I Miss the Cats and Dogs

Published on March 23rd, 2017

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Some things don’t mix well, like cats and dogs. But the tension is fun to watch, which is why the 35th America’s Cup is so odd. The Defender and the Challengers are… friendly.

The acrimonious environment had been part of the event’s attraction. Rich owners and boastful skippers facing off in battle, each leveraging the rules to their advantage. Classic confrontation, but in this edition there is cooperation.

I miss the cats and dogs. All we have now is cats.

But this cooperation is not without precedent. When New Zealand was the Defender in the 2000 America’s Cup, their skipper Russell Coutts convinced one of the Challengers to help his team, as reported (on Jan. 1, 2000) during the event by Gary Jobson for ESPN:

Team New Zealand’s chances of successfully defending the America’s Cup were greatly enhanced Wednesday (Dec. 29, 1999) when the Nippon Challenge reneged on the unwritten agreement among challengers to refrain from speed testing against the defender.

In a well-organized four-hour practice session, the Japanese and New Zealanders tested upwind speed, downwind speed and starting drills. It was a major blow to the other five challengers who begin racing in the semifinals this weekend.

At a press conference on Thursday, American contenders Paul Cayard and Dennis Conner blasted Nippon skipper Peter Gilmour for undermining the challenger effort.

“One of the few advantages the challengers have is a greater number of competitors,” Conner said. “I cannot understand what Gilmour was thinking.”

It is clear that New Zealand gained a lot of extremely valuable information. They now know for the first time how their boat (NZL57) performs against Japan’s Idaten (JPN52). By extension, New Zealand now has a handle on their boat’s speed by comparing Idaten’s performance against the other challengers in round robin 3.

Gilmour said he lacked a worthy adversary in his own camp and needed the competition. But Paul Cayard told me, “We invited Nippon to sail with us more than once, and they turned down our offer.”

It is hard to know if Peter Gilmour learned anything from New Zealand during his training period. The reports from on-the-water observers had Nippon sailing slightly faster to windward and even downwind. Neither boat seemed to have an advantage during the practice starts.

The crowds around the waterfront have been huge. More than 1,000 spectator boats are expected to be on the racecourse for the first day of the semifinals. Team New Zealand certainly will be the most interested spectator now that it has some knowledge of its speed vs. Nippon.

That makes the task of the other teams a little more difficult.

Epilogue: The 30th America’s Cup was contested between Team New Zealand (NZL) and Prada Challenge (ITA), with the Kiwis winning 5-0.

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