34th America’s Cup Trivia Contest-Final Edition

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Thanks to everyone who has been following the course of the trivia contest. For those of you who have been dying to know how well you did, here are the answers!

Race 1:  Why do the names of most of Oracle Team USA’s racing boats include the number “17”?

Answer: All of Larry Ellison’s America’s Cup boats have been named or included the number “17” in honor of Ellison’s maxi yacht Sayonara (her mainsail carried the number US-17). In 1998 Ellison sailed Sayonara in the Sydney-to-Hobart race. That year, the 628-nautical-mile race was hit by a terrible storm that pounded the fleet with hurricane-force winds and towering seas. Only 44 of 115 boats that started the race finished. Six sailors died and many other had to be airlifted from the race. Sayonara was the first boat to finish the harrowing race and it was a life-changing experience for Ellison.

Start of Race 2, pre-start maneuvering made both boats were late to the line.

Race 2: In the start of Race 2, OTUSA’s skipper Jimmy Spithill had excellent positioning and even managed to “hook” ETNZ, which forced Dean Barker to turn high into the wind to avoid contact, and yet, Barker still made it first to the starting line. Why?

Answer: Spithill’s positioning in both races on September 7th had been good but both times he was late accelerating to the starting line. As it turned out, it wasn’t Spithill’s problem but USA-17’s starting software (which tells the skipper when to pull the trigger and accelerate towards the starting line). The final development and on-the-water testing of the software, which was developed in-house by Jose Luis Vela, had been put on hold during the jury investigation of the team’s alleged cheating during the America’s Cup World Series events. The acceleration calculation part of the program was flawed and was telling Spithill he still had two or three seconds to kill. Vela and team coordinator Ian Burns worked all night on the software and by Race 3 the software was working better.

Photographer Chris Cameron/ETNZ

Race 3: What did Emirates Team New Zealand call the reinforcing structure underneath of Aotearoa’s platform? What problem did it cause?

Answer: Emirates Team New Zealand called the post and wire stiffening structure underneath Aotearoa’s platform “Grand Central Station.” The problem it caused was parasitic drag. As the name implies, “drag” is something that slows a boat down. Parasitic drag is caused by things like less than perfect skin smoothness (scratches, dirt, roughness) or the intersections of the different parts of the boat–things that mess up the flow of air or water over the surface of the boat. If you’re sailing a low-speed boat parasitic drag isn’t really a problem but as your boat speed increases the effects of parasitic drag get worse. With the average speed of the AC72 in the 30-40 knot range, Oracle’s aerodynamically clean platform design didn’t suffer from the same drag problems and gave them a speed advantage.

ETNZ’s “pie warmers”

Race 4: Between the Louis Vuitton series and the America’s Cup match ETNZ installed spoilers, affectionately called “pie warmers,” on their stern crossbeam. What problem were they trying to solve?

Answer:  According to Tom Speer, the air moving across Aotearoa’s platform was forced under the wing end plate, but there was nothing to stop it or redirect it when it got to the lee side of the end plate so it rolled up into a trailing vortex (essentially an loss of energy).  ETNZ installed the spoilers on Aotearoa’s aft beam in an effort to recapture some of the energy being lost.  The design of OTUSA-17’s platform did not have this problem thanks to the central pod which pushed the air aft and under the stern crossbeam.

Oracle’s disastrous “foiling tack” cost the team their small lead

Race 5: What maneuver did tactician John Kostecki call for that led to OTUSA’s loss of Race 5? [Just because I think it’s hysterical when you take the AC50 and 2017 America’s Cup match into account, Larry Ellison’s response to the maneuver was: “That was a massive tactical blunder. Oh yeah, and there’s no such thing as a ………”]

Answer: The maneuver John Kostecki called for was a foiling tack.  OTUSA led on the first two legs when Kostecki called for the maneuver and it failed spectacularly. USA-17 fell off its foils, its forward momentum stalled and the America’s immediately lost most of their lead.

Part of the reason I think Ellison’s 2013 comment is so hysterical is that the second half of his comment was “that’s delusional sailing, a video game fantasy maneuver.” By 2017, any team that WASN’T completing perfect foiling tacks was the loser.

Sir Ben Ainslie joins the afterguard. Spithill’s comment? “It just gets really, really noisy with all the gold clanging around in the back.” Ainslie has four gold medals and strategist Tom Slingsby has one gold medal from the 2012 London Olympics.
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Race 6: What change did OTUSA make after Race 5 and what was the immediate, noticeable impact of the change on board the boat?

Answer: After the loss of Race 5 Oracle Team USA replaced American tactician John Kostecki with British Olympic sailing champion Sir Ben Ainslie. This was serious, making such a dramatic crew change after the start of a series had never proven successful for any other America’s Cup team that had tried it. Almost immediately there was a change on the boat in the form of increased, better communication between Spithill, Ainslie and Tom Slingsby (strategist). The change lead to better strategy and tactics and reduced tactical errors.


