By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame
September 25, 2013
Today's victory by Team Oracle USA concluded an America's Cup that will add quite a unique chapter to the long history of this regatta. At the post race press conference, team owner Larry Ellison was on stage. He was gracious, funny, respectful, interesting and happy. I sat among the 100 or so journalists, thinking to myself, "Where has this guy been?" Ellison explained that he was absent because he simply wanted to support his team, and let them run the defense. There was no doubt, however, who was in charge. Alongside Ellison were the Australian skipper of OTUSA, James Spithill, the Australian strategist, Tom Slingsby, and the British tactician, Ben Ainslie. The team leader, New Zealander, Russell Coutts was not on stage, and he was missed. Ellison gave Coutts considerable credit for pushing the team to improve when they were behind. Something happened during 19 races over the past 19 days that took the American team from awful to spectacular.
First a review of today's big finale: A brisk wind blew in out of the WSW at 17-21 knots. With a strong 1.4-knot flood current, the wind limit was 24.4 knots. Everyone in San Francisco and around the world interested in the America's Cup was relieved that we would have a race today. Emirates Team New Zealand won the start at the leeward end of the line and held an overlap at the first turn. Just as the two AC 72s arrived at Mark One, USA took a severe nosedive. The thought of another disaster flashed in my head. But James Spithill steered his catamaran out of harm’s way. On the three-mile run to the leeward gate, NZL held a two-length lead. When USA 17 jibed, the Kiwis covered closely. They did not make the same mistake made yesterday when they failed to cover while leading. The boats split courses at the gate. NZL headed for the favored right side of the course that had considerably less current. USA 17 started foiling to windward at 30 knots. Soon the boats were even. Yesterday, in Race 18, USA 17 got around NZL due to sloppy tactics by the Kiwis. This time the American team passed on pure speed. It was impressive. Spithill and his crew never looked back. Closing in on Mark Four Spithill even smiled, a first in this tension-backed regatta. He guided USA 17 across the finish line to cheers of 10,000 spectators on land, and millions watching on television around the world. The Kiwis gave it their best, but just weren't fast enough.
The 34th America's Cup defense reminded me of a Usain Bolt 100-meter dash. Out of the gates another runner often takes a quick lead. After 40 meters, Bolt gains and is even with the leader. By the 60-meter mark Bolt has the lead, and stretches to a huge win. Oracle Team USA was behind but sure came on strong. It makes me wonder how much faster they would get if racing continued for another week?
I doubt anyone in New Zealand was cheering, but I am sure they respected the USA turnaround. No one was more impressed than ETNZ's skipper, Dean Barker. He and team leader, Grant Dalton, admitted they knew they were in deep trouble the day before when Oracle easily stretch out on Leg 3. The Kiwis were hurting, but to the person they were gracious and good sports. All 107 members of their team were on the stage for the prize giving. Both crews shared hugs and handshakes on the pier next to the America's Cup Park.
I have been part of this edition of the Cup since April, 2012. It was most heartwarming to see the world suddenly take notice. Stories appeared today on the front page of the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal and scores of other newspapers around the world. It was a great story. The score was 8-8. The winner would claim the Cup. USA 17 had won seven straight races. Emirates Team New Zealand looked great early but never seemed to get better. Although Barker did say they were a lot faster in the Cup than in the Louis Vuitton challenger trials. The big question is, what did Oracle do to improve so much? Ellison seemed to want to explain everything at the press conference. Unfortunately, he held back. Spithill and Ainslie had nothing to add.
Ellison did say they made many changes, and that Russell Coutts was the person behind the scenes pushing. Spithill laughingly pointed out that he was reminded by Coutts that he (Spithill) had now skippered in 13 America's Cup race victories, but that he (Russell) had won 14. I am sure we will see Spithill at the helm again. He is 34 and proved his ability to lead a team out of a deep hole.
At the press conference, I asked Larry Ellison if they had received a hip pocket challenge for the next America's Cup. He responded that they had, but would announce who it was in the coming weeks. He also said they wanted to consult with other potential teams about the boats, and venue. Ellison would not commit to San Francisco for a future Cup.
