The tactical battle, not speed, is king

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  • The gloves are off between Burling, left, and Spithill (Photograph by Photo Gilles Martin-Raget)

    The gloves are off between Burling, left, and Spithill (Photograph by Photo Gilles Martin-Raget)


The game is on. The gloves are off. Challenger Peter “Iceman” Burling and crew aboard New Zealand and Jimmy “Pitbull” Spithill with his mates aboard 17 for Oracle Team USA are ready for a bare-knuckle battle. There will be no holds barred, no second place.

According to race director Iain Murray and chief umpire Richard Slater the teams have both been raising multiple rules scenarios about specific starting situations, about what would be a penalty and what would not be a penalty. This means they may be on the attack in the starting box when they enter for battle just after 2pm today or it may mean they are looking at ways to protect themselves from a sucker punch that would put them out before they started.

All through the March and April “unofficial” practice races, the Qualifiers and the Play-offs, the team’s skippers have each said at one time or another that speed is king, the fastest boat will win. Maybe since the boats are expected to be very equal in speed, that will not be the decider this time.

What will be the winning factors?

First, the start and the reach around Mark One will be critical. Emirates Team New Zealand were not so good at that in the Play-off finals against Artemis Racing, However, the Kiwis’ match point win was a decisive win from start to finish. The Kiwis were on the line, in control and going fast. They never looked back, except to wave at the finish.

We have not seen Oracle in a “must win” race and do not really know what they have in their bag of tricks for the start. Spithill and his sparring mate Dean Barker were the two most experienced match race skippers on the water. Barker won most of his starts, but not the races. Was he a test platform for tactics for the similar 17? As Spithill so often says: “Time will tell.”

The second factor would be maintaining the higher VMG (velocity made good) both upwind and down. New Zealand consistently sailed as fast or faster than Artemis and also pointed higher upwind and sailed deeper angles down wind. So their distance sailed was less and average speed about the same. Certainly Oracle have seen this and will be on the ball.

Consistent foiling and speed in and out of dry tacks and gybes means seconds gained. New Zealand have a patent on quickness. They get the boat high on their foils and make turns that make the TV audience dizzy. Artemis saw this and changed their style from low and smooth to high and quick. Oracle will do the same and match New Zealand there.

And match-racing tactics will be king.

• Match racing tactics in the prestart,

• Match racing tactics in covering and dumping wing wash on an opponent upwind

• Match racing tactics controlling from ahead downwind and staying clear.

• Match racing tactics by avoiding penalties and forcing them on the other boat.

Spithill has to be the master at this compared to Burling and crew. He has years of match-race experience.

Finally it is pressure… Who can handle pressure. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Spithill has been there before and done it.

But all this is speculation and we will all see what happens when the wind blows and the boats rise up on their foils. It will be a real knuckle-busting battle and: “Your Majesty, there is no second place.”

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Published Jun 17, 2017 at 1:17 pm (Updated Jun 17, 2017 at 1:35 pm)

The tactical battle, not speed, is king

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