Lone Wolf: Extract

Lone Wolf is the riveting account of Emirates Team New Zealand’s extraordinary America’s Cup journey… from the depths of an ignominious defeat in Auckland in 2003 to a staggering victory on the turquoise waters of Bermuda’s Great Sound in 2017.

It’s the story of how a rookie New Zealand crew, sailing a radical foiling catamaran, trounced the Defender, Oracle Team USA, in a classic David vs Goliath contest. Emirates

Team New Zealand was the team they all had to beat, and it was soon isolated by the other five teams, forcing them to battle against huge odds and big budgets, which would have killed off any other contender.

As the Lone Wolf of the 35th America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand also had to weather friendly fire from a hostile local media, orchestrated from offshore.

Leading sailing photo-journalist Richard Gladwell, who was on the water every day of the 35th America’s Cup Regatta, provides a ringside view of the racing and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Read on for a taste of the book, this excerpt is from ‘The Skipper Reflects’…

Lone Wolf is available now where all good books are sold.


Late in 2016, when they refused to sign an greement on how the next two America’s Cups would be conducted, Emirates Team New Zealand was cast in the role of being a ‘lone wolf’.

The moniker has stuck with the team since and it was the hallmark of a campaign that struggled financially, that thought differently and was forced to eke the most out of the resources that it did have. That struggle made their America’s Cup win on the last Monday in June 2017 all the sweeter.

‘We have been the Lone Wolf from Day 1,’ said skipper Glenn Ashby. ‘We have had to adopt that as our stance — as we were away from everyone. But we also had to be the Lone Wolf in our design philosophy and our projection and anticipation of where the bar would ultimately be, in this cycle.

‘We have run our own course, and it has proven to be the correct one.’

Emirates Team New Zealand stayed out of Bermuda, arriving two years after Oracle Team USA. The risk for the other teams was that they became too familiar with each other, and risked becoming clones of each other. With that strategy and situation, they were always vulnerable to a team like Emirates Team New Zealand coming at the group from out of left field, with different ideas and a different approach.

‘We ultimately didn’t have a choice as to when we came over,’ said Ashby. ‘While venue knowledge is important — like it is at the Olympics when you have to be there for years before to see what the conditions are like. But we had spent enough time in Bermuda over the last couple of years to know what sort of water we had, and to know that it was shifty.

‘Ultimately, we knew we were racing ourselves. We knew where the level was going to get to — and if we didn’t reach that level, we wouldn’t be competitive.

‘We had to push on our own programme by ourselves.’

Ashby says they knew that they were going to have to do dry laps (full races where the foiling AC50 didn’t touch the water). Good starts were also going to be essential, and the boat had to have good boat speed.

‘We had to be 100 per cent focused on our own programme,’ he explained. ‘We knew what the others were up to, but it didn’t change our path. We believed we were on the right course and didn’t change our decisions.’

Emirates Team New Zealand had their preferred training ground to the east of Browns Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, known as the ‘Back Paddock’. Ashby says that the conditions there were a 90 per cent match with what they expected in Bermuda.

‘That helped a lot with the way we set up our boat and control systems.’

Ashby says the switch to leg power for the grinders rather than the traditional arms wasn’t the silver bullet behind the team’s win.

‘I think ultimately it was our aggressiveness in our design philosophy. That to me sums up our whole programme — we had to throw it out there. We were either going to be a laughing stock when we arrived in Bermuda, or we were going to do what we did.

‘There are a lot of aspects to the programme, and the bicycles were a big part of that, but it is the full package of how aggressively we attacked the problem that we had, and we did that better than the other teams.’

Ashby said that Day 2 of the Challenger Final was the key moment in terms of winning the regatta for Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis came away with two wins from three races, despite being caught out with the light-weather daggerboards in a breeze that rose and fell during the afternoon.

‘My thinking was that if we could race well against Artemis in breezy conditions — given that they had beaten Oracle in 17 races in a row, then we possibly might have a chance at the Cup.’

He says he knew they were going to have a big battle with Artemis Racing in the Challenger Final. ‘My thinking was that if we could outsail them in these conditions, we could keep on our path and keep improving ourselves and the boat.’

On board the AC50, Ashby kept a very low profile, with one commentator claiming all you could see were his eyes peering above the cockpit edge. In his hand, Ashby was running a box which allowed him to control all the wing functions and the jib as well — which included the jib Cunningham, jib track and jib sheet. The box ran all the twist for the wing.

