Jobson's AC34 Notes

Note 9: Kiwi Power

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 13, 2013

    For the first time in my sailing career I saw the perfect start. I mean PERFECT. In Race 8 of the 34th America's Cup defense, New Zealand's skipper Dean Barker approached the starting line to windward and ahead of Oracle Team USA's Australian skipper, James Spithill. In seven previous races Barker has won two starts, while Spithill has taken the other five. The Kiwis have been dominant throughout the series, except for the starts. After race six, I asked Barker what he was going to do to improve? Through gritted teeth he simply said he needed to do better. And boy did he deliver.

    When the gun fired, Emirates Team New Zealand was exactly on the line. The screen grab showed they were just two inches behind the line. The boat was sailing at 41.2 knots! In contrast, Spithill was late to accelerate and quickly fell behind. OTUSA's owner Larry Ellison was in a tender alongside the race committee boat where I call the action for the NBC Sports Network, along with Todd Harris and Kenny Read. Ellison put his head down when he saw his team lose the start. He must have realized at that moment that the America's Cup was slipping from his grasp.

    Two weeks ago I predicted in my pre-America's Cup report that OTUSA would defend...barely. I got it wrong. New Zealand is going to win big and here's why.

    The Kiwi boat is faster through tacks, is lightning quick up wind, their management is focused, and the team is a smooth-running operation. I spent some time with them on Wednesday and visited every part of their compound. There are no politics. The 107 workers are all fully engaged with their assigned duties. Barker was reviewing tactics with coach Rod Davis. The designers were at their computers. Workers had the boat apart and were servicing every component. I spoke with tactician Ray Davies. He is having a good time sailing. His big smile, friendly demeanor and impressive record on the water were in sharp contrast to the turmoil over in the American camp.

     James Spithill decided to replace his long-time tactician John Kostecki with four-time British Olympic Champion Ben Ainslie. On Day Four of the AC, Ainslie did a fine job working with Australian strategist and Olympic Champion Tom Slingsby, but the boat is just not up to speed. Until last week, OTUSA's New Zealander CEO Russell Coutts had never lost a single race. Now his team has lost seven.

     With Kostecki benched there is now only one American sailor on the American boat. I sure hope New Zealand returns the Cup to all national crews as the author of the America's Cup Deed of Gift, George Steers, envisioned. I will have more about that later.

    So what has New Zealand done so well? Sailing through tacks, the fuller hull shape helps the boat keep its momentum. The wing on NZL operates smoothly as it changes sides. In contrast, OTUSA's wing has to be punched through. This split second pause hurts. The New Zealand boat does not have cockpits for the crew. The deck is flush with the trampoline. The USA features cockpits. It takes a little longer for the crew to get into position. New Zealand also uses a self-tacking jib. The sail slides on a track in front of the wing. OTUSA uses jibs that are longer on the foot, and more difficult to trim in tacks. Many little things add up to big differences. On every tack the Kiwis gain. When sailing upwind on a straight line, ETNZ is really fast. It must be a horrifying sight to watch the Kiwis gain from the view on board the American boat. Downwind it appears OTUSA might have a very slight edge in speed. Two of the three legs are downwind, so this should help the American boat. But nearly even downwind speed is not enough when you are so slow to windward.

    Occasionally, our television director, Wayne Leonard, will position the helicopter to capture some compelling images of the deck of the two boats. Again, there is quite a contrast. OTUSA has a narrow endplate underneath the wing. The endplate helps give the wing more power by using the wind. This is a complicated subject that can be far better explained by naval architects. We will surely get to read some interesting scientific papers after the Cup. ETNZ has a much bigger platform under the wing that seems to give the boat more power and at the same time give the whole structure more strength. This will become more evident this weekend when we have an ebb current. The ebb will flow against the prevailing WSW wind and will create choppy waves. So far the races have taken place in flood current.

