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America's Cup - Greatest comeback in the history of sport?
Fri, 4 Oct 2013
America's Cup - The greatest sports comeback in the history of sports happened last week in San Francisco. Probably going widely unnoticed here seeing we really don't cover water sports and local sailing, something I believe should change.
There is a steep history of the America's Cup on the East Coast and in Jersey waters for years as it was defended right in our own Raritan /Hudson Bays of Sandy Hook, defended by a then small little club now known as the New York Yacht Club.
For years we defended it in our waters until later in history it was moved off the coast of Newport, RI. A lot has changed since then but one thing stays true it’s a rich man’s game something the next 35th America's Cup will hopefully be addressing.
The Players The 34th America's Cup was a visionary battle of will and education of the public and media. It had its early detractors most of which did a 360% degree and became fans of the New Cup. It started with ambitious beginnings after we won the Cup back in 2010 against the Swiss in Valencia, Spain. That Cup was fought with huge, never -before -seen catamarans and a very advanced wing powered trimaran, the biggest wing ever built in fact. This was the vision of Larry Ellison and Sir Russell Coutts. Ellison, the backer and CEO of Oracle, had unlimited resources and technologies. Coutts had the knowhow and the pedigree, now having won every America's Cup in which he's been involved – a total of six.
A Little Island Nation Emirates Team New Zealand, of which by the way Sir Coutts used to be the skipper, employed their own country to help them challenge for the 34th America's Cup.
The NZ government invested some 25 to 30 million USD into their campaign. Grant Dalton, a huge self-made skipper and winner of the Whitbread now called the Volvo Ocean race, a gritty, hard, stand-up guy, led his team of all national countrymen with the help of America's Cup winning skipper Dean Barker. Barker is an embedded hero of sailing in New Zealand, winner of the Louis Vuitton Trophies and Cups, Deano as we call him, has invested his life into this sport.
The New Cup The New America's Cup was designed to engage the public to sailing again, to bring back the glory days of old when names like Stars and Stripes and Dennis Conner were household name s. To undo the eight years the Cup sat in a Court room waiting to released. Ellison did just that. And with it began our long three year journey covering this New America's Cup.
The Small Boats First An America's Cup World Series (ACWS) was planned to attract international teams and countries with venues planned all over the world. Raced in a newly designed AC45 winged powered catamaran, a trainer it was called at first, only to become a very formidable racing yacht. This was the first test for the 34th America’s Cup. Footed completely in the end by Mr. Ellison, the world economy got in the way and the free flowing sponsors he envisioned did not surface. But by no means was it a failure. The ACWS showed the new age of sailing's forefront and future as well as delivered overnight a new industry in catamaran racing - foiling.
The Big Boat The Prize - the Cup itself - was never at grasp during this new sailing regatta. But it was hoped teams competing in this would attract the sponsors needed to finance the Big Boat, the AC72. At first never designed to foil, the AC72 developed into something we may never see again - a winged rocket ship with a wing bigger than a 767 and the ability to fly on foils at speeds reaching 60 mile an hour.
New Zealand Foils the Rules Emirates early on found a loophole in the AC72 design rules that would allow them to foil the great cats. This left the four teams from the ACWS that could finance an AC72 scrambling to find an answer. One YouTube video and world was put on edge again. Because not only now did we have winged rocket ships, New Zealand had found an edge and a sharp one at that.
The Louis Vuitton Cup For 30 years there has been one motto spoken. You must first win the Louis Vuitton Cup to achieve greatness and challenge for the America's Cup. Three teams would try to do just that. Artemis Racing Sweden, Emirates Team New Zealand, and one of the most fan crazed nations for America's Cup racing, Prada Luna Rossa Italy. All had been down the road before; one had only won the Cup before and two had won the Louis Vuitton Cup.
The New Boat The AC72 had never been built before and with a very limited amount of people in the world who could build it, design a wing, and then have to adapt to this new foiling the New Zealanders had perfected so fast. The race was on land.
Prada Luna Rossa teamed up with New Zealand because they started late. Showing great promise in the ACWS, Prada was up against the wall and had a first in America's Cup history - a fellow challenger built their boat. Of course missing were a few very important aspects like foiling controls etc. The boat was based on Emirates first test boat which was never raced. Emirates second boat had all the bells and whistles and Prada just didn't have the time to build a second rocket ship.
