Foiling ability key to Oracle's comeback
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Just when it seemed Team New Zealand had trumped Oracle at their own hi-tech game, the America's Cup defenders have come back when it mattered most.
And they've used a potent combination of imitation and innovation to drag the final to the ultimate match point.
The rapid gains in Oracle's desperate game of catch-up have been there for everyone to see, never more so than in their come-from-behind victory yesterday to square the series at 8-all.
The frustration for Team New Zealand came when they finally managed to lead around the first two marks - winning a start after a double disaster in the earlier race and then holding off Oracle downwind - only to succumb in their previous area of strength upwind.
Oracle's initial gains on the beat during their long battle back from 1-8came in matching the Kiwis' rolling tacks - a much smoother way of changing direction.
But it's their foiling ability into the wind that has been the killer blow over the past week.
Yesterday they simply turbo-charged past Team New Zealand, turning a 7sec deficit into a 57sec lead.
Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker believed his boat could not defend against Oracle's new-found speed on that leg, once the breeze hit the upper limits as it did in yesterday's second race.
"It was the first time I think that we recognised that there was a condition there where we are not as strong as we need to be," the Kiwi said.
"We could have tacked just about anywhere and we would have been behind at the end of that leg."
Oracle have thrown everything into this.
They have loaded their afterguard with gold medallists to improve their decision making to huge effect.
And it seems they have used not only Oracle boss Larry Ellison's millions to tweak the boat's hardware but have also used his company's technical knowhow to break down the Kiwi game and also improve their own.
They have pored over Team New Zealand's data from an early stage, crunching the numbers in their software to find solutions.
And the buzz about the waterfront has been of a fly-by-wire system that can virtually automate some of the trickier configurations on the boat.
All the time they have had their continuing changes approved, working within the complicated measurement system that surrounds these giant catamarans.
The stability of their upwind foiling has been stunning.
Barker certainly appeared impressed by that yesterday, describing Oracle's performance as "phenomenal and awesome".
Again it was an area where the Kiwis had previously led the way.
"The big thing with the upwind foiling is a low-ride height and being stable. We achieve it for periods of time but not as sustained as what they are managing to do," Barker admitted, though he was perplexed at how Oracle have achieved it.
"There's nothing visually that you can see that changes it. The boats are so complex with the hydraulics systems and board control and rake-control . . . being able to master that is really the key to the foiling.
"They have obviously developed their system to a point where they can control it better than we can."
Barker conceded time had run out on significant development on Aotearoa.
"We are scratching the barrel now a little bit now to make a gain like that in those conditions. A lot of it comes down to systems and being able to control the foiling upwind."
Team New Zealand wing-trimmer Glenn Ashby, the man with the keys to the engine, tried to explain Oracle's foiling gains in layman's terms.
"The boats have got multiple gears in the gear box and it's being able to click into those gears at the right time that gives you the mode or the go-forward," he said.
"Those guys have certainly done a great job over the last week changing things and moding their boat for different conditions and I think everyone has seen they have some wheels upwind now."
Much emphasis has been placed on Team New Zealand's drop-off in crew work and there is truth to that.
Placed under pressure that never existed in the Louis Vuitton Cup and while they had their own speed advantage in the early phase of the America's Cup final, they have made some unexpected blunders tactically and technically with the blowtorch turned on them.
But their relative lack of boat development at the business end of the competition also points to a funding issue, where they have been swamped by the resources offered by Ellison's money and know-how.
With today's 19th and final race scheduled to be contested in higher winds, Team New Zealand's had an option of playing their postponement card and waiting for a less windy day, where Barker believed they were more competitive with Oracle into the breeze.
34th America's Cup Standings (first to 9 points wins)
Emirates Team New Zealand 8, Oracle Team 8 (10 wins; Oracle was penalised its first two victories by the International Jury)
Oracle won by 27sec
Course: 5 Legs/10.11 nautical miles
Elapsed Time: USA – 24min 04sec, NZ – 24:31
Total distance sailed: USA – 11.8 NM, NZ – 11.6 NM
Average Speed: USA – 29.62 knots, NZ – 28.63 knots
Top Speed: USA – 44.02 knots, NZ – 46.33 knots
Windspeed: Average – 16.8 knots, peak – 20.0 knots
Number of Tacks/Jibes: USA – 8/6, NZ – 7/5
Oracle won by 54sec
Course: 5 Legs/10.11 nautical miles
Elapsed Time: USA – 22:01, NZ – 22:55
Total distance sailed: USA – 11.7 NM, NZ – 11.9 NM
Average Speed: USA – 31.92 knots, NZ – 31.23 knots
Top Speed: USA – 45.79 knots, NZ – 47.57 knots
Windspeed: Average – 19.3 knots, peak – 21.8 knots
Number of Tacks/Jibes: USA – 7/7, NZ – 10/6
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