learn with each race.

    Every day on San Francisco Bay the best tactical choices will change depending on the current and wind strength. I give Oracle the edge here. On board is tactical wizard John Kostecki, who grew up racing on San Francisco Bay. He rarely makes a bad call. New Zealand's tactician, Ray Davies, is a cool hand. Davies and Barker grew up together at the same yacht club, and are close friends. That will help when things get tight. And, they will. Like Kostecki, Davies also makes few mistakes, but he did not grow up in these waters. New Zealand does have an excellent "local knowledge" coach in American Dee Smith, who also grew up racing here. Smith will certainly give Davies all the correct trends, but he is not on the boat like Kostecki.

    Only one leg of the 10-mile course will be to windward. I hear over and over from various experts that the USA has a slight edge over New Zealand when sailing to windward. Again, no one really knows, but I have witnessed both boats foiling up wind without losing very much windward distance. At times the boats hit 30 knots! Yep, that is sailing upwind. I haven't seen it often. My guess is that upwind foiling will be something that will be rolled out during the Cup. In fact, the teams will likely have many secret speed elements that we won't see until the racing starts.

    Both teams have very strong designers. Both design groups number over 30 engineers and naval architects, and probably have lengthy lists of things they would like to test, but time is running out. Maximizing time on the water before the cup will be important. The designers will be able to make adjustments during the match. As mentioned, every race will be a learning experience. Making improvements to various design elements will be an important part of this regatta. But we will not know what is happening in the background. The result of this work will only be apparent during the races.

    The wind limit for the America's Cup goes up to 23 knots (from 21 for the LVC), which will be adjusted for the current. In a flood tide of 2 knots the wind limit is 25 and in an ebb tide of 2 knots the wind limit drops to 21. Oracle has spent most of their time training when the wind is under the limit. New Zealand goes out when the wind is well above. Against Luna Rossa the Kiwis seemed to be faster when the wind was light. It is possible that one boat will have an edge in one wind condition and not another. If this happens, the strength of the wind could be the deciding factor.

    On our broadcasts I have called the AC 72s “fast, scary and fragile." After watching 12 challenger races and 14 defender practice races, I am adding a word to my description... graceful. An AC 72 sailing at 47 knots while making wide turns at a turning mark is a thing of beauty.

    Like any sporting event the winner is often the one who wants it more. New Zealand is a country of only 4.5 million people. This is a smaller population than my home state of Maryland. ORACLE TEAM USA's syndicate head, Larry Ellison, wants to win badly. It is in his DNA. Let there be no doubt that the Kiwis are also highly motivated. They know what it is like to have the Cup in their home waters. ETNZ is made up of nine New Zealand sailors and two Australians (who live in New Zealand). Ellison's crew is a multi-national group from the USA, Holland, Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand, and Antigua (depending on the starting line up). The difference in the past was the man who first won it for New Zealand and later successfully defended it. Sir Russell Coutts is the man in charge of ORACLE TEAM USA. You can imagine how the Kiwis would like to defeat their former hero. Likewise, Coutts would like to continue his undefeated winning streak in the America's Cup. Coutts has won four America's Cups, and has yet to lose a single race.

    The races will only last 30 minutes or less. The speeds of these machines may never be seen again in the America's Cup. Both teams expect they can, and will, win. The contest will go back and forth. Unlike the Super Bowl that is over in 3 hours, the America's Cup will likely extend for two weeks. New Zealand seems to have more fans around the waterfront of San Francisco, but in the end I think ORACLE TEAM USA will defend... barely.

 

 
Note 4: What Will Happen Next in the Louis Vuitton Cup? PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

August 20, 2013

    Usually, when I watch a sporting event, I cheer for one team or the other. At this point in the Louis Vuitton Cup Final, I am cheering for the regatta itself. Please let’s complete a full race with both boats crossing the finish line! After three days, we have seen three races and only one boat finish each race. Is this America's Cup going to get rolling?

    Breakdowns in defender and challenger trials have been numerous over the years. In every America's Cup, dating back to 1851, the boats have been on the leading edge of technology. America broke a flying jib boom during the race around the Isle of Wight. I checked with the preeminent America’s Cup historian, John Rousmaniere. He provided me with a list of several breakdowns but added, “Of course, there were breakdown in trials races, but, very few in final trials and the big show itself.” Several of these included:

    1899 - Shamrock I lost her topmast in a race against Columbia.
 
    1920 - Resolute broke her gaff while racing Shamrock IV and couldn't finish.
     