Cayard’s Foil and the Tragic Loss Artemis Racing funded by an oil speculator for the Russian government and headed by an American skipper who has chased the Cup for years with no avail who had also won the Louis Vuitton Cup, but for the Italians once. Paul Cayard was to head this also bottomless pit of money and resources to take the Cup from our shores. Early on they had problems hiring a non-cat building designer, Juan Kouoyoumdjian. Artemis lost their first wing to structural failure. These wings take at least three months to build.
Secondly, they went with a non-foiling cat thinking it wasn't that important. Only later did they see their huge mistake. Then on a day that shocked the sailing world their first boat scheduled to be retired that very day fell apart. It broke at its main support beam and trapped and killed one of the most beloved Olympian sailors, father and husband Andrew (Bart) Simpson. Just as things were starting to get better for this New Cup, the New Cup looked doomed.
The Wakeup Call America's Cup Race Management sprang into action setting new mandatory guidelines into place. The teams agreed upon them but some later would argue the rules. Divers, wind limits, and many safety protocols were reinvented. Testing strengths of the boats as well would have to pass the test. These carbon fiber rockets where getting a lesson in US Coast Guard Regulations and none would be allowed to race if these weren’t followed.
The Non-Vuitton The lead up was to be a month of racing - the Louis Vuitton Cup, the Challenger Series. First with only three boats, it become apparent we had trouble. Then the Artemis crash left this team wondering if they should continue even in spirit, they were just out time. All teams agreed to give Artemis time and allow them space to mourn and to rebuild. The Vuitton would start with two. Emirates and Prada became a daily two boat race, the best of nine, first to win seven in Round Robin racing format. But this too fell the way of the New Cup luck. Prada refused to race on principle now not agreeing with the new safety measures and causing one of the worse Vuitton’s in history. Branding had a lot to do with this believe me and an international fashion war now we had on our hands: Vuitton and Prada vs. the world.
The Rally In just two short months Artemis Racing lead now by Iain Percy (GBR) and Skipper Nathan Outteridge (AUS) lead the charge to get to the start line, both rallying the shore crew and working night and day with another famous sailor Locke Peyron, the fastest man to sail around the globe. Peyron lead with his brother Bruno an ACWS French team Energy and at one point looked to be in the running to build an AC72 with Oracle’s help. That funding never surfaced and they had to withdraw.
Vuitton Semi-Finals With as little as four days on the water learning to sail a foiling AC72 the amazing crew of Artemis made it to line, winning two starts only to have time catch up to them. Prada Luna Rossa defeated them and continued to the Finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup against the mighty fast Kiwis.
Back to Two Boat Racing Prada tried their hardest to compete with the Emirates powerhouse and even won one race due to an Emirates failure but to no avail. Their big brother of boat building was too fast, too polished and too slick on the foils period. Prada had come to support the Cup they have so yearned to have. Max Sirena and Chris Draper (GBR) in the end held their heads high and rooted on their Kiwi brothers and supported them as much as they could.
The Greatest Comeback of All Time If you didn't watch it on TV on one of the mysteriously hidden programs on NBC or ESPN (it all depended on which cable company you had here on the East Coast) you still can see the replays on America's Cup YouTube Channel It’s worth the time. Oracle Team USA against what seemed to be an unbeatable win for Emirates Team New Zealand - all the protests now behind us, an America's Cup Village gone wild, a City that was against the Cup from the beginning now embracing it, loving it and overflowing it with Kiwis from that small little nation in the south. Kiwi fever had taken over. But had it?
More Wood on the Fire In-between the Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Finals a one week break was planned but not without the showcase being held first what we all waited for during the Vuitton - drag out the Red Bull Youth America's Cup
The Lead That Almost Broke the Camel's Back The Red Bull Youth America's Cup would utilize the now static AC45s from the ACWS and introduce the next young sailing guns of the world to the New Cup. It was a chance for countries to compete for bragging rights and in an arena to show off its best and fastest young stars and Olympic hopefuls in sailing in a one-design boat, the AC45 (meaning all boats are to exactly the same.) During the measurement of the boats something became obvious during the two years of the ACWS these boats took amazing amount of damages to them. And to make up for the extra repair weights added from fixing them, the teams had to add weight to their boats. Problem is Oracle’s boats seemed to have weight in places it didn't belong.
