If there is any reason to be wary of Ineos Team UK at America’s Cup 2021, it may be the presence of an understated 63 year old Australian.
Of the three challengers, the English team has
was almost considered a serious threat, after their poor performance at the World Cup America’s Cup in December, which revealed problems with boat speed and maneuverability.
There’s more of a focus on Luna Rossa, with Jimmy Spithill’s presence and ongoing sparring with Team New Zealand, while American Magic has an obvious traction, with Dean Barker and the return of the New York Yacht Club.
But if the British – and that’s a big if – can solve their hardware problems, they have an all-star line-up, and chief executive Grant Simmer could be a complement.
Sir Ben Ainslie admits he paid a heavy price for Sydneysider’s services, as they continue Britain’s 169-year quest for Mug Auld. Perhaps no one in Auckland has more Cup experience than Simmer, starting his 11th campaign.
Simmer was also on the winning side against Team New Zealand in the Cup match three times, although he laughed when it was said he had become ‘kryptonite against the Kiwi’.
“No – far from it,” said Simmer. “It just tells you that I am lucky to be on the defender’s side. The Kiwis have always been the strongest challengers so they are very good.”
Maybe so, but the resume tells a story. “People like Grant know the game, they know the Cup very well,” said former New Zealand Team sailor Joey Allen, a veteran of six campaigns, from 1995 to 2013.
“He was part of a great calling in San Francisco, where they made some big, monumental decisions.”
“He knows the ins and outs of the campaign better than most people,” added former New Zealand Challenge sailor Peter Lester, now an expert commentator. “He’s a very good man to be on your side.”
The last time the Cup was staged in Auckland (2003) Simmer was a key part of Alinghi’s team in a smash-and-grab attack. Simmer was there again in Valencia in 2007, for the best Cup regatta on an IACC class ship, by the closest margin in history.
Dan Simmer arrived in 2013 as general manager of Oracle’s operations which managed to emerge from an 8-1 deficit.
Of all the characters involved in this edition of the Cup, only a few have a record like Simmer. His career began in the early 1980s, as navigator John Bertrand in Australia II, part of the legendary crew that beat Liberty 4-3 in 1983 to end 132 years of stranglehold on New York at the Cup.
Simmer has been involved with four different teams and won the Cup four times (two challenges and two defenses), in the United States, New Zealand and Europe.
He has won against Team New Zealand on three occasions – no individual has managed more – and marked the Grant Dalton syndicate as the ultimate benchmark.
What’s behind Team New Zealand’s enduring consistency? “There are three things,” said Simmer. “They are always innovative. They are good at focusing on priorities, because they are a bit difficult on the budget, so they must focus on priorities.
“And they have great seafaring depth. There’s Russell [Coutts], Brad [Butterworth], Warwick [Fleury], Simon [Daubney], Dean [Barker] and now Pete [Burling] and Blair [Tuke]… very strong. That’s a great recipe for a successful team. “
SImmer’s meeting with the New Zealand Team began in 2003, when he was head of design for Alinghi.
“It is a very controversial thing because we have Russell and Brad and a group of Kiwis of the 2000 winning crew who are the main sailors on our ship and also lead the campaign,” said Simmer.
“It was emulating what they have learned from the New Zealand Team and it is a strong challenge. We have a good boat, a good technical program and have gone through a series of pretty tough challengers, [so] we are better prepared than the New Zealanders. “
Team New Zealand’s fragile NZL82 isn’t well remembered from a 5-0 sweep, but Simmer said it wasn’t entirely straightforward.
“They have a very innovative design and they are probably the fastest boats we have come across,” said Simmer.
“It’s not clear to us from the start who will win. But our guys are sailing very well, and we are equal or a little better in speed and that will usually do it for you. And they broke their pole (fourth race) and the damage. [in the first race]. “
Simmer was Alinghi’s managing director when they defended the Cup in Valencia, averaging just 23 seconds difference in seven races.
“There was absolutely nothing between the teams,” said Simmer. “Maybe we have a little bit of an advantage against the wind, but it will start and who is seeded.”
After Oracle won the Cup in 2010, Coutts signed up for Simmer before the defense in San Francisco.
Oracle has put together an impressive roster, but they are all at sea in the first half of the Cup contest.
“We never thought we could win,” said Simmer. “We are struggling to keep up with the speed of the Kiwi [and] we lost a lot of races from the start. It was Larry Ellison, along with Russell who said, ‘our friends have to stop … we’re going to fall if we keep like this’. They are actually forcing us to make such radical changes. “
Simmer remembers being amazed at the New Zealand Team at the time, who were far ahead with their failing abilities.
“We just have to keep making changes,” said Simmer. “We were able to load the wings down a lot more, and we were able to knock against the wind and in the end we ended faster and that turned things around. Then it was a matter of recovering the points without breaking, but it’s hard to imagine we can win so many races in a row. “
But the New Zealand Team has learned a valuable lesson. “If you look at the Kiwis in Bermuda, they didn’t look like they were going to be winners when they first arrived, but they just kept getting better and better,” said Simmer.
“Then they were so dominant in the Cup. You never want to be quiet … you have to keep improving.”
WAs we speak, Simmer looks restless, but excited. The construction of the second British ship (Britannia) took longer than expected, which put pressure on their already compressed timeframe.
“It will always be difficult,” said Simmer. “We’re always fighting for time with these new ships and it’s a balance. You give yourself more design time and then try to minimize construction time so you can start sailing the ship as quickly as possible.
“But it’s a 75-foot long composite structure, so high-weight and light that the construction process took six to eight months and you can’t get any shorter than that.
“I am not happy that it took us longer to commission this ship than anticipated, but the systems on the ship are very complex.”
Simmer has been part of the journey from the 12 meter class to the AC75s, through the IACC class, the 2010 multihulls and the early foiling classes in 2013 (75 feet) and 2017 (50 feet).
He characterizes the AC75 as “exciting, moderately challenging, expensive and complex” in the “really bold” decisions of record defenders and challengers.
Like most, Simmer has concerns about potential disparities in races.
“I hoped we would see close range but they were going that fast so if one boat made the slightest mistake, like a less than ideal bending, the other team could go 50-60 meters straight away,” said Simmer.
“We may see a fairly large interval on the water, a considerable distance but as the boats mature as we get through the races to the final they will get closer and closer.”
The three 2021 challengers are all a ‘super team’, and the British syndicate has an outstanding cast. Ineos’ endorsement is believed to be the largest single sponsor in shipping history and Ainslie has pursued some of the biggest names, especially overseas.
As well as Simmer, he also signed long-standing contracts with New Zealand team design chief Nick Holroyd (1997-2015) and Dutchman Rolf Vrolijk, who helped create the successful Alinghi ship in 2003 and 2007.
Their craftsmanship has resulted in radical designs, including a huge frenzied keel that extends almost to the stern. “The shape of our hull is more radical because we are more aggressive with our aerodynamics,” said Simmer.
“There is some debate whether we are doing this radical, but we are pushing it and it will be fine.
“The hull’s contribution to the overall aerodynamics of performance is only partial. The lining, control system and screen control are a much bigger contributor to performance than the shape of the hull, so our hull shape will be fine.”
The English base is a frenzy of activity but Simmer remains calm. He’s been here many times before and knows the learning curve is usually exponential.
“We’re focused on sailing as much as possible and getting ready for the race.”