Many volunteers around the San Francisco Bay area participated on and off the water to make the regatta a success. The Bay Area Yacht Club Alliance has supported the Cup for the past two years. There were ten yacht clubs that participated. The U.S. Coast Guard was on patrol every race day. Capt. Matt Bliven was in overall charge. He is retiring on Sat., Sept 27. He and his staff were extremely helpful throughout the Cup. The U.S. Coast Guard has been part of every America's Cup held in U.S. waters since 1958.
After the race I hustled back to shore and joined my co-commentators Todd Harris and Ken Read in the booth. We laced our thoughts between the prize-giving and post-race activities. One of the great pleasures of the Cup was working with Todd, Ken, our producer, Leon Sefton, and director, Wayne Leonard. When our program dipped to black, all 92 members of our production team poured out of our various studios and areas. There were big hugs, and many tears (me included). Everyone knew a new high television production standard had been set, not only for covering sailing, but for sports television. The technology of the broadcast from the on board cameras by SIS, AC LiveLine graphics, Virtual Spectator animation, perfectly stabilized aerial and water view images, the clear sound from the sailors, the features, interviews and special moments all came together for this all important showdown.
In a few years there will be another America's Cup. Based on the history of the Cup, there will be more fascinating stories, intriguing personalities, many twists and turns, triumphs and disappointments that will extend the narrative. One thing that never changes is that the America's Cup attracts highly motivated people who want to compete at the highest level. To get your boat's name engraved on the oldest trophy in international sports is hard, but when you do, the effort is worth it. Larry Ellison will have his boat's name engraved on the Auld Mug for the second time.
I will have more to say about the future of the America's Cup in the November issue of Sailing World magazine. Thanks for reading my AC Reports. From San Francisco, I am signing off.
Some photos courtesy of and © ACEA.
Photo Credits: Gilles Martin-Raget, Ricardo Pinto, R. Steven Tsuchiya, Abner Kingman.
By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame
September 24, 2013
The 34th America's Cup defense has turned into more of a people show than a boat show. Sure, the boats are amazingly fast, technological marvels, but the emotional highs and lows that we are feeling while watching and listening to the sailors compete is the epitome of human drama. How could anyone write a script for such a compelling narrative?
Think about these story lines: The America's Cup has been won and lost by the most successful business leaders of their eras. This is the oldest continuously contested trophy in international sports, dating back to 1851. The score is tied at 8-8. We are down to one, 30-minute race around a 10-mile course, off the city front of San Francisco. A tiny, sailing-crazed nation, with a home-grown crew, is up against one of the wealthiest men in the world, who has acquired the services of Olympic champions and superstars from seven nations. New Zealand has been one race from winning the Cup for a week, while Oracle Team USA has felt the pressure of being on the brink of defeat for seven races in a row. Tomorrow, one team will be heroes; the other will be hurting for a long time.
Today, on the 18th day of the Cup, we saw two very different races. In the first contest, the Australian skipper of the American boat, James Spithill, forced the New Zealanders into irons at the start. This is the equivalent of a football player fumbling the ball in his own end zone and the other team recovering it for a touchdown. USA 17 jumped to a comfortable lead. After the start, the boats seemed fairly even in speed in 15-18 knots of wind. With another American victory the score stood at 8-7, with ETNZ still leading the series. After the race, the Kiwi skipper, Dean Barker, sounded determined to get right back on the racecourse.
Race Two commenced on-schedule. At the start, both boats hit the line at the same time. USA 17 was to windward. Could they drive over the top of NZL? Barker was in the better inside position and luffed Spithill at the first turning mark. Downwind, USA 17 gained a length or two. There wasn't much difference in speed between the AC 72s. Both cats streaked down the course at 41 knots. About one-half mile from the leeward gate, USA 17 jibed. Inexplicably, NZL continued on. The leading boat should always cover by staying between the competitor and the next mark. The American boat was working to set up a split at the gate to sail on a different course than the Kiwis. Had NZL jibed with USA 17 they would have stayed in phase. Then USA 17 would have been forced to make two jibes to get the split. In contrast during previous races, OTUSA's tactician, Great Britain's Ben Ainslie, covered closely when they were ahead on Leg Two.