‘Every single aero function on the boat could be run from my cockpit, and that one little control box,’ he explained.
‘You could do that from either side of the yacht — so we could tack or gybe without me having to get out of my seat to go to the other side.

‘We could also push or pull the wing, with the sheet, which the other guys couldn’t do with their standard drums. They always had to have someone holding the sheet. With our push-pull system, it could do anything we liked from either side of the yacht. That was a big advantage for us.’

The control box, in turn, triggered a series of electro-mechanical switches which controlled the valves to make the sail adjustments.

‘All the buttons on the boat were set up to do the same functions — so the buttons that Pete had on the wheel, my floor buttons for getting the daggerboards up and down in the tacks and gybes, were all set up the same way.

‘When you did the button press or the toggle movement, an electrical signal would be sent to the valve, and then the valve would open and allow the hydraulic pressure or fluids to go to the ram and operate that function.

‘The whole boat ran off a PLC [programmable logic controllers commonly used in factory production processes] that operated the hydraulic system. It was very complicated, but well set up.’

Ashby believes that the other boats used a similar system. However, the main difference in the Emirates Team New Zealand set-up was that during different manoeuvres, the wingsail could still be trimmed from the wheel.

‘I don’t believe any of the other teams could do that,’ Ashby added. ‘They would have to reach forward while hanging onto the sheet, while we could have both hands operating the daggerboard, the jib, wing sheet and the rudder functions all in one go as well. So, we could sail the boat and do a lot of different manoeuvres and have a lot of crossover while there were people moving around the boat. It all worked very well.’

Being able to top up the hydraulic pressure more quickly than their competitors meant there could be more functionality on board the boat.

‘One of the things that not many people know about this campaign was that we only ran two accumulators [a pressure storage reservoir of hydraulic fluid] on board, and not three. We decided to take the extra weight of an accumulator off the boat because we believed that our guys could top up the accumulators quite quickly, which allowed weight reduction.

‘While the other boats started off with more stored energy, we believed that we could get around the track cleanly, with the weight saving, and utilise that energy elsewhere.’

The late Warren Jones, one of the management masterminds behind the success-ful Australia II challenge for the America’s Cup, made a comment ‘that to win the America’s Cup, you had to make every decision the right one for three years’.

When asked whether Emirates Team New Zealand had made any wrong decisions over the past three years, Ashby replied: ‘Without wanting to sound like a plonker, looking back now, I can’t think of too many things we got wrong.

‘There are things that we would have liked to have had earlier. But as far as the decision-making process and the decisions we did make, I can categorically state that I don’t think we made any major errors along the way. You can’t make mistakes at any point of the campaign — particularly at the latter stage.

‘I don’t think we made too many mistakes, which ultimately made us very competitive over here.’

One of the downsides with the use of multihulls in the America’s Cup is that teams seem to acquire an enormous amount of kit-boats, parts, training and test platforms. In the 35th America’s Cup, some teams ran up to four AC45S test boats, plus various other two-man foiling catamarans and singlehanded foiling Moths.

Budget constraints imposed by the selec-tion of Bermuda as a venue and the loss of government funding when the Qualifiers were taken away arbitrarily from Auckland meant that Emirates Team New Zealand scrapped plans to run a two-sailing team and two-test boat programme. Instead, they launched just a single AC45S and then the single AC50 (as allowed by the Protocol).

‘We didn’t have too much choice in the matter, but by having less, we were able to focus more sharply on the future and where the boats needed to be,’ Ashby said.

‘For us, two-boat testing is imperative for development and going forwards. But having the vision and the people who can make the correct decisions is the key to success. I think we had the right people to enable us to make the right decisions to progress in the way that we did.’

In the 2013 America’s Cup campaign, Emirates Team New Zealand built two AC72s but decommissioned the first to provide some parts for the second boat which became the Challenger in the match.

In 2013, as well as the 2017 America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand arrived with a boat that was quick out of the box, compared to teams that had been training for months or years in the regatta venue on Bermuda’s Great Sound.
A key to this is the interface the team seems to be able to achieve between the design computer, performance simulation and then translating this very accurately to on-the-water performance.

