AC34: Oracle vs. ENTZ

Emirates Team New Zealand beats Luna Rossa Challenge to win the Louis Vuitton Cup.

ETNZ celebrates

Emirates Team New Zealand celebrates after beating Luna Rossa on Day 7 of the Louis Vuitton Cup Final.© ACEA / PHOTO GILLES MARTIN-RAGET

Few fans of America’s Cup racing will be surprised to read that Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) beat Luna Rossa Challenge to win the Louis Vuitton Cup and earned the right to meet Oracle Team USA on the starting line of the 34th America’s Cup. What could potentially raise an eyebrow, however, was the fact that ETNZ didn’t sweep the LVC Finals 7-0 in the best-of-thirteen series, but almost all new boats suffer the errant equipment meltdown, even the iceberg-cool Kiwis. Fortunately, their small electrical-system mishap occurred early in the LVC Finals, and, once solved, it only served to extend the inevitable hatchet chop by a single race day.

The writing was all over the wall that this year's LVC Finals would be a lopsided affair in early July, as evidenced by the Kiwi's dominance in the LVC Round Robins (sweeping Luna Rossa in all on-the-water meetings), their far superior crew work, and their noticeably faster second-generation AC72 class catamaran. For sailing fans, however, ETNZ's massive talent and speed surplus made for fairly boring LVC Finals racing, with all races determined by the first mark rounding.

The last three races of the LVC Finals unfurled on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a single race taking place each day. Friday’s start saw both boats cross the starting line at roughly the same time, but ETNZ skipper Dean Barker was able to use his windward position to roll his Italian rivals, arriving at the first mark some 10 seconds in the lead. This advantage stretched to one minutes and 57 seconds by the time Luna Rossa finally crossed the finishing line of Race Six.

“It would’ve been nice to have had a better start,” lamented Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper. “We can talk about the start as much as we want, but the cold reality is they’re going to sail past us whether they’re to windward or leeward.”

While this reality bath was no doubt a chilly and prolonged one for Luna Rossa, the team still looked focused and serious on Saturday as the boats entered the starting area for Race Seven, sailing in more air than any other LVC Finals Race. According to reports, the average windspeed was 18 knots with max gusts exceeding 21 knots. ETNZ again managed to start to windward and slightly ahead of Luna Rossa, and again Barker and crew worked to create a lead, which they coaxed to four seconds by the first mark. By the third mark the Kiwis were in absolute control of the game, rounding this mark one minute and 53 seconds ahead of Luna Rossa. Impressively, ETNZ also clocked a new course top-speed record of a jaw-dropping 47.18 knots (54 mph!) at the third mark—substantially improving on their previous high-tide mark of 44.15 knots—before then winning the race by a Delta of one minute and 58 seconds.

Emirates Team New Zealand sails against Luna Rossa on Day 7 of the LVC Final. © ACEA / PHOTO GILLES MARTIN-RAGET

“We’ve hit those speeds before. We’re getting used to it,” said Adam Beashel, ETNZ’s bowman, referring to the team’s new course record. “It’s a shame we didn’t hit 50. It’d be nice to be the first [team] to do that. We’ll keep pressing on and get that before this event’s over. We’ve gone close in practice, so hopefully we’ll crack it.” 


Talk to team boss Grant Dalton or other top brass at ETNZ, however, and winning the America’s Cup weighs higher on the “To Do” list than clipping 50 knots, and the team took a significant step towards that goal on Sunday when they beat Luna Rossa in Race Eight to win the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Unlike other days on the Bay that delivered too much wind for the tender AC72 class catamarans, Sunday’s race featured thick fog and lighter-than-average winds (13 knots at the start) that made for some heady tactics. ETNZ commanded a strong lead of 16 seconds at the first mark, which they stretched out to two minutes and 58 seconds by the third mark and a whopping three minutes and 20 seconds (ages in AC72 parlance, given their staggering straight-line speeds) by the time Luna Rossa concluded racing.

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“To race for the America’s Cup you have to win the Louis Vuitton Cup,” said Barker. “We’ve definitely come here to win the America’s Cup, so winning the Louis Vuitton Cup is all part of the preparation. The guys are extremely focused. We came short in Valencia in 2007 and we’ll give it our all now in the next few weeks to make sure we’re as ready as can be.”

History buffs will remember that ETNZ won the last Louis Vuitton Cup, which was held off of Valencia, Spain, in 2007, defeating (drumroll please) Luna Rossa Challenge for the right to meet Alinghi for the start of the 32nd. Ultimately, Alinghi beat ETNZ across the finishing line by a razor-thin margin to win the Cup. Barker and his crewmembers swore to avenge this loss, and, based on their performance in this year’s LVC, the Kiwis are extremely serious customers.

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ETNZ wins the Louis Vuitton Cup Final. Photo © ACEA / PHOTO ABNER KINGMAN.

According to the latest reports, ETNZ plans to bring their mighty catamaran into the shed for a few days before returning to the water for their final push before the September 7 start of the America’s Cup. Oracle Team USA, however, will likely have a far less relaxing time before AC34, as the team must first face a hearing on Thursday (August 29) by the International Jury for allegedly violating Rule 69 of ISAF’s Racing Rules of Sailing and Article 60 of the Protocol that governs the America's Cup in an incident involving illegal modification of several of their AC45 class catamarans prior to several America’s Cup World Series events. It is unclear what ramifications this hearing could have for the Defender, but it’s fair to say that the temperature is likely hotter in Oracle’s camp than their leadership would prefer.

Oracle practices on San Francisco Bay. © ACEA / PHOTO GILLES MARTIN-RAGET

Yachting will be on the scene in San Francisco for the start of the 34th America's Cup (September 7-21), so stay tuned to this space for the latest racecourse news and on-scene reportage, as the racing action unfurls.