On the third leg to windward, USA 17 inched up under the lee of Alcatraz Island. I wonder if the prisoners in the 1930s would have been able to watch the Cup races had they taken place on the Bay at that time? NZL tacked over. They were crossing by about three lengths. NZL's tactician, Ray Davies, called for a tack ahead but to leeward of USA 17. At that moment, Spithill headed down a few degrees, got his boat foiling and sailed right over NZL. The Kiwis were stunned. When USA 17 tacked back into the center of course, NZL followed immediately. NZL could have extended a few more lengths and that might have helped them keep their wind clear. It is never tidy when a faster boat passes a slower boat. At that moment USA 17 took off and sailed away from NZL at an astonishing rate. It reminds me of the philosophy of boxer Mike Tyson, who said, "Every opponent has a plan until I punch them in the nose." The crew of Emirates Team New Zealand looked as if Tyson had landed one of his punishing left hooks. USA 17 crossed the line in triumph. The American team had tied the score at 8 to 8.
After the race, I think Jimmy Spithill was ready to sail the finale right then. His crew looked super-happy. Over on NZL it was total devastation. Neither Dean Barker, Ray Davies, or syndicate head Grant Dalton were up to doing a post-race interview from the boat. Their faces told the story. Their boat and crew were no longer the dominant team they were for the first eleven days of this historic match.
On August 28 I predicted in my AC Report # 5 that “Oracle Team USA would defend....barely.” Little did I know at the time that their wing trimmer would be disqualified from competition for illegally altering the team's AC 45s last year. Nor did I know that USA 17 would be so slow compared to New Zealand on the opening weekend. Nor did I realize how Oracle could make such a comeback. An old saying defined the American team, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
After each losing day, Jimmy Spithill would boldly declare, "We can win races." The press corps was incredulous. He made his statements with such over-the-top conviction that it made you wonder if maybe he was right. It reminds me of the great football quarterback Joe Namath's bold guarantee that the upstart American Football League, the New York Jets, would defeat the mighty Baltimore Colts. The Jets won 16-7. Namath has been a hero ever since.
Spithill must have known that his design team and shore crew had many experiments that might give the boat additional speed. The big secret around here is what did OTUSA do to improve their speed? I believe it is a combination of many little things. Eventually we will know. After every America's Cup, designers and engineers present papers on their research and innovations. I bet we’ll see volumes of material published over the next few years. The secret of the USA turnaround is the designers.
The America's Cup is not over. We have one more race. OTUSA has won ten times. They only have eight points because two were taken away for their rules infractions. New Zealand has won eight races, but was ahead in three other races that were abandoned for either too much wind, or too little. The weather let the Kiwis down just as they were close to securing their ninth victory. Mother nature can be cruel.
Sports are compelling because we can never really know the outcome. That is why these races are so much fun to watch. To be the only journalist commentating in the middle of racecourse is quite a privilege. I have never watched or sailed in such a hard-fought battle.
After the race today, I was talking with my co-commentator Todd Harris and our producer, Leon Sefton. My cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was Ted Turner. He was in Atlanta and has been watching all the races. He sounded excited and was very complementary about our television coverage. Ted is one of the greatest sailors of our time. He has won the America's Cup, was a four-time Yachtsman of the Year, is a member of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, and is one of the most successful television visionaries in the world. Ted, like so many other sailors and non-sailors alike, has been riveted by this America's Cup. I am sure he will be watching tomorrow.
Todd Harris, Ken Read and I will do our best to let the pictures play, and the words of the competitors tell the story as we describe the biggest sailboat race of this century. Tune in at 4pm ET (1 pm PT) to the NBC Sports Network.
