For days the Italian racing boat chased its rival from New Zealand in the America’s Cup. Sometimes the Italians looked for an advantage by getting as close to safety as possible. Another time they turned as far away as course would allow and sought an advantage by avoiding the rival.
Both teams were worth millions of dollars. Both teams had expert crews. But like most sailing races, the end result was a simple fact: New Zealand’s boat was faster.
“Sometimes,” said Jimmy Spithill, the Italian co-helmsman, “we felt like we were taking a knife with us to a shootout.”
Team New Zealand retained the America’s Cup on Wednesday and raced away from their Italian challenger Luna Rossa to win the greatest prize of sailing in their home waters off Auckland. The win was the second in a row for a syndicate representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and the fourth win in the finals since 1995 for a team from New Zealand.
It was also the second consecutive win for Team New Zealand’s 30-year-old helmsman Peter Burling, who added another title to a résumé that already includes nine world championships and Olympic gold and silver medals.
“It means the world to us and the team,” Burling told Radio New Zealand, the national public broadcaster.
New Zealand’s clinch victory came two days after it used momentum in a tense competition by taking advantage of its speed advantage to take back wins on Monday. It won again on Tuesday and Wednesday when it was the first to take seven wins.
Wednesday’s clinch race started smoothly, with the two boats fighting closely with each other. But a little better tack and a little better speed gave New Zealand a seven-second lead at the end of the first leg. From then on, New Zealand slowly and methodically expanded its advantage. Any attempt by Luna Rossa to fill the gap has been in vain.
The final lead was 46 seconds. The final score in the competition was 7-3.
The Kiwi’s victory ended one of the most unusual editions of the America’s Cup, which was first played in 1851. This year’s races took place without the usual large number of visitors, many of whom had been kept away by strict coronavirus restrictions, effectively closing New Zealand borders to non-citizens. The race schedule also had to be changed several times to accommodate strict – and changing – lockout rules that at times led to delays in the competition.
The participants were different from anyone who preceded them. This year’s America’s Cup was contested by a new class of boat: sleek 75-foot monohulls that – when lifted out of the water and cruising the waves on their spider-like foils – could reach speeds of up to 60 miles an hour. The boats didn’t cut through the water so much as they slid across it. And nobody did it better than Team New Zealand.
But there were subtle differences that only the race could reveal. The Kiwis had emphasized speed in the design of their racing boat, with a flatter hull and smaller foils that minimized air resistance when cutting through the water. Luna Rossa’s larger foils offered advantages in terms of stability and maneuverability, and the Italians used weeks of challenger races to improve tactics, which they used several times in the finals. But speed was the difference, and Team New Zealand got more of it.
“Rightly champions,” said Spithill of his opponents after the series ended.
Still, he admitted, he regretted it a few times.
“I think we left some wins on the table,” he told reporters. “But that’s sport and I really think the better team won.”
For the first six races of the finals, the mantra had been simple: win the start, win the race. In each of these races, the team that crossed the start line first was also the first to cross the finish line. The largely drama-free race had demonstrated the teams’ skills and the precision of their boats, but it also led to an unwanted accusation: that the finale was boring.
That changed on Monday. Team New Zealand took advantage of the changing winds and released the speed that many suspected had not yet been fully shown. It rose from behind to win back-to-back races, broke the tie and put the team 5-3 ahead. The kiwis added a fourth win in a row on Tuesdayand suddenly, after years of planning and millions of dollars in investment, the price felt close enough to touch.
“This team has been in this position before,” said Burling after moving within a win of the seven New Zealanders needed for the trophy. “We just want to keep improving, we are looking forward to another race.”
Light winds had forced the teams to abandon the second race on Tuesday when New Zealand appeared ready to seal its triumph, but that only delayed what many had considered to be inevitable up until then. Even when Luna Rossa complained about another “painful” defeat on Tuesday, his co-helmsman Francesco Bruni found no fault in the performance of his team.
Team New Zealand, he seemed to be saying, was simply faster.
“I think we did a fantastic race to be honest,” said Bruni. “No regret.”
Mike Ives contributed to the coverage.