Race 7:  What major design change did OTUSA institute after this race that affected the outcome of the entire series? [There are actually four. I am only looking for the one that had the greatest effect, but if you can name all of them I’ll give you a few extra points!]

Answer: USA-17 was suffering from a lee-helm problem and was also underpowered. After Race 7 Oracle made major modifications to both the wing and platform.  The structure of the platform was changed so they sailors could put more camber in the wing (increasing the range of camber meant more lift, more lift meant more power when sailing upwind). They also changed the shape and set up of the wing in order to lower its center of effort and move its overall loading down and aft (changed the leech profile; modified the wing’s control system to increase the wing’s twist profile; modified the tabs in the middle element to increase the size of the slot between the main and flap elements). The changes gave the boat better balance and eliminated the lee-helm problem which increased OTUSA’s foiling capabilities and speed.

Other changes which may have aided the boats fore-aft balance were recutting the jib to make it flatter and smaller; changing the rig so the jib could be cast off earlier in tacks; and shortening the bowsprit to reduce windage and weight (only used long bowsprit in light wind-Races 13 and 16).

Photographer Guilain Grenier

Race 8:  Oracle Team USA-17 was noticeably faster and more stable in this race which allowed for more aggressive tactics on Oracle’s part. When ETNZ tried to take control of the situation what was the result?

Answer: On the third leg, in an attempt to out-maneuver a quickly approaching Oracle, ETNZ performed a quick tack right onto Oracle’s path.  ETNZ’s wing was not self-tacking and apparently they didn’t have enough hydraulic pressure to move the wing. Overpowered, the wing nearly took Aotearoa over. She rolled over to an impressive 44.8 degrees of heal. Luckily, the sailors kept grinding and when enough pressure was generated the sail kicked over and the platform dropped back to the water. I am positive that quite a few crew uniforms needed laundering that evening.

ETNZ wing trimmer Glenn Ashby on the Race 8 near capsize: The boats are complicated to sail, and we just made a little error…and it doesn’t take much to get yourself chicken-winged up. The boat handling aspect of these boats is so critical…it takes great teamwork to get the boat around the track cleanly, and yesterday was probably not the best example of that in that one tack, but we survived, and I think the shore crew needed a change of underwear just as much as we did.
Paul Bieker’s “stinger”

Race 9: What “device” did OTUSA’s designers apply to its rudders to reduce cavitation? (There were a number of names for this thing. I’ll accept any one of them.)

For extra credit, who designed it?

For extra, extra credit, besides reducing cavitation what was an added benefit of the change?

Answer: Both teams were having problems with cavitation around their rudders and foils. Cavitation occurs when the water flowing over a fast moving surface vaporizes and forms steam bubbles. Those bubbles increase drag and decrease the hydrofoil’s ability to generate lift. The rapid bursting and reforming of those bubbles causes intense vibration and, for Oracle, it was stripping the surfaces off the rudder where the greatest cavitation was occurring. It was too late to redesign the dagger boards so Oracle’s hydrofoil expert, Paul Bieker, assisted by boat builder Manu Armenazas, added a fairing consisting of a protruding bulb (on the front edge) and fillet, or tapered point (at the rear edge), to the intersection of the rudder’s strut and horizontal stabilizer.

Bieker made this change without any sort of computer or model testing—it was based on pure instinct. In fact, some of the other designers said the bulb on the front was unnecessary but Bieker insisted upon keeping it.  Later, when flow analysis tests came back from a super-computer in Italy they showed that not only was the front bulb necessary, the fairing itself was adding 4/10ths of a knot of speed downwind.

Other names for the fairing were “spear fairing,” “cavitation bulb and fillet,” “rudder spear” and “stinger.”

Photographer Jan Pehrson

Race 10: By Race 10, all of the structural modifications and crew training were beginning to pay off for Oracle Team USA.  In Race 9, OTUSA gained on every leg. Race 10 stands as the “height of the battle” between the two contenders. How many lead changes were there in Race 10?  For extra credit, what was the largest delta between the two boats when rounding the marks?

Answer:  There were four lead changes during the race. The largest delta at the marks was 11 seconds.

Race 11: On Friday September 13th, 2013, what odds were Los Angeles bookies rumored to be laying against Oracle Team USA winning the Cup?

Answer: An astounding 700-to-1!

Foiling upwind in Race 12

Race 12: What was Oracle’s top speed on Leg 3? For extra credit, what was Oracle’s average speed on Leg 3?

Answer: The Oracle sailors got the boat foiling on Leg 3 and OTUSA-17 hit a top speed of 36.9 knots despite sailing AGAINST the wind!  Their average speed on Leg 3 was 24.9 knots. Oracle’s tacking was also getting better. Their lowest speed in their slowest tack was almost 11 knots and on one tack they “slowed” to 17 knots.


