Oracle sailors learned flying for America's Cup comeback

Mon Sep 30, 2013 11:31pm EDT
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By Alden Bentley

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The come-from-behind victory of Larry Ellison's America's Cup team is a tale of learning how to fly a boat - and pushing the equipment, the rules and the crew to the very limit in the process.

Ellison's Oracle Team USA fought back from an 8-1 deficit against the mighty Emirates Team New Zealand to win sailing's biggest trophy last week in a series of races in 72-foot high-tech catamarans that sometimes exceeded 50 miles per hour on San Francisco Bay.

The Oracle comeback was lauded as one of the greatest in sports history. Yet the abrupt turnaround in the team's performance in the middle of the finals series also has set off a flurry of speculation about whether Oracle, which began the regatta with a penalty for illegally modifying a practice boat last year, had used secret technological enhancements to engineer its comeback.

An online article in Sail-World summarized speculation that Oracle may have used "superhuman' technology," such as a computer-controlled stabilization system, that would have been against the rules.

Oracle emphatically rejected the notion of any high-tech silver bullet, and there is no evidence that the team did anything illegal.

Some of the speculation appears to stem from a protest lodged by New Zealand just before the finals began over an Oracle system that used an electrical switch to control the movements of the boat's daggerboards. The challenge was rejected by the jury that addresses rules disputes, in part because it was lodged too late.

The system might have helped Oracle perfect the intricate movements of daggerboards, sails and rudders that were needed to keep the boat sailing at top speed - although it was far from being any sort of computerized control system.

Oracle says it achieved the turnaround the old-fashioned way: continual adjustments to the intricate boats, experimentation with sailing tactics, and relentless hard work by the sailors and the shore crew.   Continued...

Members of the Oracle Team USA compete enroute to winning the overall title of the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race over Emirates Team New Zealand in San Francisco, California September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam