Wednesday’s Italian challenger Luna Rossa will attempt to dislodge the New Zealanders, at home in Auckland, from the prestigious America’s Cup, an athletic “old lady” who, with her futuristic sailboats, requires more technical prowess than nautical qualities.
This is one reason for the fascination with this venerable competition, which was delayed by four days due to an organized re-containment in New Zealand’s largest city after new cases of Covid-19 were discovered.
Their first edition may have been contested under the eyes of Queen Victoria 170 years ago, in 1851, on the English Isle of Wight breeze, never having been so dazzling, with these tech-laden rockets cruising nearly without wetting their bodies.
Like the majority of boats that have just completed the Vendée Globe, AC-75s – 75-foot (23 m) single-hulled specially designed for the America’s Cup – are perforated with foil and accessory sides that allow the boat to be lifted up and down, reducing water resistance to carry it well beyond wind speed.
It is the current title holder, Team New Zealand, who pioneered the use of foil in the America’s Cup, while preparing for the 34th edition scheduled for 2013.
The concept seemed so absurd at the time that some claimed in 2012 that images of the kiwi raft had been modified.
– ‘Like facing all blacks’ –
Always at the forefront of technological development, the New Zealanders will be the favorites to win the 36th edition of the Top Thirteen Tour.
For a long time to save the Americans (28 victories out of a possible 29 between 1851 and 1992), the America’s Cup has only truly globalized in the past three decades.
Since then, the New Zealanders have been in the last six out of seven, and have lifted the silver pitcher three times (1995, 2000 and 2017).
Team New Zealand once again dominated the preparatory regattas at the end of December, with the sailboat Te Rehutai showing itself superior in all wind conditions.
According to one of Luna Rossa’s two coxswains, Australian Jimmy Spiethl, the Kiwis are simply the best team in the world.
“Going to compete against Team New Zealand on their waterway is the same for a rugby player to take on the All Blacks in the World Cup Final at Eden Park,” says the Australian.
“It’s an incredible privilege.”
– Truth for a day –
Luna Rossa advanced unnoticed, having been dominated in the first races, without bets, by Ineos Team UK and American Magic.
But the Italian challenge continued to grow to defeat the Americans 4-0 in the Prada Cup semi-finals, before torpedoing the Briton 7-1 in the final of this competition with the goal of determining the New Zealand team’s rival.
Luna Rossa was threatened two months ago for being returned to her Mediterranean pontoon in the event of a mishap. And for Spiethl, that pressure is worth all the preparation, as the New Zealand team has known for four years and the victory of Bermuda they will play in, the America’s Cup.
“We had real racing, and that’s the difference. There was the danger of going on the side of the road,” the Australian notes. “They had to train alone.”
We say Luna Rossa is stronger in the light winds, but Team New Zealand is more consistent.
But nothing is set in stone with AC-75s that sailors and technicians constantly improve upon, including between rounds.
This means that the reality of one day is not the reality of the next, especially as the crews are constantly progressing in perfecting their exact machine in its various stages.
Norwegian Knut Frostad, a Volvo Ocean Race veteran and president of Navico, which makes navigation systems used by certain crews, thinks Kiwis have an advantage.
“But nothing is certain,” he assures us. “With AC-75s, the potential gains from a technology breakthrough make any team can still move the lines, even after the first round.”
In 170 years, the European team has won the cup only once, the Swiss Confederation Alinghi in 2003.
For Italians, the challenge is enormous.