The Jury The International Jury decided even though the ACWS was a non-Cup related race ,not like the Louis Vuitton Cup, they would not only penalize Oracle Team USA they would take two won races away from them at the start of the America’s Cup finals - that’s two races down before they even raced. Further they decided to take two of its crew members also, one a very important one, the wing trimmer, the Skipper’s right-hand man on Oracle, Dirk (Cheese) de Ridder and others. Problem with all this is the added weight, about five pounds, did nothing to improve the boat’s performance and they did it to two other boats which they leased to teams. Not exactly the way you win races.
The Show It all started off well looking like it would be a close America's Cup not a runaway like the Vuitton. Emirates won the first two races the first day but it was close. The second day of racing Oracle won the second race and things looked good but still not on the score board yet because of the two race penalty. Emirates started winning and winning big. two races by over a minute. Score was now six races Emirates, Oracle still not on the board.
The Comeback Oracle the makes some changes. First, they pull their no race day card - you have only one of these. And they go to work. Showing up at the next race with a strangely shorter looking boat - what have they done? They have taken the board bill’s bill off the boat, no code zero or what we all know as the spinnaker on some boats the big sail they aren't going to use it. Broad strokes and this without testing it from what we called the Bat Cave or Pier 80 where their massive boats are stored to the start line. 'We had to change something and quick' James Spithill the Pit-bull of our story said in the press briefing that day after winning two races and getting on the board. You would have thought they had won the Super Bowl still five races down and losing the second race of the day.
Ground Hog Days Begin We don't race again for three days - a lay day is called by the teams - big mistake on Emirates’ part. The Batcave is frantic now - no sleep for the shore crews burning every laptop and server into the wee hours of mornings. 'We can win races' is all Jimmy states. 'We are the underdogs and we embrace it and we can still win this thing, it’s in our hearts.'
Enter the Knight Now the afterguard has been changed, the advisors on the boat, the wind whispers. Sir Ben Ainslie (GBR) is back on the boat as tactician. Ben had a bigger job before this he piloted Oracle’s first boat, A or Crash we know it, as early on Oracle was the first to destroy a boat one fateful day on an ebb tide. Luckily no one was hurt, but it too put the boys behind in defending the USA.
Harmonies Return Jimmy now has a new afterguard of Ben, Kyle Langford (AUS), the new wing trimmer and strategist Tom Slingsby (AUS). The dynamic afterguard of the century was created. But guess what - Emirates wins the next two races. Doom is looking to befall our heroes and chances of defending the Cup seem bleak. The Kiwis now only need one race to win the Cup – only one.
The Second Coming of Christ Like a resurrection, it was now race day 12. The bill has returned on the Bat Boat and still Jimmy proudly states 'We can and will win races. ' Now reporters are changing their rooms, their flights, some leave in disbelief they can’t do it. No more lay days – 'We will race until someone wins this' Iain Murray, the Race Director (The Big Fella) states that morning. And like most days I get my cameras ready walking down the docks still covered in New Zealand flags and Kiwi hats and banners, I shot the dock out show. Looking in Ben’s and Jimmy's eyes you see one thing - winners, a silent lust, we will not lose one more race.
The Kids Oracle team today brings their kids: the next Spithills, the next Coutts, and Ainslie’s, the next Falcones, the bow man facing elimination, everyone looks as if there will be a tomorrow. It’s in the kid’s eyes, I swear it. Well it’s do or die day. Guess what we win. One race though a second race is called for wind limits. This was the turning point I believe.
The Groundhog Sees His Shadow For the next seven days this would continue and every day you saw less and less Kiwi flags and more Old Glory starting to arrive. It’s the middle of the week and kids are cutting school, parents calling in sick, a city, a country is taken back over by the dynamic 4 or should read 11 on that magical boat called the Batmobile.
