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Gary Jobson's Notes from the 34th America's Cup
Note 15: Speed, Smarts, and a Little Luck PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 22, 2013

15-Oracle-takes-both-races-Sept-22-2013   Can Emirates Team New Zealand dig into their collective inner soul and find a way to win the 34th America's Cup? The way it is going, the Kiwis are in deep trouble.

   Oracle Team USA is on a roll. They are winning starts, sailing really smart, and at times they are blazingly fast. The USA still needs to win four races to successfully defend, while NZL only needs one victory to take the Cup down under. Race 16 on Monday will mark the longest period in Cup racing days since the first defense in 1870. Several thousand fans from NZ, who are here in San Francisco, can't believe what is happening. Neither can the team. Three races have been abandoned when NZL was ahead for either too much wind, or too little, hence the bad luck. I still believe the Kiwis can pull this off.

    It starts with a renewed attitude. NZL skipper, Dean Barker, has got to ignore all the noise, expectations, thoughts of destiny, or even winning the regatta. He needs to declare to his team that they are going to win, and do it with such determination that everyone believes him. I watched Ted Turner do this many times. True conviction is infectious. The sailors and the design team need to work through every possible improvement that is available. Any changes must be in sync with the wind, current and wave conditions. The USA has been masterful at making innovations after going 1-3 in the first two days of the regatta. Today, in 16 knots of wind, I watched USA 17 race by my position on the race committee boat on Leg Three at 29 knots. The boat was up on its foils while sailing to windward. In contrast, at that moment, NZL was sailing at 22 knots. Does NZL have an answer?

    Since Race One, OTUSA seems to have a small edge sailing downwind. If the USA has a weak spot it is sailing upwind in lighter winds. Tomorrow the weather is forecast for light wind in the morning. This might be the best opportunity for NZL. If they lose the first race, and the wind starts to build, NZL might pull out a postponement card for the second race of the day, and hope the wind is light for the next day. Certainly the Kiwis want to avoid a winner-take-all race with the score tied up.

    To win, Dean Barker has to take the start. On my unofficial score card, in 15 races Barker has won six starts, and OTUSA's Australian skipper, James Spithill, has won nine. Before today's first race I watched Spithill and crew methodically practice several starts. 15-The-two-skippers-Sept-22-2013They did short timed runs, long timed runs, acceleration practice, and worked the middle, leeward and windward ends of the line. They maximized their practice time like it was their last opportunity to hold on to the America's Cup. Oh, wait a minute — every race is their last opportunity to hold on to the America's Cup. In contrast, ETNZ went through their normal routine, which is to cross the line, sail to Mark # 1 and do some jibes. But, they did not use the pre-race practice period for intense starting practice. Maybe they should set up a starting line early in the morning and schedule some practice starts.

    If the Kiwis can win the start, the next item is to stay ahead on the downwind leg, knowing they might be a little slower. This is where the tactician, Ray Davies, needs to make good calls. Most of the time the leading boat must cover, but sometimes it is better to stay in stronger wind than make extra maneuvers. Over on USA 17, British tactician, Ben Ainslie, has found the correct balance between covering and going for better wind. This is where championships (or America's Cups) are won.

    ETNZ has plenty of strengths. Dean Barker is doing a really good job steering. The crew continues to handle their boat with precision on every maneuver. But for Mr. Davies? This is his hour. My advice is to simply go out and have some fun. Treat the next race just like you would in any weekend regatta. If you get caught up thinking about the high stakes of this event, you are cooked. Going with your gut instinct always seems to work.

 15-Ray-Davies-Sept-23-2013   A few days before the first race of the 1977 America's Cup I will never forget Ted Turner telling me, "I am going to have fun in this regatta, because I think it will improve our chances of winning."

    Oracle Team USA's owner, Larry Ellison, has a lot on his plate at the moment. About 60,000 people are here in San Francisco for Oracle Open World, a huge technology conference. This is an important event for his company. Yet, he is on the water for every race. Mr. Ellison stopped by our race committee boat yesterday for a brief hello and seemed very energized by his sailing team's turnaround. My only regret for him in this Cup is that Ellison should have been able to sail on his boat. Whatever format evolves for the next America's Cup, I hope the owners can be aboard. Surely, this would be a good incentive for captains of industry to organize sailing teams.

