Even Bob Fisher, who as a journalist has always loved being an iconoclast is disturbed by the events leading up to the next America’s Cup to be held in Bermuda in 2017. Below are the words he penned for scuttlebutt:

Bob Fisher: Disgracing the America’s Cup
Published on April 11, 2015 |
by Editor

Bob Fisher knows the America’s Cup, perhaps better than anyone. His books and articles have covered the event since 1851, and he considers the event unmatched in its history and intrigue. But what Bob sees now occurring for the 2017 edition gives him grave concern. Here are his words to the current trustee, Golden Gate Yacht Club…

I cannot escape notice of what you are doing to the America’s Cup – it has been nothing short of a disgrace to the premier event in the sport of Sailing. You have abused it, misused it and reduced it to no more than an average regatta, losing on the way its prestige and at the same time driven away the most serious competitors.

In the last America’s Cup event, held on the waters of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, for whom you act in a management role, the two challengers that came up to the mark were those from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and the Circolo della Vela Sicilia – Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) and Luna Rossa. In the course of the past week you have made it virtually impossible for ETNZ to raise the necessary funds to continue by removing any chance of a major regatta in Auckland, and, by a huge change in the size of boat, caused the Italian team to withdraw. Is this what you really want?

Gone is all semblance of stability and adherence to rules unanimously agreed at the outset and in their place an undercurrent of commercial misunderstanding and constantly changing rules without the unanimity of the challengers as initially agreed. Both of these are a disgrace to the Cup and to yourselves.

It was brought to my notice by you, in Auckland, that it was important for a part of the Challenger Final Selection Series to be held in the City of Sails in order to generate publicity for the America’s Cup in Asia and the reason for that was a Japanese team would shortly emerge, and that this would encourage television networks to purchase the rights.

Subsequently, the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) has made it clear that ALL Challenger Selection races will be held in Bermuda, effectively slapping ETNZ in the face and reducing the Kiwis’ chances of Government sponsorship (which hung on a major AC regatta in Auckland), possibly even eliminating this team from AC35

It is unnecessary for the America’s Cup to have a television audience. For many years there was no television coverage, and later only inserts into News programmes. Televising the event began in 1983 and was carried to a new height by ESPN in 1987 in Fremantle. Even then it didn’t need catamarans on hydrofoils sailing at 40 knots to be attractive – just 12-Metre yachts in boisterous conditions with some live sound from the boats.

Now, thanks to the wizardry of Stan Honey and his colleagues, full details of the speed and direction of each of the competitors is overlaid on the live pictures of the racing. The technology of other sports has improved television for even the non-sailor, but this does not drive the America’s Cup. Money does. And there will certainly not be enough from television rights to pay for the somewhat unnecessary regattas that take place using the name of the event that has, over 164 years, taken place only 34 times.

The America’s Cup is a one-off event. It does not need promoting with pseudo regattas in the intervening years, which use its name. The Challenger Selection Trials, together with the long lost Defender Selection Trials, are adequate and the responsibility for their expense is down to the individual teams. Now there is a state of affairs in which the Defender trials have been eliminated. In the Protocol, Item 17 clearly states:

“Defender means GGYC and the sailing team that represents GGYC in AC35;”

You have excluded any chance of another US Yacht Club from competing for the Cup, maybe even giving GGYC the type of competition it needs to retain the Cup. Not even the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) felt sufficiently confident to resort to that.

Neither did the NYYC resort to changing the boats at a late date – the move from the AC-62 to the AC-48 has been very last minute and particularly hard on the teams that had set up their design groups well in advance to produce the smaller AC-62, as announced soon after the last AC match. It is hardly surprising that you have put Patrizio Bertelli’s feelings in disarray to the extent he has withdrawn Luna Rossa from AC35. His team had been working since early January 2014 at its headquarters in Cagliari with a Design Office of 40, all working on the design of a 62-footer. I suppose your comment will be: “Silly him,” but you have lost one of the biggest commercial sponsors of the Cup – just look where the Prada advertisements for Luna Rossa appear.

To throw fat on the fire, you are offering to give design and financial support to the French team, which has made little progress, and what is worse attempting to justify this with the terms of the Deed of Gift, where it indicates that the event is to be: “a friendly competition between foreign nations.” But you may well counter this with the quote from the judge of the New York Court of Appeals in the case between the Mercury Bay Boating Club and San Diego Yacht Club, who queried: “Where in the Deed of Gift does it say the America’s Cup is supposed to be fair?”

The loss of Louis Vuitton, after 30 years, is another huge loss of commercial sponsorship, but the writing for that was on the wall in San Francisco.

Everything this time around has been late, and bringing in new entries at this stage is another breach of the Protocol. I implore you to get your act together, remember the event with which you are dealing, with its glorious past, and begin to act in a proper manner.


America’s Cup organizers want smaller, cheaper boats

AP Sports WriterMarch 25, 2015 Updated 14 hours ago

 — In another sign that billionaire Larry Ellison’s vision for the America’s Cup is too expensive, organizers say they want to reduce the size of the boats to be sailed in the 2017 regatta in Bermuda.

While intended to help some struggling syndicates, the unprecedented move would also reduce the status and prestige of sailing’s marquee regatta, not to mention the sizzle generated when the 2013 America’s Cup was sailed in cutting-edge, 72-foot catamarans.

And it could be troublesome. Not all teams are believed to be in favor of going from plans to sail the 2017 America’s Cup in 62-foot catamarans to apparently sailing it in 45-foot catamarans.

A news release issued late Wednesday said the changes are being drafted and teams will be asked to vote before the end of March. Normally, a decision like this must be approved unanimously. It’s believed Italy’s Luna Rossa is against the change.

Harvey Schiller, the America’s Cup commercial commissioner, said in the news release that reducing the size of the boat was discussed last year, but only Oracle and Emirates Team New Zealand were in favor.

Now that teams have seen the new souped-up 45s on the water, “there is a clear majority of competitors who support the idea,” Schiller said. “I’d like to be able to say we have unanimous support from all the teams but that is not the case.”

Schiller did not return a phone call and email seeking further comment.

At the time Bermuda won the right to host the 2017 America’s Cup by pledging up to $77 million in financial support, plans called for the regatta to be sailed in 62-foot cats. That would reduce costs in part since they require fewer sailors. Some teams have already started designing their 62-foot catamarans.

If teams switch to 45-footers, that’s the same size boats used in warmup regattas prior to the 2013 America’s Cup and in warmup regattas this year and next. It’s also a foot longer than the minimum size allowed by the 19th century Deed of Gift.

