Going slow: how New Zealand built the fastest yacht in the world

The beauty of waiting until the last minute to do something is that it’ll only take a minute. Such is the procrastinator’s motto, and it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek.  I advocate that procrastinating and going slow makes you more creative.

Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) won the 35th Americas cup in amazing style. They are innovative, disruptive and outright bold. So just how do you build the fastest yacht in the Americas Cup? Slowly.

Entrepreneurs and innovators procrastinate to some degree before coming up with their most original ideas. Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in non-linear ways, to make unexpected leaps, to put cyclists on a boat! So long as you’re delaying your work with the explicit idea of coming back to it, procrastination and going slow works.

Procrastinating doesn’t work in all cases. If you wait until the last minute to do something, you might find yourself scrambling to cobble something together haphazardly. The work won’t be creative, it’ll be desperate. It’s also possible to procrastinate for too long.

The ETNZ culture is the sweet spot. They’re innovators and disruptors. More importantly though the people behind them (who exemplify that innovative, creative spirit)  give themselves enough lead time to get the work done, but wait long enough to let the ideas incubate before rushing to finish the work.  In my experience supporting entrepreneurs, the most creative people are procrastinators. They know the most original ideas aren’t the first ones they come up with. To arrive at something truly unique, you always need the slow and sometimes frustrating ingredient of time. Looking at things differently than everyone else can really pay off.

ETNZ chose to be different, they always have, and that decision led to victory.  It’s worth remembering the journey started in 2000, when we last won the trophy. Seventeen years of innovation, disappointment, learning and going slow.  Over that time, this meant challenging everything they ‘knew’ about sailing, a continual process of coming up with new ideas, keeping the ones that worked and discarding the ones that didn’t. That takes time.

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The status quo was constantly challenged. Sailboats have always used a system of winches and pulleys to adjust sails. ETNZ, in hindsight, successfully implemented the simplistically obvious.  Legs generate more power than arms. Why not replace arm-powered winches with leg-powered cycles?

This is just one example, of a myriad of innovations and enhancements that were driven out of the ETNZ camp. The make-up of the team was like no other. Helmsman Peter Burling is  only 26 years old and the rest of the crew (excluding the skipper) are a similar age, supported by wise owls (perhaps seagulls) in the afterguard.  They trained on their own, in isolation and in private.  They arrived at the venue later than every other team, with a quiet confidence that was reminiscent of the winning Peter Blake campaign in San Diego in 1997.   Like all good ideas, they took time, patience, a lot of science and going slow.

“ETNZ was an overnight success, 17 years of overnights in the making” – Graham Dockrill, Founder, Citrus Tree Consulting Limited

First and foremost, lets set the record straight.  ETNZ acts and behaves like a business, with KPIs, goals and continually striving for perfection. Secondly, ETNZ surrounded themselves with some incredibly innovative New Zealand companies, each internationally successful.

Ian Taylor form Dunedin-based Animation Research (ARL) developed the onboard virtual reality camera used by both Team NZ and Oracle Team USA to evaluate each other’s performances. The application is the latest development from ARL’s sports division, Virtual Eye, whose tracking and 3D graphics for broadcast TV has been extended into a multitude of platforms and devices from mobile phones to PCs and smart TVs.

Auckland-based Southern Spars (built the hull and wing for Team New Zealand. The Auckland-based company, which has had a strong bond with the team since building their rigs for the 1995 winning challenge, took on a different role in this cycle – becoming the builder of the entire boat package.

Core Builders Composites  built Oracle Team USA and produced boat components for SoftBank Team Japan and Team New Zealand. Core Builders Composites utilises state-of-the-art equipment for composite tooling and manufacturing of composite parts.

C-Tech is a premium marine composites manufacturer in Auckland. From racing dinghies to superyachts to high-profile aerospace projects; C-Techapply their passion and vast experience to engineering world-winning products.

PredictWind is the only company in the world that runs their own global weather model at 50km resolution with two sources. In addition, 1km / 8km resolution forecasts are generated for popular regions around the world.

ETNZ has been equipped with 22 of the latest Tait Communications TP9400 digital portable radios, providing the sailors and support crew with highly secure, crystal-clear communications on the water.

Congratulations to the team, the CEO and the business that is Emirates Team New Zealand.  A business that built the fastest boat ever in the history of the Americas Cup, and did it slowly and no doubt with some procrastination along the way.