HAMILTON, Bermuda – When the post-race formalities ended, feisty Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton picked up the America’s Cup and carried it the few hundred yards to the team base.
Dalton, 59, seemed to struggle at first with the weight of the big silver trophy.
Perhaps it was a metaphor for what’s ahead for the scrappy Kiwis, who nearly folded after their nightmarish collapse in 2013 but rebounded to yank the oldest trophy in international sports from tech tycoon Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA.
First, there was a blowout party at the team compound Monday evening.
In the next few weeks, Team New Zealand and the new Challenger of Record, Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge, will start shaping the future of sailing’s marquee regatta.
“Rest assured, we’ll do the right thing,” Dalton said.
Other teams have said that before and then tried to twist the rules to hold onto the Auld Mug for as long as possible.
“To me, it is a privilege to hold the America’s Cup. It is not a right,” Dalton said.
“We will put in place rules and an organization of our own in terms of Team New Zealand, that if we’re good enough, we’ll hold onto it. If we’re not good enough, we won’t. We will not try and impose our will on it to make sure we’ll hold onto it at all costs.”
The 36th America’s Cup will be held in Auckland, perhaps in 2021.
The biggest question is whether the Kiwis will stick with space-age catamarans that rise up on hydrofoils and speed across the tops of the waves with both hulls out of the water, or go back to monohulls.
Team New Zealand won this America’s Cup because it hit on a remarkably fast, innovative boat design on a budget of about $55 million. It was expertly crewed, led by Peter Burling, who at 26 became the youngest helmsman to win the America’s Cup, and skipper Glenn Ashby, an Australian who shaped the wingsail with an Xbox-like controller.
While many traditionalists would welcome a return to monohulls, foiling is the rage in sailing. The America’s Cup cats sail at nearly 50 mph. Burling is the world’s best apparent wind sailor who has won Olympic gold and silver medals in the 49er skiff class. Ashby, 39, is a multihull wiz.
In the last two America’s Cup matches, the races were shorter to fit into a TV window. The catamarans are hard to sail, requiring younger, more athletic sailors.
The Kiwis are known to want a much stricter nationality rule, perhaps 80 percent.
In Monday’s Race 9 that sealed the resounding 7-1 victory, there were five Kiwis and Ashby aboard Team New Zealand’s catamaran. Oracle Team USA’s crew included no Americans. There were five Australians and one from Antigua.
New Zealand’s victory has already brought back Luna Rossa and is expected to bring back others who were at odds with Ellison.
Luna Rossa dropped out in 2015 after disagreeing with a mid-course reduction in the size of the catamarans as a cost-cutting measure. Team New Zealand sided with the Italians, drawing the ire of organizers and casting it as a lone wolf, a role it embraced.
There could be two or three American billionaires ready to challenge. It’s unknown whether Ellison, worth an estimated $62 billion, will be back. In five campaigns since 2003, it’s believed that Ellison spent more than $700 million on pursuing, winning and defending the America’s Cup.
Australian John Bertrand could return, if funding is available and the next regatta is held after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, because he is president of Swimming Australia. Bertrand skippered Australia II to victory over Dennis Conner in 1983 to end the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year winning streak.
After blowing an 8-1 lead in a crushing loss in 2013, Team New Zealand knew it couldn’t outspend Oracle Team USA, so the Kiwis had to outthink the American powerhouse.
“We had a saying: ‘We want to throw the ball out this time as far as we can and see if we can get to it. No restrictions on design, let’s just see what we can do here,’” Dalton said.
“We have achieved some quite amazing things that have been quite revolutionary in the sport.”
The standout feature was a revolutionary grinding system in which the Kiwis replaced traditional arm power with leg power. They installed four stationary bikes in each hull, with the “cyclors” powering the hydraulic systems used to trim the wingsail and control the daggerboards that are tipped with hydrofoils.
Among the crew was Simon van Velthooven, who won a bronze medal in track cycling at the London Olympics.
Defeated skipper Jimmy Spithill called the Kiwis “a class above.”
As for the future of the competition, “They earned and deserve the right to decide that,” Spithill said.