Two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA, which is owned by Ellison, has blurred the traditional lines between the defender and challengers, so it wasn’t clear who initiated the latest talk of reducing the size of the boats. Despite being one of the world’s richest men, it’s believed that Ellison has grown weary of pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the America’s Cup and wants it to become more self-sustaining.

But teams and the event authority have struggled to raise money. There’s been speculation that two of the current five foreign challengers could drop out because of the staggering cost of competing, which would leave an embarrassingly small field of three challengers like in 2013. Team Australia dropped out last summer, citing the high costs.

Skippers from three foreign challengers — Ben Ainslie Racing of Britain, Team France and Artemis Racing of Sweden — were quoted in the news release as being in favor of the move to a smaller boat.

Team France skipper Franck Cammas called it “a game-changer. We will be able to have a very competitive team for about half the budget.”

Ainslie and Artemis’ Iain Percy alluded to the change helping the future of the America’s cup.

However, neither Emirates Team New Zealand, whose stunning collapse in 2013 allowed Oracle to keep the Auld Mug, nor Luna Rossa were mentioned in the release.

A Luna Rossa spokesman didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton referred to a statement on the team’s Facebook page. That statement said the Kiwis suggested a reduction in boat size last year. “Since then time has passed with teams well advanced in their design process now and any ideas around change will need the full consultation and support of all the teams,” the statement said.

A smaller boat could save Team New Zealand. Struggling to raise money, the Kiwis could be forced to drop out if they don’t land a qualifying regatta in Auckland. European teams are known to be unhappy about the cost of shipping 62-foot catamarans halfway around the world to New Zealand. The 45-foot cats are easier to ship because they can be disassembled and loaded into containers.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/03/25/4446961_americas-cup-organizers-want-smaller.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy


A Sailor’s Salary: $300,000, If He Works for Larry Ellison

Lawsuit sheds light on America’s Cup spending by Oracle founder

Oracle Team USA during the 2013 America's Cup, which it won in a dramatic comeback.
Oracle Team USA during the 2013 America’s Cup, which it won in a dramatic comeback. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

A lawsuit against Larry Ellison ’s sailing squad, which has led to the seizure of one of his million-dollar boats, is also revealing how much the Oracle Corp. founder is willing to spend to win the America’s Cup: $300,000 a year for a rank-and-file sailor.

The litigation is the latest in a series of legal battles that have surrounded the billionaire’s sailing successes.

On Monday morning, two federal marshals walked into the San Francisco waterfront base of the sailing squad, Oracle Team USA, and seized three gray, whale-size containers holding the disassembled parts of a 45-foot-long, seven-story-tall yacht called an AC45, according to the plaintiff’s lawyer and a U.S. Marshals spokesman.

The marshals tagged the three containers, which can’t be moved until a judge issues a ruling on the seizure or allows the team to post a bond on the boat. The vessel, a smaller version of Oracle’s victorious 72-foot-long boat in the 2013 America’s Cup, is being held as a lien, or collateral, in the case. The plaintiff asked for the seizure.

The plaintiff is Joe Spooner, who spent a decade as an Oracle sailor until the team dismissed him in January. A 41-year-old New Zealand native, Spooner in February sued the team for $725,000 in wages over a 2½-year span, as well as double-wage penalties, punitive damages and legal fees, alleging the squad wrongfully discharged him without cause.

Larry Ellison in September 2013 after winning the America’s Cup.Larry Ellison in September 2013 after winning the America’s Cup. PHOTO: REUTERS

A team Oracle spokesman declined to comment, citing pending litigation. A spokeswoman for Ellison, who is Oracle Corp.’s executive chairman, also declined to comment.

“It is a match race and Spooner has the lead at the first mark!!!!!” Patricia Barlow, Spooner’s lawyer, said in a statement shortly after Monday’s arrest of the Oracle yacht. A match race is a head-to-head contest between two competitors.

Court filings show that Spooner signed a contract with the Oracle team that would have paid him $25,000 a month, which equates to $300,000 a year, from July 2014 to the end of the next America’s Cup, the world’s most prestigious yacht race, which is scheduled to be held in Bermuda in 2017.

In Spooner’s termination letter, team Oracle general manager Grant Simmer said Spooner asked for raise to $38,000 a month to relocate from San Francisco to Bermuda. Simmer said in the letter that the team wasn’t prepared to modify the squad’s relocation policy specifically for Spooner, and that the team also declined to increase his pay.

“For these reasons, and in the light of the stated position that you will not otherwise relocate to Bermuda, this letter constitutes prior written notice of termination” of Spooner’s contract, Simmer wrote.

Spooner was one of six grinders on the 11-man Oracle team that won the 2013 America’s Cup. In sailing, grinders are the equivalent of football offensive linemen, cranking hand-powered winches to power a boat’s hydraulics system. They are typically the lowest-paid members of a sailing team; the people who adjust the sails and helm the wheel can get paid double, or even more.

Larry Ellison, center, congratulates members of Oracle Team USA after winning the America’s Cup.
Larry Ellison, center, congratulates members of Oracle Team USA after winning the America’s Cup. PHOTO: REUTERS

Oracle is the world’s top sailing squad, having won the past two America’s Cup contests, and Ellison has spent lavishly to retain the world’s best yachtsmen. The managing director of Emirates Team New Zealand, the runner-up in the 2013 Cup, has estimated that his sailors got paid half as much as Oracle’s, an appraisal that other sailing experts this week said sounded accurate.

Ellison spent at least $115 million overall on his team’s 2013 America’s Cup campaign, the Oracle team’s chief executive has said.

During Ellison’s recent Cup victories, his lawyers have taken the field almost as often as his sailors. He first captured the 2010 Cup after a 2½-year legal battle over the competition’s rules. Among other accusations, the Swiss team Alinghi alleged it caught a man who was hired by Ellison’s crew to spy on Alinghi operations. An Oracle spokesman said at the time that those were trumped-up allegations that had nothing to do with the legal matter at hand.

Another team Oracle grinder, Matt Mitchell, has sued the team for $68,000 in legal fees that he said he accumulated while fighting allegations that he helped alter an Oracle racing boat in preliminary competition before the 2013 Cup. An Oracle team spokesman declined to comment.

An international jury had concluded that Oracle was guilty of making illegal modifications to the boat and forced the team to start the first-to-nine-wins 2013 Cup races with negative-two victories. On the brink of defeat, Oracle ended up winning the final eight races of the 2013 contest to stage one of the most dramatic comebacks in sports history.








