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Sailors of Fortune - How Emirates Team New Zealand Won the America's Cup


Bob Field is a former CEO and chair of Toyota NZ and is currently a Toyota Ambassador. He has also been involved as a adviser and mentor for Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) since the early 1990s and is currently a member of the ETNZ board.

Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) created history by winning the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda in June 2017.

As the longest surviving America's Cup syndicate of all time and the most successful – reaching every one of the past six finals, ETNZ is also the only team to have successfully challenged on two separate occasions (1995 and 2017). The only major sponsor of ETNZ to have been involved in both of these victories is Toyota New Zealand – in a sponsorship role that now extends to seven successive campaigns spanning more than a quarter of a century. In fact, it is the longest ever continuous major sports sponsorship in New Zealand.

In the past, some people have questioned Toyota’s extraordinary loyalty to this team, but the welcome home parades for the team in June this year would have answered that question.

The America's Cup is the oldest and most coveted sporting trophy in the world and it makes an emphatic statement about a nation’s technology and innovation. New Zealanders recognise that ETNZ carries the nation’s reputation when it contests the Cup on the world stage. There is no other sporting achievement that brings our country together with a collective sense of national pride as much as doing well in the America's Cup. Furthermore, there is no other sporting achievement that brings so much economic benefit to our country.

These have remained the underlying reasons for Toyota’s continuing sponsorship for a quarter of a century. I have had the privilege of being involved in the past seven America's Cups and I can say, without a shadow of doubt, that the victory in Bermuda was head and shoulders above any other Cup achievement. In fact, the odds stacked against ETNZ succeeding in our challenge for the 35th America's Cup were arguably the highest for any challenger in the 166 years of Cup history. Much has already been reported about the shortage of money, the Bermuda location, the changing rules, the loss of the Auckland qualifier event, the ganging up of the other five syndicates to freeze out ETNZ from future Cups, a doubting media etc.

It meant that we were always running behind the other teams in terms of money, recruitment, test and development, and time on the water.

Oracle, for example, was based in Bermuda for three years before the event, whereas we couldn´t afford to get there until three weeks before racing.

They say that tough times don´t last but tough people do and, make no mistake, ETNZ is a tough team. Yet all the unfair treatment and impossible odds actually pushed the team closer together and made everyone more determined to succeed. Every team member had to be committed to their task and accurate in their work. And no one let the team down.

When asked how ETNZ succeeded against all odds in Bermuda, I can identify five key reasons: Campaign Strategy, Innovation, Team Culture, Sailing Team Skill and Good Fortune.

These five attributes helped ETNZ triumph against all odds as the 'lone wolf' competitor in Bermuda, but in four years' time ETNZ will need to keep building on those attributes to successfully defend the Cup in its new status as 'leader of the pack'.

Bermuda paid more than $50 million to host the 35th America's Cup and ETNZ has brought the event back to New Zealand for free. There is now a collective will to host the best ever America's Cup regatta in Auckland in 2021 and this opportunity would simply not exist without Toyota’s enduring loyalty to ETNZ.


After San Francisco, ETNZ team members participated in a full review of that campaign, culminating in a set of 20 lessons to apply for the Bermuda campaign. Applying these lessons involved some personnel changes that were not popular with the media but there is no doubt that the overall strategy developed from these lessons proved to be critical to the ultimate success.

One of the lessons was the need to continuously improve boat speed through until the final race and the huge advances we made in Bermuda during the six weeks of racing left our opposition in shock.


Having led the world into large foiling catamarans in San Francisco, ETNZ needed to find some new breakthrough ideas to outflank the bigger and better funded opposition. Cycling was one of the important innovations – giving the sailors an advantage in hydraulic power for race manoeuvres and starting box tactics.

Another innovation was the extensive use of simulators to design a radical foiling board for light wind conditions.

No doubt other syndicates looked at similar scenarios but doubted their ability to successfully execute these innovations. Many of the ETNZ innovations carried some risk but they were calculated risks and they made all the difference in the end.


New Zealand teams have always benefited from a ‘can do’ attitude and an inclusive team culture, but the ETNZ team in Bermuda took this to a new level. Perhaps the best example of this was when the sailing team made a mistake and pitch poled the boat in the Louis Vuitton semi-final. This caused substantial damage to the boat and the wing – in fact I venture to say that any other team in Bermuda would have called it a day if faced with the same situation. However, after all the sacrifices ETNZ had made to be in Bermuda there was no way this team was going to give up. There was no finger pointing of blame at the sailing team, just a united, team-wide effort to get the boat back at the water. The shore crew worked day and night for two days to get us back racing, and the rest is history.get us back racing, and the rest is history.


With the benefit of the additional hydraulic power from cycling combined with a great on-board synergy, the sailing team was able to complete race manoeuvres so much more quickly than others. If you save just one second per manoeuvre, that can amount to 15 seconds per race (or approximately 150 metres) and we probably saved more than a second per manoeuvre.

Furthermore, the additional hydraulic power provided the wing trimmer with more flexibility to exploit wind pressure opportunities during the race. In addition, the radical light air boards gave our sailors more lift and control in the start box as well as higher VMG on the race track. While our sailors had more tools in their tool box, they also had a more complex set of variables to contend with. The fact that the sailing team was able to harness all the moving parts of this machine so well is the reason our sailing performance was so superior.


They say that fortune favours the brave and that would be true for ETNZ in this campaign. We really pushed the envelope on design and had to overcome some stressful moments regarding durability. For example, our radical light air boards were a match winner in wind speeds up to 12 knots – above level that we lost our ‘sweet spot’.

When the winds exceeded those forecast in the Louis Vuitton semi-finals, our light air boards actually started delaminating and there was a real risk of total failure.

Fortunately, we were able to preserve these boards until the final and the wind conditions for the match were right in our ‘sweet spot’. After suffering an unfair share of bad luck in San Francisco it was refreshing to finally have our fair share of good luck in Bermuda.