Race 13: During the 34th America’s Cup, how many races had to be postponed because of wind issues (i.e. too high, too low, blowing in the wrong direction)?

Answer: Nine races had to be postponed because of wind issues. Sailing in San Francisco Bay can be quite challenging and the teams experienced a wide range of conditions as they sailed over the course.  Unlike other races, the wind limits in 2013 had to be calculated for each race to account for tides and currents. For example, Race 9 occurred during an ebb current. The wind limit for Race 9 was 20.8 knots which was the 23-knot nominal limit minus the 2.2-knot ebb current. In Race 5 the wind limit was 24.9 knots (23-knot nominal limit plus 1.9 knots of flood current).

Oracle rigger and wing technician Jeff Causey adjusting wing set-up in between races.

Race 14:  What change did Oracle make to their boat between races 13 and 14 and what did the change enable?

Answer:  Before Race 14, Oracle made a final change to their wing control system to enable rapid adjustment of the wing setup. The change meant Oracle could quickly adjust the wing’s setup to accommodate changing wind conditions.  For example, if the wind weakened during a race, Oracle could ‘mode’ the wing before the next race to allow more camber up high which meant the wing could generate more power in the light air. Aotearoa’s design did not give ETNZ this same ability.

Wing trimmer Kyle Langford in Race 14

Race 15:  During the series Oracle made a change to their crew choreography that helped the boat accelerate faster  and get up on its foils sooner. It also enabled more stable foiling. What was the change and what was it affectionately called by the team?

Answer: The crew changed the choreography to dedicate three of their grinding pedestals purely to powering the wing trim. The change allowed Kyle Langford to employ more aggressive wing trimming techniques. With the winch constantly powered, Langford could constantly trim and ease the traveler, often even slipping the line while the winch was turning. The team affectionately called the times this aggressive wing trimming was employed “beast mode.”

Portrait of Jimmy Spithill by photographer Peter Hurley

Race 16: Jimmy Spithill seems to be the type of guy who is motivated by being told he can’t do something and by extension motivates his teammates by never giving up. What physical disability did Spithill overcome despite a doctor’s insistence that “it is unlikely he will ever be any good at sports”?

Answer: Spithill was born with a mildly deformed right foot (he was missing a toe and two others were webbed). By the time he was twelve his right foot three sizes smaller and his right leg was two inches shorter than his left. The problem caused a pronounced limp and serious lower back pain. Spithill credits his doctor with not only helping resolve his physical problem but with also lighting a fire in him to prove he could overcome any challenge by working hard and keeping a never say die attitude.

Columbia in the first leg of the third and last race for the Cup on October 20th, 1899 passing Sir Thomas Lipton’s first Challenger, Shamrock in a brisk northerly breeze off Sandy Hook. (Accession# LP 1095)

Race 17: Only one other series in America’s Cup history had lasted as long as the 2013 race. What year did it happen and who were the competitors?

Answer: The second longest series in America’s Cup history occurred in 1899 when Columbia defended against challenger Shamrock. That match lasted from October 3 to October 20th. The first race was started on October 3 but was abandoned.  Then the races on the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th were abandoned. They managed to race on the 16th and 17th but abandoned the final race on the 19th. At last on the 20th the race was held, albeit in very light air. So technically even though it was only three races it had been the longest match from scheduled start to finish until 2013.  For those of you who guessed 2003, at 16 days that was the third longest series.

Look at these speeds at the start of Race 2. It’s hard to imagine that speeds had increased by Race 18!

Race 18:  The top speed of the AC72 was reached during this race. Which team did it and how fast were they going?

Answer: Robert Kamins and I considered the answer to this question very carefully. The highest speed posted in numerous places is 47.57 knots which was accomplished by Emirates Team New Zealand. However! I am going to part ways with Wikipedia in this instance. Since that number is not footnoted and appears to reflect the maximum speed-over-ground reached on Leg 4 (not Leg 1 as Wikipedia states) I am going with the maximum speed-over-ground listed in the cumulative data tables built by the Cupinfo team which was an astounding 48.12 knots (55.38 mph!) on Leg 1.

Bow on view of AC72 showing the pod clearly acting as an extension of the wing sail.

Race 19: What design feature did CEO Grant Simmer and aerodynamics expert Tom Speer credit with giving OTUSA a speed advantage over Emirates Team New Zealand?

Answer: Both Tom Speer and Grant Simmer credited the central pod as the one thing that made OTUSA-17 inherently faster than Aoteoroa. General Manager Grant Simmer said: “we had more in the tank than they did, and I think the tank was in the pod.”

The design of USA-17’s platform was aerodynamically “clean.” First, the shape and location of the pod acted like a two-meter extension of the wing sail’s span. Additionally, the pod, working in concert with the wing and jib end plates, forced the air that flowed under the platform under the stern crossbeam which gave the boat extra lift and a power boost thanks to reduced drag (induced).