    The number of spectator boats on the water is getting smaller by the day. I have never seen so few boats watching an America's Cup. I spoke at a local yacht club here on Friday night. I asked why more boats were not out on the bay? Several people at my table said, "Its better watching on television." Lucky me; I get to do both. Being aboard the race committee boat with our television crew, cameraman Greg Peterson and engineer Bruce Jackson, has been great fun. We have the television images, AC LiveLine graphic information, and get to see the boats up close. At times they sail past within one boat length.

    Racing on San Francisco Bay certainly provides good theater for spectators all along the shoreline. But I would like to add an editorial comment. The restrictions of where the course can be set makes it a difficult challenge for the race committee. Yesterday we were unable to get a race off because the wind was left of 230 degrees. If a race had been sailed the boats would have reached to each mark. A parade would be unfair to the competitors. The race committee will not start a race if the wind is to the right of 280 degrees. To make the short 40 minute time limit the wind needs to average at least 8 knots. But, they cannot race in winds over 23 knots for safety reasons. These are severely limiting parameters. If the races are to be held on San Francisco Bay in the future, a little more flexibility is order.

 15-Confident-Ben-Ainslie-Sept-22-2013   As I mentioned in an earlier AC Report, I like cheering for one team at sporting events. Right now I want both teams to win. It would be heartwarming to watch Dean Barker and his Kiwi crew break out of their slump and win it. It means a lot to that tiny nation. At the same time, I am really enjoying watching James Spithill and his team come charging back after near-certain defeat. While commentating on the races for television I always have my tactician's mind engaged. Ben Ainslie is great fun to watch. He is like a chess master. Ainslie gets a helpful mental boost from the observations of OTUSA's strategist, Tom Slingsby. Every sailor should listen carefully to the communication between these two Olympic champions.
     
    I guess a tie is out of the question. One team must win nine races. It could happen tomorrow, or it could come down to one race with the score tied at 8-8. Either way the conclusion is going to be fascinating. Tell your friends to tune in and watch sailing history being made. We may never see anything like this again.

    At 4 pm Eastern Time (1 pm Pacific) Todd Harris, Ken Read and I, along with our very energized production team, look forward to bringing you the finale of the 34th America's Cup defense on the NBC Sports Network.

 

Photos courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.

 

 
Note 14: America's Cup Destiny? PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 20, 2013

14-OTUSA-Sept-20    How would you like to have four-time British Olympic champion, Sir Ben Ainslie, calling tactics for you in the biggest race of your life? Adding to the collective wisdom of the Team Oracle USA afterguard is another Olympic champion, Australian Tom Slingsby. The USA team (with only one American on board) took another step closer to defending the America's Cup. They were very lucky when light winds prevented Emirates Team New Zealand from crossing the finish line, as NZL was well ahead but just missed finishing within the required 40 minutes. In the re-sail of Race 13, Ainslie's tactics were the difference. At 8-3, the score still favors New Zealand, but you get the feeling here in San Francisco that OTUSA's Australian skipper, James Spithill, along with Ainslie and their crew, are on a roll and just might pull off the biggest upset in the history of sailing. Is it destiny, or determination?

    When Spithill came strutting down the promenade at Pier 27 for the post race press conference, he looked like Popeye just after eating his spinach. He knows he has the boat and team to go all the way now. New Zealand's skipper, Dean Barker, seems to be feeling the pressure. Outwardly, he remains calm and assured, but inside this event has got to be eating away at his psyche. Barker only needs one more win on a ten-mile course to take the America's Cup back to New Zealand. Just-one-more-win! Getting it will not be easy, but is certainly possible.

    Oracle Team USA started this regatta in disarray. Their starts, tactics, boat handling and speed were way off the pace set by the Kiwis. Something changed. Larry Ellison got engaged. He visited the Team base at least two times, and got his giant machine in gear. The America's Cup trophy mysteriously appeared in front of the boat when the crew arrived after losing two races on Day One. The message was clear.

14-Press-Conference-Sept-20

     The 32 (or so) designers went to work for Ellison's sailing team. Spithill kept saying they could win races. The speeds of the boats became even. Ainslie was substituted in as tactician replacing American, John Kostecki. The move has proven to be a good one. Ainslie is getting better with every race. Ainslie knows how to win. I witnessed his relentless pursuit for victory at the Olympic Games in Weymouth last summer. Ainslie had to beat Denmark's Jonas Hogh-Christensen in the final medal race to earn his record setting 4th Gold medal (Ainslie also won a silver medal in the Olympics at the age of 19 in 1996). Ainslie had been trailing throughout the Games last summer. It took a herculean effort for him to dig out of a deep hole, and then win it all by coming from behind to beat Hogh-Christensen in the final race.

     On board USA 17, and around the waterfront, Ainslie looks like he is having a good time. Being focused yet relaxed in the heat of battle is a good combination. Racing will continue with no lay days until one boat wins nine races. OTUSA still has to win six more in a row. New Zealand only needs one. Can they do it?

    The Kiwis realize their boat is just about the same speed as USA 17. Both crews are handling the boats efficiently during maneuvers. In a long series like this one the pressure builds. The press, fans, supporters and even teammates get impatient. While the races are short, the nature of the Cup can take awhile to conclude. In 2003 it took Alinghi 16 days to defeat New Zealand. In 1983 Australia II finally defeated Liberty 4-3 after 13 days. Tomorrow's race will be Day 14. A review of Race 13 is in order.

14-So-close-yet-so-far-Sept-20    In the re-sailed race that counted, Dean Barker brilliantly won the start. He had lost three starts in a row to Spithill. The Kiwis had a five-length lead half way down Leg Two. Somehow, New Zealand's tactician, Ray Davies, allowed his boat to get in a position where the disturbed wind off the USA 17 wing slowed NZL down. Ainslie saw an opening and pounced. When the boats converged, USA 17 was on starboard; NZL was at risk on port. Just before a potential collision, Spithill sharply altered course and protested. The umpires ruled in favor of USA 17. The penalty went away because NZL was already well behind. At the time I thought NZL was clear, but a review of the AC LiveLine graphics, in slow motion, showed that the umpires made the correct call. Approaching the leeward gate, Ainslie called to jibe and switch from rounding the left gate to the right gate. Davies decided to make two costly jibes at slow speed to take the left gate. NZL was well back after that unfortunate move.

    The Kiwis had one possible opening halfway up Leg Three. In the middle of the course USA tacked on NZL. Davies could have called for a tack to get back over to the south side of the course. The wind was shifting to the left, which favored the city side. There was also a stronger ebb current along the shore line. Davies elected to use boat speed to get clear. The wind did shift to the left, and USA 17 gained. Davies’ one opportunity slipped away. While Ainslie constantly consults with Tom Slingsby about tactics, Davies is the lone tactician on his boat. Today he could have used a little help. To his credit, Dean Barker concentrates on steering and never second-guesses Davies. With the speeds of both AC 72s so even, after the start Davies is the man that has to make the correct calls.

    Missing on ETNZ today was their team leader, Grant Dalton. He might not agree with me, but his presence sure seems to help. Just saying, Grant!

    As an aside, the wind limits are a big issue here. The 23-knot wind limit (adjusted for current) was set in the interest of safety. OTUSA would like to raise the limit. New Zealand doesn't think the rules should be changed in the middle of the game. I agree with New Zealand on this point. The sailing instructions say races can be started in five knots of wind, but the boats can't sail around the five-leg, ten-mile course in under 40 minutes. Either the minimum wind speed should go up, or the time limit should be extended to 50 minutes. (New Zealand missed finishing by about 2 minutes today). During the 12-Meter era the time limit was 4.5 hours on a 23.4-mile course.

    This America's Cup is becoming one of the biggest battles in the Cup's history. The USA is getting stronger every day. Larry Ellison is on the case. Spithill is energized. Ainslie is smooth. The American boat seems to be lucky when they need it. The Kiwis are getting nervous. All 4.4 million people in New Zealand are cheering on their team. I think many of them are here in San Francisco. They need one more race. Just one. Maybe Barker, Davies and DALTON should take a line from Spithill, and declare, "We can win races." As I asked earlier, "Is it destiny or determination?" For me it is determination. If NZL wins, the Spithill strut we saw today will look more like Y.A. Tittle on his knees in the end zone after losing a championship football game. The late, great sports announcer Jim McKay described moments like this with his famous prose: "The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat." The 34th America's Cup is sports theater at its best.

    Our coverage continues on the NBC Sports Network at 4pm Eastern (1pm Pacific). Todd Harris, Ken Read and I look forward to calling these epic races, and we hope you will be watching right along with us.

 

Photos courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.

 

 
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