    Funding an America's Cup is a daunting challenge. ETNZ has recruited eleven sponsors including the New Zealand government to provide funding. In addition to the corporate sponsors, the Kiwis have received substantial help from several long-time sailors, including Michael Fay, Gary Paykel, Matteo Nora, Steven Tindall, and Neville Creighton. Dalton told me they will spend over $120 million. I wonder what Larry Ellison has spent? Grant Dalton, the ETNZ team leader, uses his backers for advice and encouragement. To give you an idea of how important winning this regatta is to the 4.4 million people who live in New Zealand, consider this: Last Saturday, for the first day of racing, 62% of the televisions in that small country were tuned-in to the America' Cup.

    Over the past two months our television team has been working hard to produce compelling shows. Like the sailing teams we try to get better every day. There are 92 people involved in the production. Veteran America's Cup and Olympic Games sailing producer, Denis Harvey, has done a good job bringing all the pieces together. When we are on the air, our producer is Leon Sefton. He is a cool hand. Todd Harris, Ken Read and I are constantly talking with Leon about upcoming shots and leading us through the storyline. From my unique view on the water, I tell Leon about things I see that Todd and Kenny do not see in the booth. The three of us are always ready to add some comment. I think one of Leon's most important jobs is to guide us when to talk and lay out. The conversation coming off the boats is very interesting. It is tricky knowing when to talk and when to lay out. Ken Read and I have to remember that we are talking to an audience that includes many experienced sailors, along with many viewers who have never been on boat. Our conversation must be balanced. It has been a pleasure working with Todd, Ken, Leon and our director, Wayne Leonard. For the NBC shows last weekend, David Michaels was our producer. Long time sailor Gordon Beck is producing our cable shows.

    The AC LiveLine graphics are an amazing addition to our telecasts. Stan Honey and his team will also write an interesting paper about this groundbreaking innovation. Separately, Virtual Eye uses GPS technology to gives us 3D animation of the race boats. AC LiveLine's graphics are over live pictures. I marvel at the mechanics of how our team operate seven cameras on each race boat, along with taking the sound from the microphones worn by five sailors on each boat. On the water, we have a modified Extreme 40 camera boat that can speed along at 40 knots and provide remarkably stable pictures thanks to a Cine-flex camera. These are the same cameras used on the helicopters. When viewers see our pictures and hear our audio all of this has to be synced up. This all happens live. So, if I suggest to Leon that I want to talk about back wind, the helicopter has to get in position, Alan Trimble prepares the animation, Todd Harris sets me up and off we go. Meanwhile Ken Read might have an observation about one of the crew. So while I am talking about backwind, the team is setting up the next shot from on board. This includes getting the correct microphone linked with the picture. Todd then sets up Ken and he tells us about Glen Ashby and how he trims the wing. The production of these races is never seen by viewers but is system that runs with impressive precision. I hope we get to televise some for other sailing events at this level.

    New Zealand needs to win 3 of the next 12 races to reclaim the America's Cup. OTUSA needs to win 10 of the next 12 to defend. My prediction was wrong. Perhaps we will see a turn around. In 1983, Australia II was down 3-1 and won three straight to win it all. In 1920, Resolute was down 0-2 and came back to successfully 3-2, and in 1934 Endeavour was up 2-0 against Rainbow and lost 4-2. Can that happen again? We will show you the races live on Saturday and Sunday on the NBC Sports Network, starting with a pre-race program at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time, (12:30 p.m Pacific).


Note 8: Overcoming Adversity at the America's Cup

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 11, 2013

    After three days of racing at the 34th Defense of the America's Cup, the challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand, needs to win five of the next 14 races to defeat Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA. In contrast, OTUSA must win ten of the next 14 races to successfully defend. This is a daunting task for the American team, based on the performance of both boats in the five races that have been sailed so far on San Francisco Bay. The USA elected not to sail the second race on Day Three. Skipper Jimmy Spithill said, "It is time we regroup; we need to make some changes." There is a scheduled lay day before racing resumes on Thursday. Can Spithill and his team turn adversity into victory? It will not be easy.

