When it won the 36th America’s Cup on 17 March 2021, New Zealand became the first country to have twice won and twice defended the America’s Cup.
The Aussies and the Kiwis love to battle over Phar Lap and pavlova, but we have to thank the Aussies for getting us on the voyage to the America’s Cup when they won it in 1983.
Twelve years later, the Kiwis won the Cup in San Diego. Team New Zealand defended it in Auckland in 2000, lost it appallingly in 2003, won it back in Bermuda in 2017 and defended it successfully in Auckland from 10 to 17 March.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli proved a worthy challenger, co-helmed by Australian Jimmy Spithill and Italian Francesco Bruni. In some ways, to Kiwis, Spithill has been the Australian version of Dennis Conner, albeit younger. But through this regatta, he’s become a media darling who still likes to spar with a journalist occasionally – and he continues to give the best sound bites in the business.
Who can forget: “I think the question is: Imagine if these guys lost from here? What a story that would be.”
He said that in 2013 and went on to lead his team from a 1-8 deficit to a 9-8 win.
Roll on to 16 March 2021 when LRPP was three points down to New Zealand’s six; several journalists threw him a cue to reprise the line, but he didn’t take the bait. Now, we know why. As they said later, the Italian team with the Aussie co-skipper knew they were taking a knife to a gunfight.
But the camaraderie and respect amongst the competing sailors has been inspiring; Jimmy Spithill has said many times he is up against the best team in the world. Good on him, and his laughing Italian co-skipper and their leader, Max Sirena, who somehow managed to meld this duo of strong but different personalities into the helmsmanship that won the Prada Cup and challenged ETNZ in a lead-swapping race-fest.
When the Defender first lined up against LRPP on 10 March, it was impossible to pick the stronger team; the even score three days later wasn’t helping.
Italy was race-hardened but it knew little about its opposition. New Zealand had collected and run yottabytes of data on Luna Rossa through ETNZ simulators, but was race-rusty.
LRPP’s best chance was to collect wins off the Kiwis before they got up to speed, but the Kiwis were learning all the time. As ETNZ’s Glenn Ashby admitted: “They were pulling off manoeuvres that we didn’t think were possible early on.”
Going into the final day, the scoreboard against Luna Rossa was six races to three. By then we’d seen seven days of racing, including races 7, 8 and 9 in which the skills of both teams were like maritime gymnastics at Olympic level.
The final race took place in just over 10 knots of wind – a mid-zone which favoured the teams evenly. Spithill wanted the right and entered the box first. He gybed slowly, hoping to lure Burling into chasing him down, but Burling wanted the right, too, and sacrificed some speed to take the windward spot at the start.
Almost immediately, Burling tacked to claim the favoured right-hand pressure and the return tack with starboard rights: exactly what Spithill had wanted.
For the rest of the race, Burling played from the matchracing handbook. Italy followed New Zealand around the first mark by 7 seconds and threw all their power into staying in touch with the Kiwis downwind. Both boats had a slightly messy gybe at gate two, but the Italians’ gybe was more expensive. In the slightly stronger breeze than we’d seen in the earlier days, the Kiwis’ smaller foils, estimated to be 30% smaller than LRPP’s, helped them to be the fastest boat. They won by 46 seconds.
America’s Cup 2021 was a clean battle on the water and all sailors have enjoyed the high level of racing. Sirena has regrets about opportunities lost but, he says, "We knew they were going to improve big time during the series because it was a long series unfortunately. I was keen to do thirteen races on day one.
"But we want to race against the best and we've been lucky to sail against one of the best teams I've ever raced in my America's Cup career.”
On the water, America’s Cup 2021 was a clean battle; off the water, the sailors genuinely appeared to get on well, regardless of their bosses’ differences. For viewers, it’s been like binge-watching our favourite action thriller in one sitting. Here’s a quick wrap-up from eight crazy days.
Race one was the one where, just after the start, Spithill attacked and just missed a penalty against New Zealand’s Te Rehutai: ETNZ 1:0 LRPP
Race two was the one where Burling went for a hook in the prestart and missed. He followed Luna Rossa around the course and lost speed tacking into dirty air, but sprinted down the final run: ETNZ 1:1 LRPP.
Race 3 was the one where Italy did that impressive lee-bow tack, made it look easy, and dominated the rest of the race: ETNZ 1:2 LRPP.
Race 4 was the one where Italy would have liked another lee-bow tack but couldn’t live on Emirates Team New Zealand’s hip and tacked away. The Kiwis found a new mode and consolidated their lead when Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli did a bad tack at the top mark: ETNZ 2:2 LRPP
Race 5 was the one where Emirates Team New Zealand sailed into a wall of air, parked and stopped in the prestart: ETNZ 2:3 LRPP.
Race 6 was the one where Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli sailed into a wall of air and stopped in the prestart. The coincidence gave the world a lesson on boats that sail so fast they gybe back into their own wind shadow: ETNZ 3:3 LRPP.
Race 7 was the one where Italy’s jib was too big and proved to be more drag than drive: ETNZ 4:3 LRPP.
Race 8 was the one where the wind dropped and New Zealand was underpowered, gybed into Italy’s wind shadow and fell off its foils. Then, Italy fell off its foils. New Zealand recovered first: ETNZ 5:3 LRPP.
Race 9 was the one on Course C, where the lead swapped more times than we could count and Italy defended most of the way around the course. But this was Peter Burling’s back yard and a lucky wind shift put the Kiwis back in the race: ETNZ 6:3 LRPP.
Race 10 was the one where both teams wanted the right but New Zealand got it. ETNZ 7:3 LRPP.
Francesco Bruni congratulated Emirates Team New Zealand and added: “We are sad not to win the Cup, but we lost it with honour; we lost it with dignity and we fight to the end.”