AC34: Reflecting on the Remarkable – By Brad Webb

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Eight weeks ago today, I won the America’s Cup for a second time. Along with the 100+ members of ORACLE Team USA, I can claim a small piece of a historic victory that will never be forgotten.

Sporting comebacks like the one that began on September 19 are the stuff of Hollywood scripts; stories that border on fantasy and push the realms of believability.

I am constantly asked, “what was it like”, and I still haven’t found an apt description. Instead I resort to shoulder shrugs and skyward gazes, searching for language to explain what happened over the course of 19 days. Most of us couldn’t compact the last week into a single sentence, so attempting to cram the most extraordinary America’s Cup into a few words is next to impossible.

There has been a hunger for more details about what transpired behind the walls of Pier 80 during the summer of 2013. Because the regatta went into overtime, the team more or less disbanded immediately, so few people have had access to the personnel and personalities that steered a seemingly broken ship to an astonishing victory.

As a result, conjecture and speculation has run rife about internal changes that were made, reversing the assumed inevitable.

The month leading up to the America’s Cup could not have been more tumultuous as the cheating investigation dragged on, ultimately costing key members and a two point penalty. While this only involved a small portion of the team, the disruption was universal and probably the reason we didn’t start the event firing on all cylinders. However, in the midst of the turmoil, everyone remained professional about the task at hand. This sounds cliché and obvious, but the cracks had the potential to bring the house down. Instead they were shored up and the program rolled on.

So the hanging question is, what actually happened to flip a predictable defeat, into an unlikely success? The answer is, again, not a simple explanation, and despite what many may think, there was no silver bullet. The rumor of a super secret automatic board control system installed mid-regatta, couldn’t have been further from the truth. The potentially catastrophic nose-dive at the reach mark in race 19 disproves this claim. Due to the previous month’s events, we were under intense scrutiny from the measurers the entire time, and we remained transparent and legal throughout, even when things got desperate.

The turn-around was a result of small ideas from smart people, where nothing was discounted. A number of little tweaks to the wing and the boat were put into play and refined. The afterguard spent time poring over video and improved the way the boat was sailed, especially upwind. And everyone embraced the philosophy that we had nothing to lose by implementing a fresh perspective, while maintaining the aspects that still worked well.

The people, the effort and the result were nothing short of remarkable. Each of us owes a debt of gratitude to our colleagues who continued to contribute, despite what the scoreboard read. This is the essence of a great team, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

Brad Webb
November 20, 2013