    First, a review of Race Five. Once again, Spithill won the start. For the first time in the match he took the windward position. At the first mark, OTUSA had a nice lead. The wind direction was more southerly than usual. The boats were able to sail on the port jibe for an extraordinary distance toward the leeward gate. This took away any chance for the Kiwis to pass. Approaching the gate, American tactician John Kostecki called for a foiling tack. Their plan was to turn the mark on the foils and immediately tack and sail for the backside of Alcatraz Island, where there is little effect from the flood current. The boat appeared to stop during the turn. The Kiwis made up four boat lengths in a few seconds, and were now out of phase on the opposite tack. Kostecki made a poor choice. The Kiwis were closing.

    Sailing upwind at 25 knots, New Zealand was gaining at an impressive rate. When the USA tacked onto starboard, the Kiwis could not cross and dipped behind. New Zealand was sailing fast; the American boat was not. Less than one mile after the turn, the Kiwis took the lead and sailed away. Spithill, Kostecki and the crew all looked stunned. On Sunday they won a tight thriller. They have led at the second mark in three out of five races. Something is wrong with Oracle Team USA. The boat is slow going to windward, and their tactics have been very inconsistent. So what is going on, and what can be done?

    John Kostecki is one of the most successful sailors in the world, with an around the world race victory, an America's Cup win, and an Olympic medal. He grew up sailing on San Francisco Bay and is very familiar in these waters. Throughout the race, Kostecki constantly grinds one of the winches to power the hydraulics, and helps trim the sails. It is hard, exhausting work. Over on the New Zealand boat, the tactician Ray Davies, does not have grinding duties. He looks around and studies the wind, the current and his boat's performance vs. the USA. As a former America's Cup tactician, I like to listen to them and watch their performance. Of course, it is easy for me as a television commentator to critique their moves, but I think the physical work for Kostecki (who is 49) might be hurting his ability to look around. The New Zealand boat is set up so the tactician does not grind a winch.

     ETNZ syndicate head, Grant Dalton, (who is 56) sails on his team's boat. In every sport having a seasoned veteran on the team, and in the locker room, is always a benefit. It makes me wonder if it is time for the Oracle team's manager, Russell Coutts, to get on the boat? After Race Five, Coutts summoned Spithill to his tender for an in-person meeting. Our television camera's recorded the scene. We don't know what was said, but I’ll bet there was a difference of opinion on whether to postpone the second race of the day. When asked after the race, Spithill said they talked about the weather. Later he said they discussed rugby. Let there be no doubt that they talked about their performance, and I’ll bet it was a one-way conversation. Coutts has to be under pressure from Larry Ellison to improve. Losing is not in Ellison's DNA.

    Overnight the design team and shore crew will make some changes to the boat to try to find some upwind speed. I like the fact that OTUSA plans to go sailing during the lay day. The Kiwis will spend their time on maintenance, and reviewing strategy.
Time is running out for the USA. Everyone around the waterfront wonders if we will see a crew change. Coutts is certainly available and so is four-time Olympic Champion Ben Ainslie, who served as the in-house training skipper. I don't think we will see a major crew change for Day Four. But, if the USA loses two on Thursday, we just might see a different roster.

    At the post race press conference, I asked Spithill if there was any chance that they would use their other boat. Their first boat is being prepared for racing. Based on my observations Boat One might be a little faster than Boat Two (the one being raced now) when sailing to windward. This is where New Zealand has a distinct advantage. The trade off is that Boat One is slower downwind and is harder to control. I don't think a boat change is likely, unless there is some damage. Let's hope we don't see a collision between these boats. At 40 knots or more, that horrible thought would be a disaster.

    The speeds between the USA and NZL are close enough that either boat can win races as we have seen. Oracle Team USA still has time to get rolling, but they must win the next two races and get some momentum. New Zealand needs to improve on the starting line, and keep the pressure on OTUSA so Sptihill and company keep making increasingly desperate moves. We might see Spithill try to get a boat-on-boat penalty during the pre-start. New Zealand will likely be cautious around the starting line. The Kiwis have the speed and boat handling skills to pass when behind. Five more victories and the America's Cup will be on its way Down Under for the third time in thirty years. The only thing stopping the cup from leaving the USA is the resolve and clear thinking from Ellison, Coutts, Spithill and the rest of the team. Will they find a way to win? We will know soon.




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