HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand’s successful plan to regain the America’s Cup started as soon as they had lost in devastating fashion to Oracle Team USA in San Francisco in 2013.
The New Zealand outfit had been highly secretive about their activities during the campaign to win the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda but opened up after clinching the “Auld Mug” on Monday.
“After San Francisco, we had a pretty brutal debrief,” the team’s CEO Grant Dalton told reporters after lifting the cup.
That resulted in a 20-point plan focused on what the team, which is part government-funded alongside sponsorship from Emirates, Toyota and wealthy benefactors, had to do differently.
Key among them was the need to “invest in technology on a pretty limited budget”, an emotional Dalton, who is known by the rest of the team as “Dalts”, revealed.
The Kiwi team underwent a major shake-up and struggled for cash in the aftermath of the defeat at the hands of the better-funded team backed by Oracle founder Larry Ellison.
Their own team principal and benefactor Matteo de Nora, who said on Monday he “knew we had an opportunity to do something” with Dalton, was instrumental in providing support and guidance during a period when others doubted.
“They saw us as cowboys... we were to a point,” Dalton said, adding that there were times when the team had not been able to pay salaries but had managed to keep going.
Dalton and skipper Glenn Ashby, the only surviving member of the 2013 San Francisco ‘shipwreck’, worked together to come up with a plan that would be bold, different and revolutionary.
That resulted in one significant secret weapon, which other teams have acknowledged changed the course of the cup.
“We knew we couldn’t outspend them (Oracle Team USA) so we had to out-think them,” Dalton said, adding that he and Ashby agreed from the start they would “throw the ball out as far as we can and see if we can get to it”.
It was Ashby, who Dalton calls “Glenny”, who stuck to his guns on critical elements of the new program.
“The foresight that we had as a team to be aggressive and bold in our design philosophy has ultimately provided us with the victory here today,” Ashby said.
This included the decision to employ “cyclors”, sailors who pedal to provide the hydraulic power needed to drive the boat, rather than traditional “grinders”, who use their arms.
“Glenn wouldn’t let us employ any grinders,” Dalton said.
New Zealand managed to keep the pedal set-up secret until late in the game, training at home and not showing their hand until February of this year when they revealed that Olympic cycling medalist Simon van Velthooven would be on board.
Another masterstroke was signing up Peter Burling to steer the team’s 50-foot (15 meter) foiling catamaran.
Dalton met secretly at his home with the 26-year-old, who has won Olympic gold and silver medals in the 49er skiff class.
Burling, who has shown extraordinary calmness and composure during the America’s Cup campaign and has been widely viewed as unflappable, said he wanted to helm the new New Zealand boat.
“It was investing in the right people, giving them responsibility and not shackling them,” Dalton said.
That philosophy paid off on Bermuda’s Great Sound, and for de Nora, who did not reveal how much money he had plowed into the campaign, it was finally “mission accomplished”.
Editing by Ken Ferris