11 May 2007
South Africa’s Team Shosholoza completed her America’s Cup campaign with a win over France’s Areva Challenge in the Louis Vuitton Cup to finish as the most successful first-timer in the history of the event. Victory in her final race, ensured Shosholoza of a seventh place finish in the competition.
Upon returning to the dock, the entire crew, along with team founder and managing director Captain Salvatore Sarno were wildly cheered and then thrown into the harbour.
What South Africa is capable of
Sarno had wanted to use the America’s Cup to show the world what South Africa is capable of. He saw the event as “a perfect opportunity for showcasing South Africa’s technology, incredible human initiative, skills and expertise in a way that few other international campaigns can.”
Clearly, his assessment was right on the money.
Although the crew missed out on reaching the semi-finals, from which the challenger to the defending champion, Alinghi, will be decided, they captured the hearts of sailing fans around the world.
The spirit and determination of the competition rookies, and the manner in which they embraced the challenge, which included the crew making themselves and their Valencia base accessible to fans, captured the imagination.
A new vibrant energy
It brought a new vibrant energy to the tradition-laden event, and that approach made Shosholoza one of the most popular drawcards in Valencia.
Not only did the South African challengers earn the respect of fans, but, just as importantly, they earned the respect of the rest of the crews competing for a place in the America’s Cup.
Race commentators could often be heard marveling at the incredible strides Shosholoza had made from her first outing as a greenhorn crew to one that was able to beat any yacht on any given day.
In a sport in which big bucks play a massive role in a team’s success, Shosholoza performed brilliantly against opposition that in some instances had access to budgets of over $100-million. The South Africans had $25-million at their disposal.
Certainly, Shosholoza punched above her weight and exceeded expectations. “For us to have started as newcomers at the bottom of the leaderboard and come so far is incredible,” said Captain Sarno.
To add some perspective to the difference funding makes, big budget teams are able to use two boats, one for testing and one for racing. The second boat can be employed to try out new ideas and equipment, to find out what works and will give the yacht better performance. Team Shosholoza didn’t have that luxury.
In fact, led by principal designer Jason Ker, the RSA 83 hull was the first boat built according the Version 5 rules for the America’s Cup. It was launched a full seven months ahead of the next new boat.
Later, it was decided against building a second boat – which had been the plan – because of the constrictions of tight funding.
When MSC Crociere added a significant sponsorship to that of T-Systems at the eleventh hour, Team Shosholoza was able to make some significant changes ahead of the Louis Vuitton Cup, but still using the original RSA 83 hull, which enabled the boat to put in a strong performance off Valencia.
The changes included making the hull finer, “so it goes through waves rather than over them,” said Ker, adding a bowsprit to enable the spinnaker to be attached as far forward as possible, making some minor adjustments to the keel fin, and then adding a new rudder, a new bulb, and new sail designs.
The result of the improvements was a boat with faster straight-line speed, as well as better maneuverability.
One thing that didn’t change was the beautiful graphics, inspired by Ndebele and Zulu beadwork, which were painted onto the boat’s hull. They made the boat amongst the most recognisable and eye-catching in the America’s Cup fleet.
An unqualified success
For Captain Sarno, Shosholoza’s campaign was an unqualified success. Summing it up, he said he might not have had the corporate backing that other teams received, but fans, both South African and international, got firmly behind the team.
He pointed to South Africa’s colourful national flag and said it had now become one of the better-known flags in the world. “That is what makes it worthwhile,” he said.
Now, said Sarno, he wants South African corporations to get behind South Africa’s next America’s Cup challenge. He believes Shosholoza’s success on the water and the tremendous international media interest she generated makes her an attractive sponsorship possibility.
The next campaign
The SA syndicate’s three-and-a-half year challenge for the America’s Cup is over, but Sarno is already focused on the next campaign and he wants to take it on with two boats.
There is talk that if the Switzerland’s Alinghi is successful in her defence of the America’s Cup, the competition will again be held in Valencia, but in two year’s time and not the usual four. If that is the case, he says now is the time for sponsors to get on board.
His goal for the next America’s Cup is a simple one: to win it.
Team strategist and former Olympic sailor Iain Ainslie says a two-boat campaign is the right way to go. He says it would enable the team to take shortcuts in some aspects of the programme, which would help the team to use its time more efficiently.
‘An amazing journey’
Skipper Mark Sadler said the America’s Cup challenge had been “an amazing journey”. And, on a number of occasions, Shosholoza had come oh so close to victories that only just managed to elude her. Next time around, he hopes to change those results around.
Italy’s Mascalzone-Latino Capitalia Team showed just how much difference a bigger budget and the experience of having a campaign under the belt can make.
Last at the previous America’s Cup, the team returned with a budget of $94-million and knowledge of the event. They finished in sixth place, just ahead of Shosholoza and only two places outside of a semi-final spot.
Docking out ceremony
In an emotion-laden final docking out ceremony, Shosholoza bid the America’s Cup farewell to the strains of Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to say Goodbye”, followed by the team’s theme song “Shosholoza”, which got supporters clapping, singing, and dancing, as it always does.
“I am very, very proud of my team. They are winners all the way,” said Captain Sarno.