Breaking down the Oracle “advantage”
1. It is well recognized that Oracle was having serious foiling stability difficulties at the outset of the regatta and that their performance could not match that of ETNZ.
2. Half way through the series it was acknowledged that Oracle had fitted an automatic control to their hydrofoil trim, and that this modification was approved by the measurement authorities.
3. Since this modification Oracle’s performance has almost unbelievably improved. This has been “explained” by skipper Jimmy Spithill as being due to the superhuman efforts of the crew to improve their handling skills. However, in view of the intensive training Oracle were able to do, prior to the regatta, with their highly skilled team partner, it seems unlikely that only now have they discovered the “magic bullet” they clearly have. It is much more likely to be the result of the modifications, possibly enabled by their surprising decision to use their lay day card and the subsequent lucky postponements.
4. It must be remembered that this is the first time that this contest has been sailed by yachts “flying “ on Hydrofoils and it is probable that new and different criteria should have been applied.
5. In the aeronautical world it has long been known that the stability of swept wing aircraft can rapidly be lost by uncontrolled yaw leading to a dangerous situation known as “Dutch Roll”.
6. A device known as “Little Herbie” was developed during the commissioning of the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jets over 40 years ago, to overcome this tendency. Little Herbies, or “Stability Augmentation Systems” (SAS) as these are now designated, are equipped with sensors such as Accelerometers and Gyros which can detect and instigate corrections to stability with a speed and accuracy which exceeds the ability of even experienced airline pilots. They are therefore now installed in virtually all swept-wing aircraft.
7. The “legality” of this device has been justified and accepted on the basis that it does not actually “drive” the trim of the foils…..this is still performed by the muscle power of the crew, via hydraulic linkages. That may be so, but the device, using its sensing and directives, has been described as “automatic”. This implies that the trim of the foils is determined by what can only be described as “superhuman” technology. If this technology has been used to overcome the foiling stability difficulties of Oracle it will have enabled the use of higher speed/lower drag foils which the crew would otherwise be unable to manage. This would give a significant speed advantage during foiling. This has been clearly in evidence since the modification. Improvement in stability and speed has been staggering.
8. The high speed/low drag foils do have a downside in light conditions where, due to their lesser lifting characteristic, foiling is difficult or impossible. This was also clearly seen in the abandoned Race #13 when ETNZ were only 4 minutes from the finish, with a lead of over 1000 metres.
9. ETNZ appears to have worked within the constraints of accepted yacht racing rules and the special America’s Cup 2013 racing Rules to achieve foiling with these craft. This has been at the cost of using foil characteristics and controls which can be successfully managed by a skilled crew while having to make some concession to pure speed.
10. Although there is risk of being derided for being a “poor loser”, or a “bad sport” it cannot go unnoticed that Team Oracle have already been penalised for cheating, that previous Defenders have been noted for sailing very close to the wind of rule compliance. The recent outpouring of bluff and arrogance from Jimmy Spithill may well be part of a plan to trail red herrings and to draw the attention off the real technological reason for their quite literally astounding comeback.
11. The question is whether the use of a device which can enhance performance in excess of that achievable by human endeavor should be allowed in a sporting contest?
12. Is this grounds for protest? At least we should all be aware that this is how desperate sporting entertainment has become.