This is a story that I have followed with interest. I have always felt that the punishment handed out to Team Oracle during the America’s Cup was very strange.  A punishment handed out for something that occurred in a series that actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the America’s Cup event.

I also have trouble believing that Dirk de Ridder could have approved changes to a boat without higher authority approval. I am pleased for Dirk de Ridder.


Dirk De Ridder Suspension Reduced To 18 Months By The CAS
Lausanne, Switzerland: The Dutch sailor and former member of Oracle Team USA, Dirk de Ridder, has had his three-year suspension reduced to 18 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Mr de Ridder filed an appeal at the CAS in June 2014 against the decisions taken by the Disciplinary Commission (DC) of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) and the ISAF Review Board in relation to the sailor’s alleged involvement in the manipulation of the weight distribution of AC45 yachts used in the inaugural America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) and the 2013 America’s Cup. The ISAF DC found that he had committed a gross breach of the rule which requires boats to comply with class rules, as well as of good sportsmanship, had brought the sport into disrepute and was therefore open to sanction. The ISAF Review board concurred and imposed a period of ineligibility of three years.

In appealing to the CAS, Mr de Ridder sought to overturn such decisions on the grounds that they were based on insufficient evidence, that the imposed sanction was disproportionate and that the ISAF lacked jurisdiction.

The CAS Panel found that the ISAF had jurisdiction to issue its decisions, and also found, to its comfortable satisfaction, that Mr de Ridder gave instructions, express or implied, to add weight to the forward king post of boat 4 at the Newport Regatta, part of the ACWS competition, held in June/July 2012. However, with respect to the sanction, the Panel found that a period of ineligibility of 3 years was disproportionate in light of the circumstances of the case and compared to previous sanctions imposed by the sailing federation in similar matters.


Kyle Langford talks about the Oracle America’s Cup program

By Roger McMillan, MySailing.com.au
Kyle Langford, the wing trimmer on Oracle Team USA when it won the America’s Cup in 2013, is mainsail trimmer on Oman Air at the Extreme Series in Cardiff. In an exclusive interview with mysailing, he talked about the Extreme 40s and Oracle’s progress towards defending the Cup in 2017.

The Cardiff Act is Kyle’s third on board the Oman Air Extreme 40 and he said it’s a great experience that translates directly to America’s Cup sailing.

“It’s quite similar to the America’s Cup World Series (in AC45s) in many ways,” he said. “It’s fast paced and very physical and you’re making instant decisions because of the close racing.

“There hasn’t been a lot on as far as Oracle is concerned, just a foiling camp at Lake Macquarie recently, so this (the Extreme Series) has been good.”

Kyle will sail for the rest of the Extreme season, including the final Act in Sydney in December, and has also done an RC44 regatta with team mate Tom Slingsby, but from the beginning of 2015 the focus becomes totally on the America’s Cup.

“We’ve all bought Moths and we’ll do another foiling camp in San Francisco in November with the aim of all competing at the Moth Worlds in February,” Kyle said. “Apart from Tom (Slingsby) we’re all pretty useless, so we’ve got a bit of work to do.”

He said that the Moth was a good challenge because it was all about balance and they were learning new skills, which would be of value in the bigger boats. It was also proving to be a good team-building exercise as they all help each other to improve their boat set-up and handling.

Wing Trimming
Kyle joined the Oracle squad late, only 18 months before the 34th Match – and most of the wing development on the AC72 had already been done. So he is looking forward to the development of the new AC62 because he will have input into the trimming systems from day one.

“The wings are one design but the control systems are open,” he explained. “It’s good to be able to offer input into the design of all the systems on the boat. Last time all I could really do was fine-tune, because the actual controls were already decided.”

One of the notable things about the two design approaches on the AC72s was that the challenger and defender had radically different methods of controlling the four “panels” on their wings, but the speed result was similar.
“If Glenn (Ashby) had trimmed the Oracle wing and I had trimmed the ETNZ wing, we both would have had to work things out all over again, because they were so different,” Kyle said.

Even Challenge
Asked about the teams who have lodged challenges for 2017, Kyle said there was a lot of depth and that none of them could be written off.

“We always know Team New Zealand will be strong and Luna Rossa have started a lot earlier this time and have their base set up. Ben’s got a good team and the French have done a lot of sailing in all sorts of boats. And then there’s Artemis with Nath (Outteridge), no one’s going to be easy this time.”

Kyle said that the Oracle sailing team is almost complete, with just one more name to be added to give them two AC45 squads. He thinks a key ingredient for Oracle will be their total focus on the America’s Cup for three years, without distractions like the Olympics, which will come into play for teams like Artemis (Outteridge and Jensen) and ETNZ (Burling and Tuke).

“We will be 100% focused on the Cup for the whole three years,” he said, sounding an ominous warning to the challengers.




America’s Cup- Fast foils-a conversation with Paul Bieker, part I
2:35 PM Sun 2 Mar 2014 

‘Oracle Design Team – America’s Cup 35. Paul Bieker is in the front row, second from the left’    Amory Ross ©

Few people in the sailing world are sharper than Paul Bieker, a soft-spoken Seattle-based naval architect who has spent his career designing a wide variety of sailing vessels, from super-quick I-14s and his one-off line of ‘Riptide’ racer/cruisers, to America’s Cup yachts. 

Bieker is one of the core designers credited with ‘super-charging’ Oracle Team USA’s ‘USA 17’ last September, changes that helped the American-flagged international team to successfully pull-off one of sports history’s greatest comebacks to defend the 34th America’s Cup.

Yet pull up a seat on the rail next to Bieker-as I’ve been fortunate enough to do on many occasions aboard our mutual friend’s Riptide 44-and it quickly becomes obvious that Bieker’s horizons extends far beyond racecourse designs.

Take, for example, the day that he brought our crew lunch. Each sandwich was individually wrapped in brown recycled paper and was hand-tied with a bit of hemp twine in an effort to reduce landfill fodder. Or then there’s Bieker’s insistence that his Riptide designs offer their owners a huge amount of value and utility, irrespective of whether the agenda involves racing, savoring 25-knot kite rides or extended cruising. Bieker is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost foil-design experts, and while he wisely tries to dodge the limelight, Oracle Team USA has again tapped Bieker for AC35, this time in the role of lead design engineer.

