America’s Cup 2021: The Secret Sailor – Why I was very wrong about Team New Zealand

OPINION:

A month ago, I was convinced that Team New Zealand would run away with retaining the America’s Cup.

One capsize and a couple of disastrous pre-starts later and I now know that won’t be the case.

While Te Rehutai is still the boat to beat, the gulf between TNZ and the challengers that was evident during last month’s World Series seems to have closed.

The Kiwis may have another gear that they haven’t yet shown but there’s no denying they have struggled to get across the start line – being beaten in the starts by Luna Rossa and American Magic in the Christmas series and losing two starts to Ineos Team UK in this week’s practice races.

Their struggles will get worse, not better – as the other teams will be racing in the Prada Cup from Friday while TNZ will have to wait until March 6 and the start of the Cup match.

At times during the World Series, the Americans and Italians also looked to match them in the speed stakes and things could get difficult for Peter Burling and co as the challengers will undoubtedly lift their game over the next few weeks.

The capsize during practice racing against the Brits on Monday is also not a great sign.

Yes, they may have been pushing the boat harder than the other teams in what was their final outing ahead of the Cup but there’s no need for that kind of risk – especially as they were winning that race comfortably.

None of the other teams came close to tipping over and while Team NZ have three very experienced helmsmen on their boat, they have some work to do.

At the same time I wasn’t overly impressed with any of the challengers in practice racing either. They’ve all refined their boats – the Italians have pushed a bit of volume into the bow, the Americans have made their skeg a little deeper and the Brits have clearly modified their troublesome foils – yet none of them really looked race ready.

Unfortunately for them, time is up and the racing that matters is about to start.

No one will be under more pressure than the helmsmen. Those guys have no help as things are happening so quickly. The starts have also proven more complicated than anyone could have imagined – the boxes are smaller and boats, even the slower ones, are very hard to pass safely.

The boats can’t get closer than 14 metres from each other but I think there could be problems in this series. These guys are aggressive and if they’re in the right they will be pushing their advantage.

No one will be holding back and we will see boats in anger as everyone tries to win early races and get themselves into a good position.

The Secret Sailor is an internationally acclaimed yachtie with a strong history in the America’s Cup.

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Be aware that traffic will be busy, and parking will be very limited.

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus instead.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride to the Cup.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.

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