A Win A Day Keeps the Kiwis at Bay Oracle wins each race of the day and we are only getting in one a day now because of the wind limits or tide acting up. But what’s becoming evident is Emirates isn’t doing anything wrong, in fact each race looks as if they're going to win. Something is happening on the upwind beat after the downwind gates. The Batboat is flying, it’s foiling upwind. It seems Oracle can just turn on the afterburners going upwind and now they're doing 30 + knots, doing it never been seen in any class of sailboat. Never.
Tie Up Day or like I said to everyone 'Two for Tuesday' Remember now if we hadn't had the two race penalty the race before this one we would have won the America's Cup already but seeing we have to win 11 races to Emirates nine we are still three down from winning.
This was the magical day, the day that took a country’s steam away from New Zealand and any hopes of coming back. It started out light which all of thought was Oracle’s weakness. My rib driver from the Bay Area said 'Oh boy this is a strange day here.' He had grown up sailing on these waters knew them like that back of his hands. He suggested: 'You want see what makes this Bay tick? We will go out the Gates and I’ll show you.' We all agreed on the boat, as the race was being delayed for lack of wind.
Winds of Change We piloted outside the Gates under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. I have been here two months and every day it looks different. It is majestic, plainly a soul searching monument and an almost living statement to man's quest to achieve greatness. Now it’s holding the Cup’s future in its hands. We head out and there’s is 5 knots on the other side of the Bridge - 5 knots not enough to finish the course in the set time of 40 minutes. My driver (Christ I wish I could remember his name – he was a great guy) says 'It’s building.' We all look at him like he’s nuts.
Wind Limits He pilots closer to the mainland shores of Tiburon where we can see on the SF side the white caps are building and on our side now it’s blowing 11 knots. We moved 50 yards but we are now inside the great vortex of the Gates. 'We will get both races in,' he states and I believe him but fear we will give the Kiwis an opportunity to win it all. Jimmy needs to win both races today.
The Flexible Flyer We are on the course and the Race Marshall and lead poba Harold Bennett mumbles 'Fifteen minutes to start.' If you can translate Harold Bennett on a radio you have one up on all the other photogs who want out on these boats - it’s a plus. I covered every ACWS and every race leading to today and it’s a calming voice and yet I can’t believe we are racing as it’s still only nine knots now on course.
The Hooker and the Statesman I remember through this entire one thing someone told me once (a high-end America's Cup PR Man, a Statesman of sorts) as he put me on an AC45 back in Plymouth, England: 'John, Jimmy goes into one mode when it gets close and that mode is winning.' That stuck with me every day and funny that’s just what I heard in my head as the all clear was sounded and both boats where dead even at the start. But what’s this? Oracle is foiling over the line already. A smile runs over my face I turn around and before they even get to the first mark I state 'We got this.' And we did but it was close, only 34 seconds delta at the line.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow One more and we are all tied up. One more win I want shout it out so I do 'Go boys kick some Ass!' I settle back, the wind now has come up to the Bat Boat’s liking. Win one more and one and done, tomorrow no more Kiwi flags all over the place, no more funny hats. We will get this win I know in my heart we will take it all. Jimmy positions for another hook but doesn’t take it instead he lures Dean out and runs for the line again, dead even start - wow. Pitbulls have magic and Jimmy pulls off another great start but does not win the mark. They’re in overlap and he settles in as if it’s no big deal. The boat’s floating on air again. Kiwis lead to the leeward gates, Jimmy spits them up. But what’s this the announcer I can hear in the distance coming off the huge speakers at Marina Green? Oracle is sailing around Emirates and gaining on every leg. The next cross Oracle is ahead again. It’s no looking back now. A hair raising tacking duel goes on upwind but when they get to the windward mark it’s Oracle again. They have out-pointed, out-speed and out-tacked the Kiwis. It’s just a downwind left, make a right and we have done it - the comeback will be complete.