Most everyone here in San Francisco believes Oracle Team USA has the America's Cup being re-bolted to its pedestal. If Oracle prevails they will complete an amazing turn around. If New Zealand finds a way to win, it will be an even bigger turn around. As the legendary Al Michaels once asked while calling a hockey game during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, "Do you believe in miracles?" At this point it might take a miracle for the proud New Zealanders to win, but are you sure they won't? You better watch, because America's Cup history will be written tomorrow.
Photos courtesy of and © ACEA - Photo Credit: Gilles Martin-Raget.
By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame
September 23, 2013
President Bill Clinton had a great expression when meeting people with troubles. He always connected by saying, "I feel your pain." To paraphrase Mr. Clinton, "We are feeling Emirate Team New Zealand's pain." The fading, near-winners of the America's Cup just don't seem to have an answer for the remarkable comeback by Oracle Team USA. The Kiwis have canceled victory celebrations, a charter flight to Auckland and said goodbye to many fans who have patiently waited for the big win. This could be the biggest collapse in the history of the America's Cup. Just five days ago, ETNZ was up 8-1, but now the score is 8-6. The USA has won five straight, and are getting faster and better with each race. What can the Kiwis do?
First a quick review of the performance differences between NZL and USA 17. At the start of Race 16 today, both boats were exactly 0.5 seconds behind the starting line, according to the AC LiveLine data. In 12.2 knots of wind (at least what I read on the race committee boat, Regardless ) OTUSA lifted up on its foils immediately after the start. New Zealand did not lift off its foils and was rolled by USA 17 that had started to windward. On the downwind leg, the American boat slowly stretched out. Halfway down Leg Three, NZL rolled out its gennaker. The speeds were nearly identically. Not taking any chances, OTUSA rolled out its gennaker. At the leeward gate the boats split sides. Against a 1.5-knot flood current, and sailing in spotty 11-15 knot winds, the two boats seemed even in speed. Just last week NZL would have sailed right past USA 17. Not anymore.
So let's say you have to defeat a boat that is faster reaching, has a slight edge downwind, can foil earlier, and can maneuver just as well as you. What could you do to reach the finish line ahead? The first step is to win the start. NZL skipper, Dean Barker has won several starts. He knows he can do it. OTUSA’s Australian skipper, James Spithill, understands that Barker is really good and will try not to take risky chances. Barker must be bold, and try something that Spithill doesn't expect. Against a boat that appears to accelerate faster, Barker needs to start to leeward and ahead, and force USA 17 away from the first mark. On the downwind leg, Kiwi tactician Ray Davies must look forward and keep his boat in stronger winds. At times he should call to cover closely, while at other times he must be bold when he is sure his boat is in better wind. These are tricky calls, but this is the moment for greatness. If NZL can round ahead at the leeward gate they must cover USA 17 and use their starboard advantage and wind shadow to force USA 17 to make extra tacks, or sail in disturbed wind. If the USA gets behind on Leg Three, watch them make some desperate moves. Life is good when you are leading, but things can change if you get behind. When the hard truth of defeat is on the horizon mistakes are often made.
In my long career on the match race circuit, and in a number of America's Cup trials, I have been on a slower boat, and still found a way to win. (I have also been on faster boats and still lost). Every athlete is capable of mistakes, including the crew of USA 17. For NZL it starts with the belief that they can win. Dean Barker and his crew have already won eight races, and they have been ahead in three others that were canceled. Bad luck for NZL, but you can't look back. It hasn't been so easy for OTUSA, either. They had to eat a two-point penalty and yet have kept fighting back. Barker and his tactician, Ray Davies, have been mates since their earliest days. There is a real trust between them. Together they can find a way to win. Right now they need a spark to break out of this slump. I am not sure why NZL’s team leader, Grant Dalton, has been off the crew roster, but he needs to get back on the boat. Dalton may have an injury, or some other issue that keeps him out of the lineup, but I think his presence makes a difference.
