America’s Cup: Kiwis Stand Firm in 2015

Published on November 16th, 2015

Emirates Team New Zealand, the most tenured campaign marching toward the 35th America’s Cup, has proven able to take a punch. After their remarkable defeat in 2013, after their financial uncertainty in the aftermath, after their team shake-up and skipper switch, they remain standing firm.

The road to the 2017 Match began this year with the commencement of the America’s Cup World Series. For the Kiwi team, they had nearly no training time, and significantly less than most competitors, yet they are the overall leader after three events. With the season to continue next year, skipper Glenn Ashby reflects on 2015:

Portsmouth, England – July 24-26 – Second Place

“For us as a sailing team going into Portsmouth we were hoping that we would be able to mix it up with the big teams that had done a lot more sailing than us,” said Ashby. “Our expectations were to sail as well as we could. In fact we were largely racing ourselves as the boat handling and manoeuvres were, and still are, such a big part of achieving a top result and getting the boats around the track in good shape.

“For me personally, I was pleasantly surprised how close we came to winning the regatta in Portsmouth. I think the wider team involved with the event in Portsmouth did a really good job to ensure we could hit the ground running and whilst there was not much racing, we sailed and raced relatively well straight off the cuff, whilst other teams made mistakes around us.”

Disappointingly the English summer put an end to a chance for Emirates Team New Zealand to make up the one placing to the top of the podium for the regatta after racing was called off due to excessive winds which effectively reduced the regatta to the previous day’s two races.

Gothenburg, Sweden – August 28-30 – First Place

“The plan for Gothenburg was to try and continue our boat handling and development to try to give ourselves an opportunity to sail well enough for a solid result,” notes Ashby. “Again with only 2 days on the water allowed before the weekend’s racing, we were up against the other teams that had been training on their test AC45’s and other similar catamarans in the month between the Portsmouth and Gothenburg events. We were absolutely needing to make the most of our allowable time on the water to get back into racing and have a chance of being able to get mix it up.”

Despite best intentions, the allowable time to practice was severely reduced for Ashby and the crew when in a breezy practice day the under rigging of the boat broke and forced an end to the day and non-participation in the practice racing. The sum of all preparation for the Gothenburg event was a matter of a few hours on the racecourse.

“We sailed okay on the first day of the regatta,” observed Ashby, “but Oracle sure looked the business being dominant in both races. But as everyone is quickly learning, it’s how you end the regatta rather than start it which decides who goes home with the biscuits, and we finished really pleasingly.”

Ashby is referring to the winner takes all final race of the regatta, where Emirates Team New Zealand, Land Rover BAR & Oracle Team USA were tied on points, with local heroes Artemis just two points behind.

The secret to success according to the skipper, “Sailing well in the lighter, non-foiling, ‘old school’ conditions on the double point Sunday. Going back to basics with light air apparent wind sailing techniques was something I feel that we transitioned into better than the other teams did at this event. Also sailing well enough on the Saturday’s windier races to be in the hunt for the Sundays double point races was important.”

The result: Emirates Team New Zealand won the race and the regatta. Sending them seven points clear on the overall scoreboard after two events.

Post winning the regatta helmsman and newly crowned ISAF World Sailor of the Year Peter Burling was quoted as saying, “Obviously that’s what we are all about now, performing under pressure.”

Bermuda – October 16-18 – Second Place
The defender Oracle Team USA’s ‘home’ waters, coupled with the fact they had underperformed by their own high standards leading up to the event set a stage for a dramatic event from the start.

“Nothing really changed in our approach to how we were going to tackle Bermuda,” reports Ashby. “Whilst it was a nice feeling leading going into Bermuda, we wanted to sail well especially at this event and learn as much as we could as a sailing team. Again, we did not have the opportunity to train and sail as a group before the Bermuda, so we made sure that we maximized our time on the water on the two training days to the full potential to practice our maneuvers and set ups. We still had a huge amount to learn as a group sailing together and felt that our maneuvers and technique in stronger breeze needed some attention.”

Despite the buildup, there was nothing dramatic about the first days racing. This is sailing after all, and no wind = no drama. The event began and finished in one day – three races, double points all squeezed into a 90-minute window for television.

“We didn’t get the start we wanted to the day, we were a couple of clicks off the trigger at the gun and we just didn’t help ourselves in the first race,” admitted Ashby. “The good thing about our guys is we don’t get hung up on a bad race and we bounced back well in the second and third races.

“While it was satisfactory to finish well, we only missed out on winning the regatta by a single place in any of the three races, so that’s always annoying but it gives us something to work on looking ahead to 2016.”

2016 Plans
“I hope we can see more events and more racing going into 2016,” declared Ashby. “Compared to other circuits, we did not do anywhere near as much racing as we probably could. The effort and cost in getting to the venues and getting set up for such a small time of racing is hard for me to think about as a yachtsman who loves racing and competing. I think I am not the only one with these thoughts. But looking at the travel we have done- we are just very happy to have such a great sponsor in Emirates and such great support from all of our sponsors and suppliers.

“The thing that a lot of people forget about the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series is that every single point of every single race all add up to rankings going into the America’s Cup qualifiers in 2017. And with that there are actual vital race points on offer to carry into that series and through to the America’s Cup for the team that performs the best.

“While the series is viewed as a build up to the America’s Cup, our America’s Cup has well and truly started on the water and we are right where we want to be- at the top.”

By The Numbers
FLIGHTS = 250 hours travelling per team member
60 hours return to Portsmouth
92 hours return to Gothenburg
100 hours return to Bermuda

SET UP & PACK UP = 21 Days
7 Days Portsmouth
7 Days Gothenburg
7 Days Bermuda

OFFICIAL RACING = 9 races in 2015
2 races Portsmouth
4 races Gothenburg
3 races Bermuda

RESULTS = 1st Overall
3rd, 1st In Portsmouth
3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 1st In Gothenburg
5th, 2nd, 1st in Bermuda

1. Emirates Team New Zealand – 122
2. Oracle Team USA – 112
3. Land Rover BAR – 109
4. Artemis Racing – 105
5. SoftBank Team Japan – 100
6. Groupama Team France – 82

Fleet racing in the foiling, wing-sailed 45ft catamarans, the America’s Cup World Series winner will be the team with the most points, counting every point that they have received from each of the different rounds of the 2015-16 series. In 2015 there were three rounds (Portsmouth, Gothenburg and Bermuda) and in 2016 the aim is to have an additional six rounds.

In 2017, the six teams (5 challengers and 1 defender) will compete in the new 15-meter AC Class Yacht, beginning with the America’s Cup Qualifiers, a double round robin match racing series which will reduce the five challengers to the top four teams. In this series, the winner of the America’s Cup World Series starts the America’s Cup Qualifiers with a 2 point advantage (runner-up in ACWS begins with 1 point advantage).

At the conclusion of the America’s Cup Qualifiers, only the four challengers with the most points (each match win earns 1 point) advance to the final stage to determine the challenger which will face the defender in the 35th America’s Cup. Complete schedule.

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