The 35th edition of the America's Cup, the world's oldest international sporting trophy, is about to start in Bermuda and for the first time in many years there will be a British team hoping to make the final. For those not so familiar with the event, the America's Cup is a match race - as in there are just two boats, which race head-to-head. The event starts with a Defender Series, which decides the team that will race the current Cup holders in the final America's Cup match.
In the history of the America’s Cup the likely winner has often been clear well in advance of the competition. However, that's certainly not the case for the 35th Cup in Bermuda – it has become impossible to identify any team with a consistent advantage over the others. The British entry, Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing, showed terrific early form in winning the precursor to the main event, the America’s Cup World Series, gaining two useful points they will carry forward into the later stages of the competition. However, they have not demonstrated such a strong performance during practice in Bermuda.
The foiling tack
The racing in Bermuda is totally different to the ACWS. The move from 45ft boats to 50ft may sound like an incremental step, but the new boats are sufficiently powerful to stay airborne on their foils while tacking. All the teams have now perfected this manoeuvre, which turns the upwind legs back into a tactical game. That’s a different situation to the 45s, where the only option upwind was to minimise the number of tacks as a huge amount of ground was lost in each one. No one as yet, including the sailors, knows how this will play out on the water. Watch the lastest update from Team Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing below.
Another critical factor will be how both teams and individuals handle the immense pressures they are under. The history of sport is littered with examples of great athletes that have crumbled, or choked, at a critical moment in a competition. In the sailing world it’s a classic situation found when match racing yachts, where the pressure is such that skippers’ heart rates routinely exceed 180 beats per minute. I’ve seen it first hand numerous times on the World Match Racing Tour, including with Ian Williams when he was already a three times World Champion. When a skipper or team chokes it’s as though a switch has flicked – they suddenly change from being totally at the top of their game to making a string of mistakes that leave them barely able to hold off the weakest teams. It can be bewildering to watch. This of course has happened before in the America’s Cup, most famously in the in the last event at San Francisco in 2013, where Emirates Team New Zealand famously lost a commanding lead of 8-1 to lose 8-9 to Oracle Team USA. There’s clearly no doubt this could happen to any of the teams in Bermuda, although it manifests in different ways with different individuals. Ben Ainslie, for instance, is famed for getting angry when trailing the leaders in a regatta. His legendary fight backs have proved to be a great advantage in the past, helping him become the most decorated Olympic sailor in history. As with match racing in monohulls the pre-start remains the most critical part of the race. A team that holds an advantage on the start line has a very strong chance of controlling the race right to the finish, providing they sail cleanly around the course and don’t make any mistakes.
A litany of mishaps
A third factor to bear in mind is that there has been a litany of mishaps in pre race training in Bermuda. Land Rover BAR has hit the dock hard while berthing, and rammed the stern of Emirates Team New Zealand in the pre-start of a practice race, an incident Ainslie referred to as “a bit of a love tap.” In addition, Oracle Team USA has capsized twice within a month and only last week Emirates Team New Zealand nosedived when one of the rudders suffered structural failure. While shore teams are well drilled in getting badly damaged boats back up and running with amazing efficiency, routinely working through the night when necessary, any incident of this type during the event could easily mean missing the next one. Bermuda’s reef fringed Great Sound is a stunning race venue in many ways, but it’s a whole lot smaller than the name suggests for yachts that will sail at 50 knots. The longest legs of the course will be just 1.7 miles, with the bottom marks little more than 200 metres off the coral. On top of that, the opening day promises to start with a bang, with gusts of more than 25 knots for the match between Oracle Team USA and the Groupama Team France. It would be hard to imagine a more highly pressured scenario and will certainly make for great viewing on TV.
America's Cup race schedule
Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers & Challenger Playoffs: May 26 to June 12, 2017 Red Bull Youth America’s Cup Finals: June 20-21, 2017 America’s Cup Match: June 17-18 and 24-27, 2017
Where to watch the action
BT Sport owns the broadcast rights in the UK. The first 12 days of the competition will be on the company’s Freeview channel that can be accessed whether or not you have a BT Sport subscription. For more information see BT Sport. While the agreement with BT Sport means the America’s Cup Android and IOS apps won’t show live video, it will provide commentary and graphics during racing.
America's Cup competing teams
Oracle Team USA – Defender (USA) helmed by Jimmy Spithill Artemis Racing – Challenger (SWE) helmed by Nathan Outteridge Emirates Team New Zealand – Challenger (NZL) helmed by Peter Burling Groupama Team France – Challenger (FRA) helmed by Franck Cammas Land Rover BAR – Challenger (GBR) helmed by Sir Ben Ainslie SoftBank Team Japan – Challenger (JPN) helmed by Dean Barker For more information about the competition and the teams visit the America's Cup website.