    1930 - Shamrock V's main halyard broke in a race against Enterprise and she had to be towed in.

    1983 - Australia II had serious equipment problems that cost her the first two races in the match against Liberty.
    
    2003 - Race 1 NZL almost sank and withdrew from the race.
               Race 4 NZL broke her mast and was unable to complete that race

    The late yacht designer Olin Stephens once told me the most important thing in the J Boat class, that raced in the 1930s, was to just finish. Now with the complex new boat like the AC72, why would this AC be any different?

    In most sports, the MVP is one of the players, but so far I would give that honor to the shore crews of both the Italian and New Zealand teams. They are working hard to get their boats back out on the water after the unfortunate breakdowns. Today is a lay day. Both teams will be checking and re-checking every little detail. Hopefully, the breakdowns will be over. The other issue is the wind.

    The Louis Vuitton Cup Final is likely to drag on for longer than anyone predicted a few days ago. Many believed Emirates Team New Zealand to be the most prepared team here. But, due to electrical problems with their hydraulics in Race Two, they were unable to finish the race. Dean Barker told me in a post-race interview that the problem was unrelated to the nose dive in Race One. But, the team did replace all its batteries for Race Three. Luna Rossa is a mystery to me. They have broken down in two of three races, with the wind under 20 knots. Is the wind limit too high? I think the Race Committee did the correct thing imposing a wind limit for the races in the interest of safety. The current wind limit is 21 knots (adjusted for the tide). For the Cup Final, the wind limit will go up to 23 knots. At that wind range, we would have had a second race on all three days. For some reason 19-22 knots seems to be the daily wind average at 2:00 p.m. This is the time the second race is usually scheduled to start. The designers, builders and shore crews are certainly spending a lot of time now preparing their boats so they do not break.

    The most interesting moment of the past month took place when Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand lined up for a speed test. This would be the equivalent of champion sprinters Usain Bolt running 30 meters against Tyson Gay during a pre-race warm up. I was on the water watching. When the line-up occurred, I  quickly called for our television camera boat to record the unscheduled, impromptu scrimmage. The defenders were on the fourth leg of their in-house practice race. Jimmy Spithill and his crew were leading the Ben Ainslie team by about seven lengths. The time limit for the defender access to the course had expired, so the challengers were tuning up for their race. Suddenly, New Zealand's skipper Dean Barker maneuvered his AC 72 in between the two American boats. The race was on! I watched with great interest. Which boat would be faster? The wind was blowing about 16.5 knots. To my eye, from about a quarter mile away aboard Regardless, the race committee boat, the speeds seemed to be about even. Oracle might have been sailing a little faster, while New Zealand was sailing a lower course. I later spoke to the crews of both boats. They told me they thought their boat might have had a slight edge. That is the answer you would expect. Ben Ainslie, who was in a perfect position to see the relative speeds, told a colleague of mine that he did not see any difference in speed. After two minutes, all three boats jibed. The New Zealand boat appeared to gain over a boat length through the maneuver.  Later, I reviewed the data streaming off the boats. Except for the jibe, the VMG on both boats was nearly identical.  

    Getting the required races completed may take several extra days. But barring any breakdowns, I think it will be over in five more races. New Zealand leads 2-1 at this writing. The reason is simple: the Kiwis sail faster upwind and downwind, and gain on every maneuver. Luna Rossa is a greatly improved boat from what we saw in July, but the average time difference will likely be over one and half minutes per race.  

    The America's Cup starts on September 7. Based on the brief scrimmage I saw this weekend, the 34th Defense will be a close and compelling battle. I am sure the losing boat will win several races. I am looking forward to it.

 

 
Note 3: On to the Louis Vuitton Cup Final PDF Print

Note 3: On to the Louis Vuitton Cup Final

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

August 13, 2013

    The biggest question in every sport is who is going to win the contest? On paper, Emirates Team New Zealand looks like an easy victor against Italy's Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger trials. In July, New Zealand defeated Luna Rossa in every head-to-head race by over one mile. Last week, however, the Italian crew improved each day against Artemis Racing in the semi-final match. Did the competition help Luna Rossa enough to possibly defeat the powerful Kiwis?