Completing this America's Cup feels like waiting for astronaut John Glenn's space launch in 1962. Glenn was on the launch pad for weeks before his rocket, Friendship 7 was ready, and the weather conditions favorable. Like Glenn's experience years ago, the mental strain on those involved in this Cup is causing fatigue. Everyone expected this to be long over. According to yachting historian, John Rousmaniere, the longest span in days for a Cup match was back in 1899. The NYYC race committee tried to complete races starting on Oct 3 between Columbia and Shamrock . The last race was completed on Oct 20. That's 18 days. Tomorrow is the 18th day of the 34th Defense.
If NZL can win the opening race scheduled to start at 1:15 local time, the Cup is over. If NZL loses they might pull a card that allows them to postpone the second race of the day. But, Dean Barker said at the post race press conference that they would not. We will see. The wind is expected to blow harder tomorrow. Luckily, we will have a flood tide of 1.6 knots for the first race, raising the 23-knot wind limit to 24.6 knots. I doubt the wind will build that high. Calling for a time out would force the Kiwis to sail two races on Wednesday. The stakes are incredibly high. But, when you think about it, where would you rather be than on one of the AC 72s for a race of this magnitude?
The crowds today were paltry. I counted a maximum of 25 spectator boats on the water. Some of the bleachers along the waterfront are being dismantled. This is in stark contrast to the huge crowds that were watching over the past few weekends. For most people normal life needs to continue. The dramatic drop in attendance reminds me of 1969 when an estimated 400,000 people attended the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. The last act on the list of star-studded rock bands that performed throughout a three day weekend did not get to play until Monday morning. Jimmy Hendrix gave the performance of his career, and yet, only 25,000 were on hand to hear him.
Sometime over the next one, two or three days, either Oracle Team USA, or Emirates Team New Zealand will win the America's Cup. Every race will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network starting at 4pm Eastern Time (1pm Pacific). These will be epic races for the ages. One team will feel pain, the other will be somewhere between elated and ecstatic.
Photos courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.
By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame
September 22, 2013
Can Emirates Team New Zealand dig into their collective inner soul and find a way to win the 34th America's Cup? The way it is going, the Kiwis are in deep trouble.
Oracle Team USA is on a roll. They are winning starts, sailing really smart, and at times they are blazingly fast. The USA still needs to win four races to successfully defend, while NZL only needs one victory to take the Cup down under. Race 16 on Monday will mark the longest period in Cup racing days since the first defense in 1870. Several thousand fans from NZ, who are here in San Francisco, can't believe what is happening. Neither can the team. Three races have been abandoned when NZL was ahead for either too much wind, or too little, hence the bad luck. I still believe the Kiwis can pull this off.
It starts with a renewed attitude. NZL skipper, Dean Barker, has got to ignore all the noise, expectations, thoughts of destiny, or even winning the regatta. He needs to declare to his team that they are going to win, and do it with such determination that everyone believes him. I watched Ted Turner do this many times. True conviction is infectious. The sailors and the design team need to work through every possible improvement that is available. Any changes must be in sync with the wind, current and wave conditions. The USA has been masterful at making innovations after going 1-3 in the first two days of the regatta. Today, in 16 knots of wind, I watched USA 17 race by my position on the race committee boat on Leg Three at 29 knots. The boat was up on its foils while sailing to windward. In contrast, at that moment, NZL was sailing at 22 knots. Does NZL have an answer?
Since Race One, OTUSA seems to have a small edge sailing downwind. If the USA has a weak spot it is sailing upwind in lighter winds. Tomorrow the weather is forecast for light wind in the morning. This might be the best opportunity for NZL. If they lose the first race, and the wind starts to build, NZL might pull out a postponement card for the second race of the day, and hope the wind is light for the next day. Certainly the Kiwis want to avoid a winner-take-all race with the score tied up.