Ferry Boats We are mid-course and we have to run to the finish. It is a swell of a sea, now the Alcatraz ferries are all around us as we are racing other photo boats, we are racing officials, we are just flat out pushing it to the finish line. We round Pier 39 and all I see is a wall of Old Glory. Gone are the Kiwi flags and banners. America has returned to America's Cup Park and what a sight. I’m looking at the same time at the boats coming downwind on the course. Jimmy’s taken the inside path on the waterfront. What's he doing - he never does that. Like a fox he’s led Emirates into an ebb tide that he tacks out of just before the Nob Hill dead spot. It’s his race; we are going to tie it up. We win. It’s like the end of World War II and everyone is screaming, waving flags, kissing their girlfriends, their boyfriends… it is San Fran you know. Can this be real? How in the world has Jimmy won seven straight days of races and today sealed it with two? This is so historic, so much bigger than any other race, bigger than when Dennis won it back.
From Here to Eternity The morning starts again like all the rest have every day for the last some 23 days now we have officially yesterday became the longest America's Cup in history. We have become also the most watched. Oracle has broken the record for the most wins.
What to wear for day? I’ve been wearing my Louis Vuitton knockoff suede white loafers, my black riders cap from Plymouth, a hat only the riders on an AC45 of Oracle receive. What will I wear to the parties is the thought. Do you throw out the blue sweater today and chance it? No, I go with white oxford shirt, blue lucky sweater, bring a sport coat hell where’s the Ralph Lauren your buddy Dick gave you years ago. It is linen you can wear anywhere actually hadn't until today as I had been saving it subconsciously for this day, already in my head we have won.
One and Done I have been doing the same routine now for seven straight days: beer at Pier 23 after the day. Ok, maybe two, at least had to have one. I have breakfast every day at my favorite Italian restaurant across from the base, no different today except yesterday almost disaster when I walked in ten minutes after breakfast I met my buddy, a Vuitton shooter, Bobby, who says you're late I say oh no can’t break the tradition and wander into the kitchen where the chef says no problem, two over easy, bacon and potatoes, jam and extra Italian toast. I make it on time today. And of course, a double espresso latte is included.
Hair of the Dog The morning before I remember slipping a shot of sambuca in it because of the invasion we had done on the popular Kiwi bar when Jimmy still needed two to win and finding my good friend Bruno Trouble looking troubled you could see it in his eyes that he believed Oracle was going to pull this off. We basically relieved the bar of all its sambuca that night.
Morning Briefing Like every other ground hog day we started with Mr. Murray and Stephen Barclay with a wind prediction and tide, what to expect on the course but today it was different as we are now given the final instructions of the prize giving because today it’s over, someone wins. Everyone in media knowing I’m a huge Oracle fan is asking why am I all dressed up? I just smile and say because today we win, defend it, we earned it and it will stay here. Or something like that.
Oilskins It’s time take the great Gatsby outfit off and get in my sail gear. I’ve been wearing a set of new Puma sailing boots my good buddy and bar aficionado Jeremy gave me from the shore crew, my lucky San Diego AC jacket, my Foulies from Plymouth England that smell like they’re still there. Check the cameras. Dump the memory cards oh wait the card reader isn't working this the last and final day of the America's Cup and I have no flashcards. I jump up in a panic half an hour till dock out can I make it. Jump on my bike my horse my steed for these past two months and off to Radio Shack twenty blocks away. In full gear I run in found it race back like it’s no one’s business run lights jump curbs ride in the park a big no-no. I’ve made it.
Superheroes of Sailing Our once villains of supposed deceit and a word I will never say are on the brink of going down in history changing history on this sunny beautiful day. Can Oracle Team USA and its dynamic world class sailors save US sailing from the brink of collapse today? You better believe they will still grinning ear to ear as I board the photo boats what do you think I’m asked as I was every day for seven straight days in a row. I answer simple Jimmy will win.
Will the Glue Hold Again we are time delayed but worse I look at my favorite Bat Boat and notice a man on the wing half of the way up. That’s not good. Comes out later one of the main wind adjustment arms has broken. How will the world’s most advanced boat building team fix this carbon fiber Formula One on water? Glue. They’re going to glue it temporarily. Glue on the final race of the greatest day in sailing history. Glue.
The Splash Heard Around the World The start sounded like any other Harold’s mumblings. What’d he say I’m asked. I reply we are going racing in15 minutes. I had stayed with the same boat now not wanting to change a thing as if it would but superstition is just that. And I was happy to have a smart driver and always looking for the best angle. We confer it’s blowing pretty good today what ya think I say well if they're going to capsize they’re going to do it today he agrees. Problem is we have agreed by a small vote earlier on being at the leeward start side of line. We put it to a vote again. We lose so happy just to be out on this historic day we stay.