I recently caught up with Bieker at a local Ballard (our mutual Seattle neighborhood) pub for part one of this two-part interview to get his thoughts on how AC34 was won, his design role for AC35, as well as his thoughts on the future of America’s Cup Racing.

Can you tell me about your work with Oracle Team USA, prior to the start of AC34? What were you designing for them?

It was in the late summer/early fall [of 2012] and I think that Oracle had a sense that their appendage engineering and construction side was not going 100-percent smoothly. My first day down there was the day before they launched the boat, and the day they broke their first foil. So pretty much from then on it was full-on, as you can image.

You were mostly working on foils back then?

Yes. They wanted to me to engineer their next-step foil for the boat, but all of a sudden it became ‘shit, we can’t sail the boat-we have no foils’. What actually ended up happening is that I went into producing the first set of raceable foils as quickly as I could, but they still took eight weeks to build. The penny dropped and we realized that we could recycle the structural spars from some surplus daggerboards [from the trimaran, ‘BMW/Oracle 90’, which won AC33]. Those boards had solid carbon spars in them that we could cut out and re-machine into a set of AC72 foils, which we called the ‘nasty boards’.

17/10/2012 – San Francisco (USA,CA) 34th America’s Cup – ORACLE Team USA AC 72 capsizes during training in San Francisco Bay and is pushed out of the bay by the tide current as the team try to salvage the platform. – Oracle Team USA capsize AC72 Oct 16, 2012 –  Guilain Grenier Oracle Team USA ©?nid=119759   Click Here to view large photo

Those were the modular ones?

They were straight and had brutish-looking boards but the sailors were able to get out sailing with those while we were building the new raceable foils. We didn’t even get the racing boards on the first boat before it tipped over. Then our big job was to do all the repair drawings to repair the hulls and the beams. The boat didn’t go back into the water until after Christmas 2012.

It was a really big repair job?

You have no idea-it was really bad. It was pretty grim. You would have looked at the pile of stuff and said it was close to hopeless. I had a hard time thinking that we could patch all that damage together and not miss something that was going to cause it to fail. The Oracle shore team and boat builders did an amazing job getting the boat back on the water.

How much of the old boat got rebuilt?

We had to cut a good portion of the lower bow off of one hull, and then there were tons of patches everywhere on the central pod and the beams and in the hull. It was painstaking work.

Am I correct that that boat ended up being the faster of Oracle’s two AC72s?

Yes, it was but it was super hard to control downwind. I don’t think we could have raced that boat. It was pretty scary.

Would you say your role as a designer evolved during the course of the campaign?

Well, I was pretty much in charge of daggerboard structures before I got called in to do the repair drawings for the first boat after it tipped over. Then, towards the end of the campaign, I worked on the rudder structures and rudder hydrofoils. During the Cup things got a little [looser] with the general theme of doing whatever you could to figure out how to make the boat go faster. But my focus remained on foils.

Did you sail into that first race knowing for sure that you had the slower boat? Or was that a total surprise?

The funny thing is that we thought that if we had a speed deficit, it was going to be downwind. Most likely our aero package was better than theirs, so we expected to be faster upwind. As it turned out, we were about the same speed downwind and maybe a click lower. We might have had a touch of VMG on them downwind, but we were quite a bit slower upwind and we didn’t have our foiling tacking figured out. We thought we had tacking figured out, but Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) were tacking better and sailing a bit faster upwind than we were. So it was the opposite of what we expected, and it was the same for ETNZ. You try and measure the other team’s speed on the water before the match, but there’s a lot of scatter in that data and it usually does not change your preconceptions.

Oracle Team USA foiling towards the end of the 2013 America’s Cup – Day 15 –  Kurt Molnar ©   Click Here to view large photo

Were you guys pinging them with lasers or something like that?

[I’m] not sure about lasers but we could pace with them on chase boats. If you watch the Louis Vuitton Cup broadcasts, you can see the speeds and other real-time numbers. They really clicked it up in between the Luis Vuitton Cup and the [Cup].

What was funny is that we couldn’t gybe our boat reliably until probably two or three weeks before the Cup. With a flying gybe, you lose somewhere between 30 and 60 meters per gybe, sometimes less-not much more than a boat length if you do it right. But if you touch down in the water during a gybe, you lose over 150 meters! So it’s going to cost you somewhere between 100 and 120 meters if you touch the water during a gybe and the other team doesn’t, so we were totally fixated on downwind gybing going into the Cup.

We were just really fixated on foiling gybes and probably for good reason because we knew we only had to miss one gybe that they got and the race was probably over, so we concentrated on that in lieu of working a lot on our upwind speed and maneuvers. ETNZ, however, concentrated on upwind [work] because they had their gybing nailed long, long before the Cup. Part of our problem is we had Boat One, which was really unstable downwind-it was just hard to keep her stable on foils. We were generally sailing with rudder wings that were maybe a little bit too small. So Oracle and ETNZ leapfrogged each other, they ended up faster than us upwind and we ended up faster downwind.

Can you describe to me a little bit about what the atmosphere was like after that first week of racing?

It was pretty grim…like really grim.

Was it the sailors, the designers or everybody who was feeling down?

It was pretty much everybody-some [people were] concealed and others not so concealed. The thing is that after you’ve done a couple of Cups, you know that everything goes poof at the end of the campaign. Everything that existed no longer exists. So there you are with this beautiful boat and team at the apex of the sport, right at that moment, but right after the Cup ends, the boat just becomes something that you have to store somewhere and the team disbands. And so you realize that you need to muster up whatever energy you have for that final push, because it really is a sprint to the finish and after the finish it just doesn’t matter anymore. After the finish everything else is gone so you shouldn’t leave anything in the tank. I’d say that probably a third of the people on the team felt like that. Another third were just going through the motions and just doing their job, and another third had already given up. In a traditional America’s Cup, the 8-1 hole is the sort of deficit you’d never be able to come back from. Luckily, the sailing team kept a positive attitude.

Oracle Team USA – America’s Cup – Day 15 –  Kurt Molnar ©   Click Here to view large photo

So that sounds like Jimmy Spithill’s bravado about ‘we can win races, it’s not over yet’ was just bluster?

He may have felt that way, I don’t know. He was definitely pretty down in the dumps during a few unguarded moments, but he kept his nose up and then guys on the team stepped up to the plate and made the improvement.

Tell me a little bit about how were politically able to introduce the changes that you made at the end. Was this a matter of convincing the design team, or convincing the sailing team, or at that point was everybody just throwing ideas at the wall?