To win, Dean Barker has to take the start. On my unofficial score card, in 15 races Barker has won six starts, and OTUSA's Australian skipper, James Spithill, has won nine. Before today's first race I watched Spithill and crew methodically practice several starts. They did short timed runs, long timed runs, acceleration practice, and worked the middle, leeward and windward ends of the line. They maximized their practice time like it was their last opportunity to hold on to the America's Cup. Oh, wait a minute — every race is their last opportunity to hold on to the America's Cup. In contrast, ETNZ went through their normal routine, which is to cross the line, sail to Mark # 1 and do some jibes. But, they did not use the pre-race practice period for intense starting practice. Maybe they should set up a starting line early in the morning and schedule some practice starts.
If the Kiwis can win the start, the next item is to stay ahead on the downwind leg, knowing they might be a little slower. This is where the tactician, Ray Davies, needs to make good calls. Most of the time the leading boat must cover, but sometimes it is better to stay in stronger wind than make extra maneuvers. Over on USA 17, British tactician, Ben Ainslie, has found the correct balance between covering and going for better wind. This is where championships (or America's Cups) are won.
ETNZ has plenty of strengths. Dean Barker is doing a really good job steering. The crew continues to handle their boat with precision on every maneuver. But for Mr. Davies? This is his hour. My advice is to simply go out and have some fun. Treat the next race just like you would in any weekend regatta. If you get caught up thinking about the high stakes of this event, you are cooked. Going with your gut instinct always seems to work.
A few days before the first race of the 1977 America's Cup I will never forget Ted Turner telling me, "I am going to have fun in this regatta, because I think it will improve our chances of winning."
Oracle Team USA's owner, Larry Ellison, has a lot on his plate at the moment. About 60,000 people are here in San Francisco for Oracle Open World, a huge technology conference. This is an important event for his company. Yet, he is on the water for every race. Mr. Ellison stopped by our race committee boat yesterday for a brief hello and seemed very energized by his sailing team's turnaround. My only regret for him in this Cup is that Ellison should have been able to sail on his boat. Whatever format evolves for the next America's Cup, I hope the owners can be aboard. Surely, this would be a good incentive for captains of industry to organize sailing teams.
The number of spectator boats on the water is getting smaller by the day. I have never seen so few boats watching an America's Cup. I spoke at a local yacht club here on Friday night. I asked why more boats were not out on the bay? Several people at my table said, "Its better watching on television." Lucky me; I get to do both. Being aboard the race committee boat with our television crew, cameraman Greg Peterson and engineer Bruce Jackson, has been great fun. We have the television images, AC LiveLine graphic information, and get to see the boats up close. At times they sail past within one boat length.
Racing on San Francisco Bay certainly provides good theater for spectators all along the shoreline. But I would like to add an editorial comment. The restrictions of where the course can be set makes it a difficult challenge for the race committee. Yesterday we were unable to get a race off because the wind was left of 230 degrees. If a race had been sailed the boats would have reached to each mark. A parade would be unfair to the competitors. The race committee will not start a race if the wind is to the right of 280 degrees. To make the short 40 minute time limit the wind needs to average at least 8 knots. But, they cannot race in winds over 23 knots for safety reasons. These are severely limiting parameters. If the races are to be held on San Francisco Bay in the future, a little more flexibility is order.
As I mentioned in an earlier AC Report, I like cheering for one team at sporting events. Right now I want both teams to win. It would be heartwarming to watch Dean Barker and his Kiwi crew break out of their slump and win it. It means a lot to that tiny nation. At the same time, I am really enjoying watching James Spithill and his team come charging back after near-certain defeat. While commentating on the races for television I always have my tactician's mind engaged. Ben Ainslie is great fun to watch. He is like a chess master. Ainslie gets a helpful mental boost from the observations of OTUSA's strategist, Tom Slingsby. Every sailor should listen carefully to the communication between these two Olympic champions.
I guess a tie is out of the question. One team must win nine races. It could happen tomorrow, or it could come down to one race with the score tied at 8-8. Either way the conclusion is going to be fascinating. Tell your friends to tune in and watch sailing history being made. We may never see anything like this again.
At 4 pm Eastern Time (1 pm Pacific) Todd Harris, Ken Read and I, along with our very energized production team, look forward to bringing you the finale of the 34th America's Cup defense on the NBC Sports Network.
Photos courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.