    Before addressing Italy's chances, there are some important points to note about the upcoming regatta. The first two races will be on Saturday, August 17. The winner is the first boat to win seven races. It could be a long series. The first race each day is scheduled for 1:10 local time. The race should last about 30 minutes. After a 30 minute break, the boats will start again for Race Two at 2:10. Over the past month we have seen the wind here in San Francisco build later in the afternoon. There is a 21 knot wind strength limit for this round. The wind limit is adjusted for the current. If there is a flood tide of 1.5 knots, the wind limit increases to 22.5 knots. If the tide is ebbing at 1.5 knots (flowing out of the bay), the race committee will reduce the wind limit to 19.5 knots. For the first week the tide will be ebbing. This could be helpful to Luna Rossa because the races will be sailed in somewhat lighter wind. On the other hand, the downwind legs will be longer, which will help New Zealand; they seem to excel when sailing to leeward. Adding to the equation is the fact that each team is allowed to postpone the second race of the day. This allows for a breakdown or some other problem. Like any sport "time outs" are generally held until the end of the game. We might learn that one boat is faster in lighter winds, and may use their time out to avoid racing when the wind is heavy in the afternoon.

    In the semi-final races last week, Luna Rossa seemed to be a little faster relative to Artemis Racing when the wind was lighter. New Zealand, on the other hand, seems to be very fast in strong winds. If it was up to them, New Zealand would rather see a higher wind limit. In the America's Cup the wind limit goes up to 23 knots. But, we have a lot of sailing ahead of us before the Cup. This gets me back to the big question. Can Italy win?

    Italy and New Zealand met in the America's Cup match before in 2000. That year, Russell Coutts was the skipper for NZL. In the last race of the best of nine series, he passed the helm over to his young protégé, Dean Barker. New Zealand defeated the Italians in five straight races. Barker has been at the helm of every NZL team since then. Let there be no doubt the New Zealand crew is really strong. They have far more time on the water than any other team. Oracle Team USA lost four months last year when their boat capsized and broke up. The good news for the American team is they have two boats sailing now and are on the water training every day. To my eye, NZL is ahead of Oracle now, but in one month the situation could be different, thanks to all of Oracle's in-house racing.

    Italy does have several strengths. First they showed well against Artemis Racing. As Luna Rossa's skipper Max Sirena pointed out after the racing, "All our time racing was helpful." Skipper Chris Draper is becoming more comfortable at the wheel. He and tactician Francesco Bruni seem to know how to sail the boat efficiently at all times. Luna Rossa now stays on its foils through jibes. They were unable to do that in July against New Zealand. The Italians also have a second wing that was damaged in practice before the semi-finals. This second generation wing will improve their speed in the next round. There always seems to be less pressure on the underdog in any sport. Luna Rossa is the underdog. To win, Chris Draper needs to win the starts. Against Artemis Racing Draper had one win on the starting line, a draw and two losses. Soon after the first leg of all four races, Luna Rossa took control and stretched out their lead to win by an average of two minutes. At 30 knots this is about a one mile lead.

    Luna Rossa is managed by Patrizio Bertelli, head of the Prada fashion house. Bertelli has been in the America's Cup game now for 15 years. He will be a steady hand behind the scenes helping them make good decisions. Luna Rossa also has a strong coach in Steve Erickson, who is an American Olympic Gold medalist, and six-time veteran of the America's Cup. This is his fourth campaign with the Italians. Several members of the Luna Rossa crew are also Olympic champions. These include Spain's Xabier Fernandez, who has a Gold and Silver medal in the 49er class, and helmsman Chris Draper, who has a Bronze in the 49er class. The team also has a strong design team that includes 13 engineers working hard to find improvements.

    Emirates Team New Zealand had their boat in the shed for the past ten days. It is likely that their boat will be faster too. The Kiwis have to be careful to focus on the current match and not look too far ahead to the America's Cup. Sailing is a sport where strange things can happen. A breakdown, an injury to a crew, or a series of mistakes can get a team out of balance. This is certainly true of an NFL team. The competition will certainly be a benefit to the Kiwis who do not have their first generation boat in the water. I am told it is about 90-percent ready to go if they have an emergency.

    The Louis Vuitton Cup final and the America's Cup will feature short, 30 minute races. The crews will be tested every second. Calling good tactics will be crucial to success. We are learning that the swift currents of San Francisco Bay are a big factor even in the speedy AC72s. In every race, the leading boat seems to stretch out. There are not many passing lanes. You can bet that the tacticians and coaches of all teams have been studying the currents, wind patterns and strategic possibilities very carefully. Finding a way to pass another boat after an initial lead is established will be a huge task.

    Luna Rossa has its work cut out. Winning 7 of 13 races against Emirates Team New Zealand will be hard. Everyone loves an underdog, so Italy will have plenty of support. After this match, the playoffs will be over and the big show will be on the world stage — the 34th America's Cup.

 

 
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