It’s a little bit of the latter. Basically, when we were down five or six points it was pretty dire. People were starting to bring beers to the design meetings and it got way [looser] than normal. You know, ‘who has got ideas?’, and it seemed like you basically needed one person to agree with you, and you were just going to do it. We just got lucky.

The thing was at the part of the regatta that we were in trouble, we had lay days so we could do things to the boat
and test them and if we didn’t like them, we could take remove them. When ETNZ was in that sort of situation, they didn’t have any lay days.

Basically, what we were doing with the rig during the whole event was trying to put the center of pressure further and further aft. We were flattening the jibs. We were opening up the little tab at the aft end of the first element on the wing to load the flap on the wing. We almost doubled our traveler load on the wing between the beginning of the regatta and the end, so we were really trying to move pressure aft. One of the things we tried to do was rake the rig.

We went out on one of the lay days after we had done a big rig change the night before. This involved different shroud lengths, a recut to the jib, wing base modifications, etc. The guys went out and they didn’t like it so we spent the next night putting everything back for the next race day. If that had not been a lay day, we would have probably lost that race. It really worked for us to have lay days when we were in strife, and for ETNZ not to have that luxury.

You told me once you added a faring to the interceptor ramps so that the sailors wouldn’t freak out on a 90 degree edge. Who has ultimate say on what actually goes on the boat and what doesn’t? Russell Coutts or you?

It would have been Russell [Coutts], Dirk Kramer and Grant Simmer that made the final calls on what went on the boat. When I suggested it Michel Kermarec [N.B., Kermarec was Oracle’s appendage designer and VPP lead for AC34] thought it sounded like a good idea, so that was all it took. The next thing you know, we’re putting this wedge on the stern of the boat so that anyone who walks up is just going ‘huh?’, but what was neat about it is that if you explained it to the guys, they would go along with it, even though it didn’t look right to them. That’s the cool thing about the America’s Cup-the technology drives it and the sailors understand that.

What was the reaction from the sailing and design teams once the interceptor ramps and the Rudder/hydrofoil intersection cavitation fairings started to really show their results?

We were doing a whole lot of different things, so whether the interceptor helped or not, I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure it helped the boat when it was in that skimming mode, going into takeoff, but how much I can’t say. The fairings on the rudders definitely helped. We did calculations that showed that they were 0.6 knots faster downwind in the 40-knot range of boatspeed, but those fairings didn’t make us any faster upwind. What made us faster upwind was changing the wing trim, and the fact that the crewed figured out how to foil tack. By the end of AC34, they were taking better than ETNZ.

What do you think were the biggest factors in Oracle’s come-from-behind win?

My guess is that the biggest things were dialing in the wing trim, crew work and the [foiling tacks]. One of the other big things the guys learned is that very aggressively trimming the wing-I wouldn’t say pumping-is a way to get up on foils without bearing off too much. In our practice foiling upwind, the problem was that you had to bear away so much to get up on the foil that you would just barely make it back to where you were by the time you had to tack and the tacking-before the Cup-was violent. The boat would come through and the old leeward hull/new windward hull would all come down into the water and it was pretty slow.

The trick was that once you figured out how to tack the boat, you aren’t dragging this long skinny hull through the water in the middle of the tack, you’re just up on three foils. This means that you’re losing almost nothing, whereas in a normal multihull you’re taking this big long thing and you’re trying to make it turn through the water. You lose a lot in the beginning of the tack, but when you do a foiling tack you lose almost nothing in the first part of the turn.

The guys learned to carry some lift on the old leeward/new windward foil, and to keep that windward hull up in the air. If you never have two hulls in the water, all of a sudden it paid to be foiling at the beginning of a tack. Before, it was a such a violent maneuver that you lost a lot of speed.

I think I read somewhere that one of the ways the guys learned to improve tacking was by watching videos on how ETNZ was pulling off their foiling tacks?

I’m sure they watched lots of the videos of those guys, and they watched also lots of videos of themselves. We had a pretty neat data-collection system on the boat so you could look at different tacks to determine if you had a good tack or a bad tack. You had video from lots of different angles, so you could really start to identify what made a tack good and what made a tack bad. You could really look at it in detail.

The cool thing wasn’t like we were all, as a big group, analyzing the footage. The crew was working hard on the tacking side of it, and we were working on the design side of it and luckily we went forward in most places.

Where do you physically do a lot of your design work?

Here in Seattle.

So was the Cup won right here in Ballard?

I don’t know if the Cup was won right here in Ballard, but we did a lot of the foil work right here. I like working here just because we’ve got a nice office environment. It’s quiet, and I can concentrate.

Do you have a specific title with Oracle Team USA for AC35 at this point?

I think I’m called the Senior Design Engineer, but I don’t know exactly what that means. I’m in charge of making sure the structure of the boat is right and that the systems are properly integrated, and I’ll be involved in the naval architecture side of it as well.

Can you talk a little bit about the work that you’ve done with the design rule for AC35?

Basically the Challenger of Record and the Defender are trying to reduce the cost of the boats so that smaller teams can get in and run a reasonable campaign with a moderate amount of money. We really want to be able to foil upwind in moderate air. Right now we’re sort of hoping we can foil upwind in 12 knots of wind and foil downwind in eight knots or so.

Stay tuned for part two of this two-part interview, later this week.


by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor


Against the Wind

One of the Greatest Comebacks in Sports History


Photo: Getty Images; Animation: The Wall Street Journal

The winds on San Francisco Bay started kicking up in the late morning. Before long, they were blowing more than 20 miles an hour.

Jimmy Spithill and his 10 teammates put on their crash helmets and flotation vests and climbed aboard the AC72, a menacing, 13-story black catamaran capable of near-highway speeds. As a powerboat pulled them into the bay for Race 5 of the 2013 America’s Cup, Mr. Spithill shot a glance at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was shrouded in fog.

Jimmy Spithill in front of San Francisco Bay on Feb. 3, 2014. Drew Kelly for The Wall Street Journal

An unfamiliar, uncomfortable feeling was tugging at him. Mr. Spithill, skipper of Oracle Team USA, the richest and possibly most prohibitively favored team in the history of the world’s most famous yacht competition, had lost three of the first four races. Something was wrong with the way the Oracle boat was performing. Now he was facing the unthinkable: His team might lose.

The America’s Cup, first held in 1851, is believed to award the world’s oldest international sporting trophy. The contest also is one of the least professionalized. There is no permanent organization, commission or governing body. The winner gets to pick where and when the next race is held—typically every three to five years—and what type of boat is used. All that tends to make the racing rather lopsided. In most cases, the faster of the two boats in the finals wins every match—and the faster boat is usually the defending champion.

