America’s Cup 2021: Paul Lewis – It might as well be time for Ineos Team UK to load up their boat and head off to friendlier waters

America’s Cup 2021: Paul Lewis – It might as well be time for Ineos Team UK to load up their boat and head off to friendlier waters

December 19, 2020


There’s the faintest hope they can improve further but the first casualty in the America’s Cup still seems certain to be Britannia, the AC75 of Ineos Team UK — and for whom I have a suggested new name: The Otter.

That’s not because Britannia is like the supple, lithe and speedy animal which graces Britain’s and Europe’s rivers. They lost heavily to Luna Rossa and American Magic on Saturday but the die was already cast when Team New Zealand botched the start of race four on Friday, losing about 400m but then smoked past the Brits, roaring away upwind to win by nearly 1.5km.

No, it’s because Otter was the name of the rather dorky-looking amphibious caravan created by English designer/inventor Alan Eckford in the 1950s. It was about 5m by 2m, built from marine plywood (light enough for easy towing) with a high centre of gravity. It could hold six people and looked like a big dinghy with half a caravan plonked on top of it.

It was not at all like an otter, which was what brought Ineos Team UK to mind. Eckford’s souped-up version could cruise at a hang-on-to-your-hat speed of four knots. Only about 200 were sold, you wouldn’t launch it anywhere with any chop and, if any had ventured out onto the America’s Cup courses this week, they would very swiftly have got into difficulties.

Which is exactly where Ineos Team UK find themselves. There is a glimmer of hope modifications and more time on the water will help further — but you still get the feeling they might just as well load up Eckford’s Otter with a few cases of beer and do a mass whakapohane at Team NZ before heading off to friendlier waters.

Maybe this analysis is too harsh — but they are clearly the slowest boat. Their plight was perhaps first illustrated by Sir Ben Ainslie’s complaint about the foil cantilever system (FCS) which lifts and lowers the boat’s heavy foils and thwarted their racing at first.

He asked for the software controlling the FCS to be given to him, blaming TNZ for a shoddy system — part of the one-design elements of the AC75; in other words, all teams’ FCS are the same even if it may or may not be an infallible piece of kit.

American Magic’s Andrew Campbell spoke about how much resource is needed to keep on top of the FCS — which carried an unspoken inference: if the other teams have devoted time, energy and people to mastering it, why haven’t Ineos?

It also raised the following points:

● Ineos have had three years and about $230m to get it right — as the other teams have.

● Their design team, headed by Kiwi (and former TNZ member) Nick Holroyd, made radical alterations to their original design, probably after analysing what the competition were up to.

● They have ended up with a rearranged boat they haven’t yet mastered and which is slow and unstable in light airs.

● Reliability is an issue for all teams. This is the first time the AC75s have been sailed in anger; breakages and gear failure is part of the game, as is he-who-fixes-it-best/fastest-benefits-the-most.

Ainslie’s shore crew seemed to have fixed the problem the next day and his jibe about the FCS seems, in the light of all this, to be the result of a team searching for something to blame not connected to themselves.

Britannia splashed down alarmingly at one point this week and the TV coverage also caught one of those sound mike “whoops” moments where someone invoked the f-word.

It took me straight back to 2003 and the last time the designers were in charge of the asylum — Team NZ’s startling innovations innovated them right out of contention, NZL82 losing in an embarrassing 5-0 whitewash to Alinghi. In race four, NZL82’s mast snapped, leading one sailor to give the boat an audible free character reading: “This f****** boat”.

Luna Rossa, however, look stable and efficient and Jimmy Spithill hasn’t really flexed his muscles yet. The Christmas Cup racing has shown that both Luna Rossa and Dean Barker’s American Magic will be competitive in the challenger series — and possibly competitive with Team NZ.

American Magic’s win over TNZ on Thursday was a shot in the arm for all three regattas.

At this stage, TNZ v American Magic seems best bet as the Cup match but the Italians could just as easily get there instead; there is a long way to go.

Not so long, though, that you can easily see The Otter being a factor.

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