The Barbless Hook Jimmy begins what looks to be again a hook maneuver on Barker but then fakes luffs back he’s in a good position. Emirates looks close to line, Dean could hold up Jimmy but doesn't, it’s a basic Match race move. Instead he opts to run the line and both set off dead tie again at the start. But Oracle is up on her foils faster again and looking to be able to cross Emirates before the mark priceless oh no splash white water almost looks like exactly what I had predicted, a capsize but the worse type a Turtle we call it. But how Oracle powers through it not only that but only loses a boat length they’re still in the race. Heart now pounding like a child stuck in a trunk I remember one simple thing I said on Two for Tuesday. Hell with the starts we don't have to win them, we will simply out sail them upwind again. And with that folks the not so simple ability to foil point of wind then speed up to point again higher on foils Oracle Team USA made history.
Apocalypse Now - The Finish With helicopters buzzing like something out of Apocalypse Now - Ride of the Valkyries steady theme sound running in my head as I watched us positioning our boat, me tied to the bow like some rodeo rider cameras (two) crashing into my head and chin switching between them never taking my eye from the prize - the finish line and the Batboat. Oracle Team USA was on their way. The AC Park sea wall is a mass of Old Glory and Oracle Team USA Flags - this was history live in the making. The money shot now the finish and the Mumm Napa Moment is now all you think of: get the shot, don’t miss the shot. Fire boat is now streaming all her outlets high and proud, kids screaming USA USA USA this is it.
Position is what it’s about and you have to fight ten other boats, a TV cat from AC TV and every other crazy in a hole in the water trying just the same thing. All the while I can hear that music in my head and Brando uttering those words 'The horror, the horror' but now coming from Dalton’s lips and Dean’s face 'The Horror'. Eight up at one time and now Jimmy The Pit-bull Spithill has done the impossible, he has defended the Cup. And not only that but broke every record doing it including the last race in time. Oh the humanity, oh the history ,and oh the horror for our Kiwi rivals sailing almost perfectly every day to watch a huge lead and almost a huge upset become their worst nightmare. The Pit-bull bite hurts a lot more than his bark which was simply, WE WILL WIN RACES!!!
The Linen Jacket Well after a trip all the way down to Pier 80 wide open 600 horses screaming our rib couldn't keep up with the Batboat and its Merrymen helmed now by none other than Larry Ellison himself we travelled wide out trying to celebrate as well catch that winning shot I wanted to get the team the whole team, the shore crew, the support team, the girls in the office, the Crane guy, a good friend Ron - he had been on many a mission with us that being Pier 23 and our other missions to get everyone home safe each night. Thanks, Ronny.
The Shot To capture a moment in time the celebration of a team that never said die. Never complained came from behind and went even further than any one sports team in history to keep our hallowed Auld Mug home and they did. The crew pulled the Batboat in to her berthing area that it had done time and time again, the same place they brought boat one back after ten hours of fighting the seas when she crashed. Upside down and just about destroyed. That morning Jimmy Spithill said this team unlike any other can overcome adversity and it will.
Little did he know he would be standing in the same spot drenched in champagne less than 10 months later. Jumping into the water to celebrate what he had said he would do, defend the America's Cup and with a team of live or die trying supporting him every day, James Spithill has lead his team into battle as leader and coming out as Giant amongst Men, God, the Seas and even Death , a modern day Patton. He and Larry Ellison, Ben and every sailor on that boat said one thing as well. This was for Bart, Andrew (Bart) Simpson. Let his memory prevail when we look back at this 34th America's Cup and on to the 35th defense. His spirit was with us all.(forewords)
East Coast Sailing Wins A big shout out to Rome Kirby resident East Coaster from Newport RI. Sailed his way into history just like his POP Jerry, Rome was recruited won his spot on the USA 17 and did all of us proud. Go USA Support US Sailing were on top again and we need to stay there .Rome is the perfect example what we can do when focused on our goals his was to sail in the America's Cup now he’s won its . Watch a little about Rome here . Growing up in the dugout.