The 2013 Cup wasn’t supposed to be any different. But a competition that was expected to be humdrum turned into one of the most remarkable ever. This account of how that happened was pieced together through extensive interviews with the sailors, engineers and other team leaders.


Largely because of team owner Larry Ellison, the founder of software giant Oracle Corp. and one of the world’s richest men, Oracle had all the advantages conferred upon the incumbent, plus some.

The 11 sailors were a collection of international superstars. The engineers who designed the yacht and the programmers who built the software used to plot strategy had no peer. Oracle’s computer simulations suggested the AC72—which cost at least $10 million to build—wasn’t just the better boat in the final, it was the fastest sailboat ever to compete for the Cup, capable of 48 knots, or about 55 mph.

Mr. Spithill wasn’t sure why Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle’s opponent in the final, had been faster so far. The prevailing theory among Oracle’s sailors was that they were just rusty. As the defending Cup champions, they hadn’t had to race in the preliminaries.

As the AC72 dropped its towline on Sept. 10 and headed for the starting line, Mr. Spithill hoped that in Race 5, the Oracle crew would get its act together.

The start of an America’s Cup race is an exercise in pinpoint execution. The two boats can’t cross the starting line until a countdown timer hits zero. On this day, both boats hit the line simultaneously.

The five legs of the racecourse sent the boats from near the Golden Gate Bridge to the downtown San Francisco waterfront and took anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to complete, depending on wind. Through the first two legs, Oracle was in total control, building up an eight-second lead.


The upwind third leg was the one that had been keeping Mr. Spithill awake at night. Sailors have known since ancient times that sailing against the wind requires plotting a zigzag course—called tacking—steering the boat back and forth at a roughly 45-degree angle to the wind. Oracle’s aura of invincibility had crumbled on this upwind leg. If New Zealand was behind at the upwind turn, it would take the lead. If the Kiwis already had the lead, they would turn the race into a rout.

Tacking involves an elaborately choreographed routine. To initiate the turn, eight sailors crank winches resembling hand-operated bicycle pedals, powering the system that moves the sail. Two sailors pull ropes to adjust the angles of the enormous mainsail and the smaller jib. At precisely the right moment, the skipper—Mr. Spithill—spins the helm. Then all 11 sailors scurry from one hull, across a patch of trampoline-like netting, to the other side.

If everything goes right, the boat loses little speed. A small misstep or two, however, can cause the boat to bog down—or in extreme cases, to capsize.

As the upwind leg began, New Zealand headed out toward the San Francisco waterfront while Oracle vectored toward Alcatraz Island. Mr. Spithill looked over his shoulder and saw he was ahead of New Zealand by 2½ boat lengths. But the Kiwis edged closer with every turn. Within three minutes, New Zealand’s red yacht crossed in front of Oracle. Mr. Spithill had blown another lead.

By the time the boats reached the fourth leg, the gap was too large for Oracle to recover. New Zealand won by more than a minute. In racing terms, that might as well have been a week. New Zealand was now nearly halfway to the nine wins it needed to secure the Cup—and the time gap between the boats was only getting larger.

Even the Kiwis were surprised. After the race, Team New Zealand’s managing director, Grant Dalton, passed one of his sailors in the hallway and said: “I can’t believe we just won.”

As the AC72 skulked back to its berth, Mr. Spithill heard the voice of Russell Coutts, the New Zealand-born chief executive of the Oracle team, on his walkie-talkie: “Have you thought about using the postponement card?”

A postponement card is the America’s Cup equivalent of a timeout, envisioned as a way for teams to fix problems like broken equipment. By using it, Oracle would be able to delay the afternoon’s second race to the next race day, 48 hours later.

“We’re going to play it now,” Mr. Spithill told Mr. Coutts.

At the postrace news conference, the grim-faced skipper said: “We feel like we need to regroup, really take a good look at the boat.”

The following day, his team practiced in the bay and considered modifications to the boat, while the programmers ran simulations. In addition, the team’s tactician, who advises Mr. Spithill on wind, current and strategy, was replaced.

Mr. Spithill thought the break, and the small modifications they had made, might have done the trick.

The answer came quickly in Race 6. After getting blown out again on the upwind leg, Oracle lost by a margin of 47 seconds, and later that day, lost Race 7 by 66 seconds, its worst finish yet. New Zealand now needed just three more wins—and it had 12 chances to get them.

Already, the fans who gathered on the waterfront to watch the races had started cheering for the Kiwis. Unless Mr. Spithill figured out how to sail faster upwind, the affable sailor would forever be remembered as the engineer of his sport’s greatest flop.

Jimmy Spithill grew up in the tiny Australian town of Elvina Bay, just north of Sydney. He learned to sail in a leaky wooden dinghy that a neighbor had planned to throw away.

Being a sailor of modest means isn’t easy. Even as Mr. Spithill showed prodigious talent as a teenager, his parents—his father was an engineer, his mother a medical receptionist—struggled to send him to international competitions. Mr. Spithill exhibited an aggressive streak and a blue-collar mentality. Once, a week before the national high-school sailing championship, he broke his wrist playing rugby. He won the sailing contest in a cast.

In 1999, when he was 20, the Young Australia team made him the youngest skipper in America’s Cup history. The team lost, but he proved talented enough to get recruited to the U.S. team OneWorld in 2003. He lost again in preliminaries, to Mr. Ellison’s Oracle team, which went on to lose in the finals.

He returned in 2007 as helmsman for the Italian team Luna Rossa. During the semifinals of the challengers’ heats, he got his first glimpse of Mr. Ellison’s lavishly funded new Oracle team, with a budget that ran into the tens of millions. He routinely outwitted Oracle at the starting line and won the series, 5-1, before losing in the next round.

Mr. Coutts, the Oracle team’s CEO, was suitably impressed. When the Cup was over, he made Mr. Spithill one of his newest hires.

For the next Cup, team Oracle tricked out its three-hulled trimaran with a revolutionary carbon-fiber sail that looked like an upright airplane wing. Joseph Ozanne, then a 30-year-old engineer with a degree from a prestigious French aeronautics-engineering program, was responsible for designing the sail, which contained movable flaps like on an airplane.

Mr. Ozanne was in charge of a computer program, the Velocity Performance Predictor, that calculated optimal wing angles and projected speeds. But the sailors ignored his advice. “You did your job, now let us sail the boat,” Mr. Ozanne recalls being told.

Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison spent at least $10 million to build the AC72, the most technically sophisticated sailboat ever to compete for the America’s Cup.

After the sailors struggled for two days, Mr. Ozanne sat them down for a PowerPoint presentation. “You need to forget everything you’ve done on the conventional sail,” he said. When the sailors eventually heeded his suggestions, the boat began performing as advertised.

At the 2010 Cup, held in Valencia, Spain, Mr. Spithill led Oracle into the final. It was a cake walk, with BMW Oracle winning the first two races in the short best-of-three format. At age 30, he was the youngest winning skipper in the competition’s history.

For the 2013 Cup defense, Mr. Ellison decided to commission a new kind of boat, a decision that would turn the sport into something akin to Formula One on water. Picture two canoes, each one 72 feet long and made of carbon fiber, connected by a raft, with a 13-story wing, also made of carbon fiber, pinned to the middle. The software tycoon’s $10 million investment created a vessel that could do more than 50 mph.

The boat was so strange and powerful it was hard to handle. During training in October 2012, problems setting the sails and steering the boat caused the bows to nose-dive and the boat to pitch forward until the sail slammed into the water, leaving the sailors clinging to the yacht. The experience spooked everyone.

In May 2013, during practice for the Cup races, the Swedish team, Artemis Racing, had a similar mishap. One of the sailors got trapped underneath the boat and drowned.

Coming into the final, Mr. Spithill and his crew felt they were ready for the speed. And they had reason to be supremely confident. According to the computer, the AC72, with its skinnier hulls and drag-reducing dug-out cockpits, was superior to New Zealand’s boat.

If anyone had predicted that New Zealand would win six of the first seven races, they might have been thrown overboard. But that is exactly what had happened.

After his Race 7 drubbing, Mr. Spithill emerged from his shower to find that the team’s sailors, engineers, designers and computer scientists had started a meeting without him. All the chairs were taken.

Mr. Spithill sat on a desk and sipped a Red Bull as the 30 people took turns suggesting changes to the boat.

As mandated by America’s Cup rules, all the teams had to create boats of the same basic design—in this case a 72-foot catamaran. All of them had L-shaped boards under their hulls called “foils,” which stick down below the waterline like little feet. When the boats hit a certain speed, the hulls rise out of the water and ride on the surfboard-size foils, creating the illusion that the boats are actually flying.

Both Oracle and New Zealand had been foiling downwind. But New Zealand’s boat was getting partially up on its foils on the upwind leg, too.

Oracle had experimented with upwind foiling five weeks before the race at the insistence of Tom Slingsby, a redheaded Australian team member who had just won a sailing gold medal at the London Olympics. Mr. Slingsby had seen the Kiwis doing it in practice and the preliminary rounds, and to his eyes, they were sailing much faster than Oracle. Before the final, he had emailed Messrs. Spithill and Coutts, telling them it could be a “game changer” and they needed to try it.

For two weeks, they had—but for only a few minutes a day. Nearly every time they tried, Oracle’s hulls would fall off the foils and the bows would nose-dive into the water. There also was a bigger problem cutting into Mr. Spithill’s practice time. Cup officials were investigating a modification Oracle had made on its boat—one ultimately ruled a violation of the rules. Oracle was slapped with a two-race penalty before the competition even began.

There was little time to experiment with the new technique, and Mr. Ozanne’s software indicated Oracle would easily outsail New Zealand upwind even without foiling.

Now, with the Cup under way and New Zealand using the technique to smoke Oracle on the upwind leg, the topic was back on the table.

The engineers weren’t sure it was possible because modifications made before and during the race had created balance problems. When the AC72 was foiling, not enough of its load was borne by the rudders in the rear. That made the boat hard to control—sort of like an airplane with too much weight on its nose.

Oracle’s boat designers suggested redistributing the load, mainly by increasing the twist in the top of the sail and decreasing it down below. The shore crew worked through the night. Mr. Spithill went home to his apartment in San Francisco’s posh Marina District.

Each night, he would act out the farce of going to bed at 11—only to lie awake worrying. Before the races had begun, a confident Mr. Spithill had flirted with the idea of flying to Las Vegas during the middle of the competition to see a Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing match. That never happened. Unable to sleep, he would eventually grab his laptop and dial up video of the losing races.

Each time, he jumped to the beginning of the upwind leg. Sailing upwind involves a trade-off between speed and distance—the tighter the angle to the wind, the shorter the total travel distance but the slower the boat moves. Mr. Ozanne’s computer program had given a target: Sail into the wind at a relatively tight angle of about 42 degrees, which would produce the optimal mix of speed and travel distance.

Looking at the video, Mr. Spithill could see that the Kiwis had come to a different conclusion. They were sailing at much wider angles to the wind—about 50 degrees, on average. They were covering more water but reaching higher speeds—more than enough to offset the greater distance traveled. Foiling appeared to be the key. Oracle’s computers hadn’t anticipated such speeds.

Nobody had expected this. Had team Oracle placed too much faith in the technology? Had its enormous budget lulled the team into overconfidence? Had Mr. Spithill gotten away from the lessons he had learned in Elvina Bay?

What especially galled him was the New Zealand team’s apparent contempt for Oracle’s approach. The managing director of the New Zealand team, Mr. Dalton, was openly disdainful of the costly, high-tech catamaran Oracle had chosen. The Kiwi boat had a similar, but more rugged, design. Dean Barker, the opposing skipper, was the son of New Zealand businessman Ray Barker, who had founded the menswear company Barkers.

Mr. Spithill didn’t relish losing the Cup to a team who could say, rightfully, that their win represented a triumph for the craft of sailing. With his team’s prospects getting dimmer by the hour, Mr. Spithill decided it was time to stop obeying the computers and start thinking like sailors.

The next morning, a scheduled off day, Oracle’s sailors made upwind foiling the focus of their practice. Rather than sailing 42 degrees off the wind, what the team called their “high and slow” mode. Mr. Slingsby suggested trying 55 degrees, which he called “low and fast.” When the boat got moving fast enough to get up on its foils, the crew made another discovery. It was able to tack more quickly—13 mph rather than 10 mph.

The mood began to lighten. But after three years of training, the America’s Cup might just come down to how well he and his crew executed a maneuver they had practiced for just one day.

In Race 8, New Zealand jumped out to an early lead. But after the boats turned upwind, Oracle was moving faster than ever. The difference was Oracle was now foiling, too.

