34th America’s Cup: How the Tide Turned for the Defender

Published on September 25th, 2013

The 34th America’s Cup was a tale of two halves. Challenger Emirates Team New Zealand was clearly dominant when the match began on September 7, but defender Oracle Team USA made gains to become the better team at the end.

The defender benefited from the long series, where postponements due to too much or too little wind extended the schedule to 19 days. And they had a little luck too, which they needed to overcome their 2 point penalty. Here are some of the notable moments…

Day 3 – September 10, 2013
After winning Race 5, the challenger was on a roll. They had an upwind speed advantage and the defender knew it. The defender strategically used their “postponement card”, an option each team could use once to postpone the second race on a day. The defender had to stop the bleeding and quickly find some answers.

Scoreboard: USA -1 / NZL 4

Day 4 – September 12, 2013
When the defender returned to the course, they had replaced tactician John Kostecki with Ben Ainslie and their boat had undergone modifications. They still lost Race 6 and Race 7, but their boat speed and maneuverability began to show more life.

Scoreboard: USA -1 / NZL 6

Day 5 -September 14, 2013
In Race 8, the defender had clearly improved their upwind ability, but the challenger was still ahead and in control on the upwind leg. However, a near capsize by the Kiwis when tacking allowed the defender to pass and win. After changing their underwear, the challenger again was in control of Race 9, leading at the leeward gate when the race was abandoned due to excessive wind.

Scoreboard: USA 0 / NZL 6

Day 7 – September 17, 2013
The defender was getting faster every day, finding new performance gains in their boat, and getting more comfortable with their new afterguard team. When the winds were too strong on this day to race, it gave the defender more time to progress.

Scoreboard: USA 1 / NZL 7

Day 8 – September 18, 2013
There were no more easy wins for the challenger, as the Kiwis were able to win Race 11 by a mere 14 seconds. The second race of the day was postponed due to the wind limit, giving the defender more time to progress.

Scoreboard: USA 1 / NZL 8

Day 9 – September 19, 2013
The tide had fully turned now, with the defender exhibiting impressive upwind speed to win Race 12. The second race was postponed due to the wind limit, giving the defender time to progress further while the challenger, unable to make similar gains,  began feeling the pressure.

Scoreboard: USA 2 / NZL 8

Day 10 – September 20, 2013
After being on match point for two days, the challenger was brilliant in Race 13, building a 1200 meter lead as they approached the final leeward mark. But with just over 1nm remaining, the 40 minute time limit rule was exceeded and the race was abandoned. A second attempt at Race 13 finished in time, with Oracle Team USA now dominating to win by 1:23 minutes

Scoreboard: USA 3 / NZL 8

Epilogue
The window of opportunity had now slammed shut on the Kiwis. They had equal speed at best, and a notable upwind disadvantage in the stronger wind strength. The defender had improved every facet of their game, from starts to tactics to speed. The defender rolled through six more consecutive wins (a total of 8 straight wins), taking their final victory in Race 19 on September 25 to successfully defend. Game over.

 

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