ETNZ Freight Train Roars On

The Kiwi record remains unblemished as Artemis Racing learns to fly.

Emirates Team New Zealand vs. Luna Rossa. Photo © ACEA / PHOTO ABNER KINGMAN

This past week of Louis Vuitton Cup racing has seen Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) consolidate their already formidable lead over the other challengers, winning an unchallenged match “against” Artemis Racing last Saturday, before hammering home a fifth on-the-water win against Luna Rossa Challenge on Sunday. These wins in the Louis Vuitton Cup’s (LVC) Round Robin series give Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) a total of nine points on the leaderboard, cementing their position as the top team in the LVC challenger series. By winning the Round Robin series, ETNZ also earns the right to advance directly to the LVC Final (August 17), leaving the LVC Semi-Finals (August 6-15) as a tussle between Artemis Racing, the Challenger of Record, and Luna Rossa.

Emirates Team New Zealand races on day 12 of the Louis Vuitton Cup. Photo © ACEA / PHOTO GILLES MARTIN-RAGET

The New Zealand-flagged team has decided to use this handsome chunk of time to develop and refine Aotearoa, their second-generation AC72. “We thought hard about doing the Semi-Finals to get more racing and more starting, to get more race time under our belts,” said Dean Barker, ETNZ’s skipper and helmsman. “But we also have a fairly large amount of work to do to our boat, a lot of changes and modifications intended to improve [our] performance. That takes time, so we will take the next period to make changes and we look forward to lining up against whoever we will race in the Louis Vuitton Cup Final.”

While the Kiwis will sacrifice the opportunity to line-up against the other challengers, it’s questionable if doing so would even represent a benefit to them at this stage. Artemis Racing only brought their second-generation AC72 online last week (hold that thought) and—at this point—has only nascent foiling experience compared to the other challengers. Despite their flashy team uniforms and their truly stunning livery, Luna Rossa has shown themselves to be a soft opponent during all five of their on-the-water meetings with the still-undefeated Kiwis. Moreover, there’s a danger that Barker and his crewmates could potentially reveal too much information about their strengths and weaknesses to the ever-peering eyes of Oracle Team USA, the Defender of the 34th America’s Cup, if they were to continue racing.

For the Artemis Racing shore team, the past few months have been a blinders-on, around-the-clock push to get their second-generation AC72 in the water before turning her over to the sailing team to get her up on her foils. The Swedish-flagged Challenger of Record managed to pull off both feats on their first day of AC72 sailing, much to the relief of their entire crew and shore team. “[It] could not have gone any better,” said helmsman Nathan Outteridge, about the team’s first day of test-sailing “Big Blue” (as their mighty cat is affectionately known) last week. “It was a perfect day and exactly what our team needed. We got the boat on the water and we're happy with how it was foiling… It's a massive tribute to all the guys who have been working so hard to get us back out there.”

Artemis Racing's first day of sailing on the "Blue Boat". Photo © Sander van der Borch / Artemis Racing.

While it will obviously take Artemis some time to dial-in their systems and maneuvers and to get used to foiling a massively over-powered catamaran, it bodes well for the team that they were able to fly on their first day of sailing. Also, according to the latest reports, Artemis and Oracle Team USA, the Defender of the 34th America’s Cup, made the unusual (but not unprecedented) move of sailing together for some time on Tuesday afternoon during each team’s individual practice session. This experience was no doubt an eye-opening one for the Swedish-flagged team.

It still remains unclear as to when Artemis will be ready to face Luna Rossa in the LVC Semi-Finals, but Outteridge is an optimist. 'We'd like to hope August 6 is achievable,' said Outteridge. “But we know how much work is ahead of us now and we don't have a lot of time. This was day one for us while the other teams are on day 70 or 80, so we know we're a long way behind, but today was a big day in terms of catching up. Each step will evolve and we'll try to keep moving as fast as we can.”

So where does this put Luna Rossa? The Italian-flagged team has publically maintained throughout this Cup cycle that they will be using the LVC round-robin series to evolve their game prior to the August 6 start of the LVC Semi-Finals, but it's been difficult to determine how steep their performance curve has been, given the absolute drubbings that they received from their Kiwi rivals. Also, Luna Rossa has not proven to be as polished or consistent as ETNZ when it comes to executing difficult maneuvers such as foil-to-foil gybes. Still, the LVC Semi-Finals against Artemis Racing could give Luna Rossa some much needed confidence, given that they have had months more training and modification/refinement time than the Swedish team.

As for Oracle Team USA, it’s becoming evident that the team’s in-house, two-boat training program is likely providing more “battle-hardening” than this year’s LVC is delivering for the challengers. The fantastic racecourse video feeds (not to mention spectator opportunities) that are being enjoyed the world over are no doubt also being carefully eyed by the Defender, who can use this information to try to stay one step ahead of their likely rival in the actual America’s Cup (September 7-21).

For dedicated fans, the two most important things to follow leading up to and during the LVC Semi-Finals will be Artemis’ and Luna Rossa’s progressions on their respective learning curves, whose encounters will offer a glimpse at the speed differences between two wildly different AC72 designs. [N.B., ETNZ and Luna Rossa shared plans for their first-generation designs, before ETNZ continued development and built a second-generation, “step-sister” boat, which they are currently sailing.] Stay tuned for more, as it unfurls!

David Schmidt is a Seattle-based international yachting journalist, the Electronics Editor at Yachting Magazine and a lifelong sailor.