The race was dead even until near the end of the upwind leg, when Oracle pulled off a quick turn and began heading into the path of the Kiwi yacht. In sailboat racing, the boat on “starboard tack”—when the wind is blowing from the vessel’s right side—has the right of way over a boat on the opposite tack, with the wind coming from its left side. Oracle’s turn gave it the right of way. The Kiwis would have to either slow down and turn or go behind Oracle.

New Zealand tried to turn quickly, but miscues caused the wind to catch the sail the wrong way. Its right hull lurched into the air and the giant yacht began tipping. Oracle was headed directly into the underbelly of the Kiwi yacht, which was teetering at a 45-degree angle to the water.


“Starboard!” Mr. Spithill yelled into his radio to alert race officials the Kiwis weren’t yielding the right of way. As he yanked the helm to turn away, the New Zealand boat stopped tipping and slammed back into the water. The near capsizing completely sapped its speed.

Oracle won the race by 52 seconds. The sailors pumped their fists. Despite their six-race deficit, they had clearly caught New Zealand by surprise. “We rattled them,” Mr. Spithill told his team.

Back at the Oracle base, Mr. Ozanne said he had found the flaw in the computer model. To get going fast enough upwind to get on the foils, the yacht initially had to sail at an angle that would force it to cover more water—something the computer wasn’t programmed to allow. When Mr. Ozanne input the wider angles into the software, the computer had recalculated the speed and showed the boat could sail faster that way, confirming what the sailors had found.

Six days later, early in the morning of Sept. 20, Jimmy Spithill drove through the empty streets of San Francisco to the Oracle base for what he thought could be the team’s final race.

While Oracle had figured out to how to match New Zealand’s speed upwind, it hadn’t yet mastered the technique. The Kiwis had rallied to win two of the next three races, giving them an 8-1 advantage—thanks to the two-race penalty meted out to Oracle at the beginning—then Oracle had taken a race. Still, one more loss for Oracle and it was done.

Instead of turning on the car radio, Mr. Spithill plugged in his iPod and played one of his favorite songs, Rage Against the Machine’s “Take the Power Back.”

It was another foggy afternoon and the winds were unusually light. At the start, New Zealand took an early lead. As Oracle fell behind, the team continued making mistakes. The Kiwis sailed away through the fog. Their lead grew to nearly a mile. It was, for all intents and purposes, the end.

The Kiwis had one thing going against them. Under Cup rules, the winning team had to complete the course within 40 minutes or the race would be abandoned. The winds were so light, and the pace so slow, Mr. Spithill didn’t think the Kiwis could do it. But he wasn’t sure.

At exactly 2 p.m., Mr. Spithill heard the voice of a race official in the radio. “This is the race committee,” he said. “The time limit has expired.”

The Kiwis, about three minutes from the finish, had run out of time. “It just wasn’t meant to be,” says Mr. Dalton, the Kiwi team’s managing director.

The day wasn’t over yet. About 30 minutes later, the winds had picked up and the two boats entered the starting area to try again.

The Kiwis beat Oracle at the starting line. But by the time Oracle got to the upwind leg, it had a 20-second lead. It won by a commanding 84 seconds. The score was now 8-3.

On the next day of racing, Oracle took an early lead and held on to win by 23 seconds. In the day’s second race, it did the same, winning by 37 seconds.

It was now 8-5. Oracle now was foiling faster upwind than the Kiwis. But Mr. Spithill was well aware that with one misstep, it would be over. Still, the America’s Cup would be a race after all.

In the next race, Oracle outmaneuvered New Zealand off the starting line and led wire-to-wire. The score was 8-6.

The crowds were growing. Spectators who had earlier cheered for the underdogs from New Zealand had begun to cheer for the Americans.

On Sept. 24, Oracle took an early lead in the first race that it never relinquished. In the day’s second race, it took the lead on the upwind leg and won by 54 seconds. The score was 8-8.

Now it was the turn of Mr. Dalton, the New Zealand team’s managing director, to fear the worst: that the Oracle team might pull off the greatest comeback in Cup history.

The next day, Sept. 25, was the day of the decisive 19th race. During his drive to the base, Mr. Spithill listened to Pearl Jam’s live rendition of “Immortality.”

As a powerboat towed the Oracle yacht past the Kiwi base, Oracle’s sailors waved at their opponents in what had become a daily test: How many New Zealand team members would wave back? This time, nearly all of them did.

Mr. Dalton, New Zealand’s managing director, now saw his team’s prospects as bleak. “We knew we were going to lose the last race unless we sailed a perfect race,” he said.

About 45 minutes before the start, Mr. Spithill heard a loud bang. A critical piece of the sail—a part attaching some of the flaps to the wing—had sheared off. The wing wouldn’t curve properly without it.

Two powerboats sped over and the maintenance guys climbed up onto the wing and started shooting hot glue everywhere. They finished the job about five minutes before the boat had to enter the starting area. Mr. Spithill and his tactician looked at each other and laughed.

On the San Francisco shore, the Oracle supporters were back in full force, waving American flags. Just after the boats crossed the starting line, Oracle caught a gust of wind that sent its bows submarining into the water, costing it precious seconds.

Mr. Spithill had decided to sail conservatively. He wouldn’t get tangled with the Kiwis on the downwind leg, lest they crash or capsize. His goal was to keep it close until the upwind section, where he knew his boat now was faster.


When Oracle hit that leg, it trailed New Zealand by only three seconds. On every tack, it edged closer. Not far from the San Francisco waterfront, Oracle took a lead. When the upwind leg was done, Oracle was up by 26 seconds. The race was all but over.

As Oracle approached the finish line, Mr. Spithill glanced at one of his teammates, Kyle Langford, who was working in front of him. Mr. Langford, a 24-year-old last-minute addition to the crew, was in charge of adjusting the angle of the 13-story sail with a thick rope he held in his hands. There was nothing high-tech about this job, but it was absolutely crucial. If Mr. Langford dropped the rope, the yacht would quickly lose momentum and possibly capsize.

About three minutes from the finish line, the rope slipped out of Mr. Langford’s hands. He lunged and caught a piece of it with his left hand—just barely—and held on. Mr. Spithill laughed and said, “Nice catch, mate.”

Oracle crossed the finish line 44 seconds ahead of New Zealand. The sailors hugged.

A powerboat pulled up five minutes later. On it was Oracle founder Larry Ellison. He stepped aboard the yacht and said, “Do you guys know what you just did? You just won the America’s Cup!”