‘In this campaign, we definitely used the computer simulation side of things a lot more than in the previous campaign,’ Ashby explained. ‘We were forced into that by the fact that we didn’t have any test boats and we didn’t have any resource to be able to get on the water in those early stages.

‘Dan Bernasconi has done an amazing job with this team by being able to go through the computer simulation/VPP [velocity prediction] side. As a sailing team, there was just a small core group who spent time with those designers and engineers, and together we have been able to keep moving forwards and almost predicting where we needed to be at certain points in time.

‘When we launched our proper test boat it showed the rest of the world that we hadn’t been sitting down in Auckland mucking around. I think we possibly surprised the other teams as to how advanced our test boat was when we launched her for the first time.’

The financial constraints caused by the loss of the Qualifiers from Auckland forced Emirates Team New Zealand to spend their early time developing computer software and design systems that would be quicker and more accurate when funding did come on stream.

‘The technology, design and engineering side of things gave us, as the sailing team, great confidence in knowing that if we could keep up our end of the bargain — keep developing and keep pushing those design and engineering guys as well — then we would have a package that was, in our minds at least, ultimately the most advanced AC50 out on the water.

‘We had our ups and downs as all the teams did, but the philosophy that we had and the connectivity between the sailing, design teams and the shore teams was vital.

‘That relationship was very special, and without that relationship we wouldn’t have wound up with a package that is anywhere near as advanced.’

One of the features of the Emirates Team New Zealand campaign in Bermuda was how quickly the sailing crew learned and got race sharp despite losing a lot of planned time due to unsuitable weather in practice sessions and other teams refusing to sail against the 2013 Challenger.

They only really looked match-ready after the second day of racing in the Challenger Final and showed their polished act on the third and final day of that series. Five days later they started the Match for the 35th America’s Cup.

‘Our guys are very quick learners, and they have some fantastic guys around them — like Ray Davies, Murray Jones and Richard Meacham.

‘As a group, we knew that we would lack race experience. We were hoping that we would be fast enough and knew that we would have to work hard on our starting and sailing against another boat. We’d never done that in the whole campaign. We knew we were up against it. We knew we were on the back foot. The other teams had been in Bermuda for months and some for years.

‘We had practised our boat handling back in Auckland, and practised racing against the chase boat.

‘A chase boat with 1200 hp of Yamaha outboards on the back is a very different sailing proposition than an AC50 in pre-starts. We knew what we could get away with in boat handling. But Land Rover BAR, Artemis and SoftBank all had very strong starting packages. They had seen it all before, and they gave us some good sailing lessons in those first few races.

‘That made us stronger — and hats off to those guys for pushing us hard. We knew that if we didn’t get pushed we would always be up against it in the Match.’

Ashby says the sailing team worked out where their strengths were — which was their boat handling — and also their weaknesses.

‘That put us on the front foot against Jimmy, rather than the back when we finally lined up,’ Ashby said.

‘When you have the right guys in the right team, doing the right jobs around you, that allows you the opportunity to do some special things. You can then learn and keep learning and stay on the same path. That to me as Sailing Director and as a wing trimmer is a very proud moment, watching your crew and team create greatness. That is a wonderful feeling.’

Probably the biggest area of very noticeable improvement by Emirates Team New Zealand, as the Challenger Series progressed, was in the start box.

Ashby explained that the starting is unique in the AC50s as the boats can accelerate and decelerate very quickly on the foils. He pointed out that it is a very different process to the displacement multihull match-racing. ‘There is no other type of boat in the world that could do the type of pre-starts we do on these AC50s. Some of the lessons cross over, but the decision-making process and boat handling is unique.

‘All the teams were on a steep learning curve, and there was a big difference between what was happening in the beginning during training and at the regatta end during racing.

‘We pushed that to another level with what we could do with our boat handling,’ Ashby added.

He says that the New Zealand team knew before they went to Bermuda that they would have the edge in a tacking duel due to their extra power and ability to quickly top up the hydraulic pressure.

‘We could tell that from the recon footage, as to how many tacks they could do, how often they were standing up and how many times they stopped.

‘Because we knew we had more juice in the tank we could pull off slightly better manoeuvres and not be afraid to keep pushing an opponent to the point where they will start making mistakes.

‘We were always happy to get into a dogfight if it had to come to that.’

Copyright text extracted from Lone Wolf  by Richard Gladwell, $44.99 RRP, available now.