America’s Cup 2021: AUT’s Sailing Professor Mark Orams – Peter Burling and Jimmy Spithill’s contrasting Cup styles – which will prevail?


Day one of any America’s Cup match is by far the most important.

That’s because it casts aside all the rumour, speculation and predictions to answer one vital question: Which boat is faster?

Elsewhere however, things may take a bit more time to emerge, particularly with Team New Zealand, the defenders.

Not so the challengers Luna Rossa in my opinion however.

The Italians will come out with all guns blazing tomorrow. They want a fight.

Luna Rossa’s helmsmen Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni will go straight for the jugular.

It’s no accident that one of Spithill’s favourite forms of fitness training is boxing. He loves a fight – the close quarters punch and counterpunch – of match racing.

Luna Rossa’s aggressive style, where they seek to dominate their opponent, reflects the Spithill personality.

Luna Rossa have developed a really trust worthy boat and the confidence to push it hard. It will be all on from the get-go.

In contrast, Team New Zealand’s Peter Burling is a laid back character. He is hugely talented, fiercely competitive, but has no interest in the mind games or Spithill’s battle-to-the-death type of mindset.

Burling is the three Cs – cool, calm and collected. He aims to get the boat in the groove and sail fast, smart, thus letting the results do the talking.

It’s a great match up of contrasting personalities.

The Kiwi team will be desperate to guard against any optimism around Te Rehutai’s predicted speed advantage creeping into their thinking.

TNZ’s experienced leaders know that assumption is the mother of all stuff ups at any elite sporting level.

Self-confidence and belief yes, but arrogance can create blind-spots which cause your downfall.

TNZ’s boat Te Rehutai is fast, but to assume she will win easily is not the right way to approach this regatta, particularly given the wind forecast.

The models available to the two teams have all been predicting between 10-13 knots from the north to north-west for races one and two.

In Auckland, this wind-direction is typically unstable with some clouds bringing increased wind in advance (especially if they bring rain with them) and lulls behind.

In addition, the wind direction on Course area A off the East Coast Bays – where I expect the initial races to be – shifts a lot.

Sometimes the wind tends to follow along the shoreline. But at other times they can shift left and tend to come off the shore, following the geography of the valleys and beaches between the headlands.

In these wind conditions yacht racing can be a game of snakes and ladders. It will be tricky to get it right tactically.

Latch onto a puff and you are launched with a big increase in boat-speed and a better angle to the mark. Conversely, a lull means the boat’s bow has to be turned away from the direction of the mark and the boat-speed slows.

Foiling yachts exacerbate the differences caused by this puffy and shifty wind scenario. It will be, as the saying goes in sailing, a head out of the boat day. Avoiding the lulls will be critical.

They will be tactical races demanding good adjustments according to the conditions. Find the ladders and avoid the snakes.

Park the arrogance. Assume nothing. Get into your race mind-set. Trust your preparation, and trust your team-mates. Sail smart, sail fast, manage the risks and stay composed. Focus on those things, not the outcomes.

Which is all very easy to say (or write), but much harder to do. That’s why elite sport is so compelling.

This day has been a long-time coming. Let’s enjoy it.

Professor Mark Orams is a former NZ and world champion sailor, Team New Zealand member, author, environmentalist and Professor of Sport and Recreation at the Auckland University of Technology.

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.

• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit

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