BMW Oracle Racing’s CEO Russell Coutts set out much of the thinking behind the changes to the America’s Cup.
After the announcement of the Year, Boat and Protocol for the 2013 America's Cup, in Valencia, BMW Oracle Racing's CEO answered questions from an international media panel via a teleconference.
Participating in the call were: Tati Porkony - DPA & Welt - Germany; Isabelle Musy - Le Temps;
John Cote - San Francisco Chronicle - city reporter; Carl Nolte - San Francisco Chronicle;
Paul Oliva - San Francisco Chronicle - on the water reporter; Rob Grant - Latitude 38;
Eric Young - San Francisco Business Journal; Michelle Slade - Marin Independent; Richard Gladwell - Sail World; Stuart Streuli - Sailing World; Craig Leweck – Scuttlebutt; Erin Sherbert - SFO Examiner;
Bernie Wilson - Associated Press; James Boyd – Daily Sail
Following is the first of a three part, slightly edited transcript of the teleconference moderated by BMW Oracle Racing's Tim Jeffery:
Tim: Good Afternoon this is Valencia here -Tim Jeffrey moderating the call. It has been a bit of a day for us and it is going to be a reasonably significant day in the America’s Cup. Russell is right here ready for whoever would like the first question please. If you could just say who you are that would be great.
Richard Gladwell: Could you just quickly go through what the drivers are behind this decision, the choice of the multihull, leading into the circuit events, going from a high level down if you like.
Russell: Well obviously to go through everything it is quite complicated. You are absolutely right in that things are inter-related. For example – venues moving around the world, we had to figure logistics, transportation and also for example the depth – the draft of certain boats. That was one of the drivers for going multi-hull - considering logistics. You can actually pack these things up and they will ship or even fly inside the cargo pretty easily or relatively easily.
The 45s will go inside containers. So I talk about the 72s being able to fit into a 747 cargo. Then some of the other drivers, where do we start – obviously when you are moving around venues you are going to get different wind conditions. This is quite an elegant way to deal with design rule and the issues around that because this is really going to be a box-type rule and the stability, because the weight will be defined - the stability will essentially be fixed between boats. That is usual for a rule of this type to be able to do that, you go to different venues and one boat won’t be severely disadvantaged over another boat, so that was another good feature. The fact that they are fast boats, we felt to summarize the America’s Cup and where it should be in sort of a branding sense we need to have the best sailors in the world racing on the fastest boats in the world, and it was hard to do that from a monohull without going really big.
That would obviously be expensive to do.
Then also the number the crew with a wing sailed multi-hull you can reduce the numbers, so it is a very very powerful boat. The 40 meter high wing sail with a riding moment higher than say Version 5 boats but still able to be sailed with eleven people. As a result of that they will be very very physical boats. You will have to use all of your crew with the exception of the helmsman and maybe two of the trimmers. The rest of them are going to be really super-physical roles. Even in those roles, tacking the boat you are obviously going to have to cross a big distance and jump on the grinders and so on. They are going to be challenging to sail, and we wanted that.
We wanted the America’s Cup Class to be the boat that the average sailor would look at and say well: 1.) That’s cool and 2.) Wow, you need to be a top sailor to sail on that boat. So those are some of the reasons. I could probably go on and on.
I think it also allows many new teams to look at this seriously and come into the game, now that they have a chance of being competitive. It pretty daunting I think to look at some of the existing teams that have been in the game for a long time now and mount a challenge out of some of these new countries that might want to participate. Many of them feel that this gives them an opportunity to be pretty close to the top level of the teams early on. We thought that was a pretty good thing as well.
Gladwell: If the cost of the team was previously say, $100 million US, what do you think the cost of one of the teams will be at this?
Coutts: We are pretty sure, because we have done the budgeting, that it will not be as expensive as what it was for campaign team to race in AC32. If you look at budgets for a small team, and a medium size team and a large team – your figure of a $100 million Euros - with absolutely everything and had a very large team – everything that was allowed in the Protocol you might get to that number depending on which personnel you have and so forth. You wouldn’t need to spend that number to be competitive. In fact, probably far from it. The smallest teams I think will operate on somewhere around $40 million Euros to have a reasonable campaign.
Bernie Wilson : If I could jump in with a couple of land-lubber questions – first of all the big picture, how dramatic is this change along the America’s Cup historical timeline in your mind, the switch to Catamarans, the fair Protocol, etc.? The second thing is, did winning the cup with the big 90-ft beast and the wing sail, did that sort of intrigue you and Jimmy to sailing the Cup in multi-hulls?
Coutts: I think it is by far the biggest change, I think probably in the history of the Cup. I can't think of another Protocol or announcement in the Cup that has been a change of this significance before.
To be honest with you we started off with this program thinking mono-hull, and the more we got into it the more we realized that the multi-hull was the thing that was making sense. We talked to a lot of people about this, not just sailors by the way – a lot of other people involved in other sports as well. The more information we got – the more compelling the multi-hull became.
Wilson: Could you sort of explain some of that and what the public can look forward to in seeing the multi-hulls racing?
Coutts: I think, and I keep saying, is that the thing that summarized where we think the America’s Cup should be is the best sailors racing the fastest boats in the world. If we just had to summarize it in one line. And, and these will be cool boats.
I think they will be boats that young kids will look at and get excited about. I said in the press conference today that when you look at the state of America’s Cup before today you really had few sailors who were in their 40s and 50s on America’s Cup yachts, and that is supposed to be a pinnacle event. I said it in the conference today – it really had the appearance more of a Senior Tour than the pinnacle event. I think this will bring in a lot more of the sailors that have been brought up sailing skiffs and high-performance boats. Those sorts of sailors, kite-boards and surfers, people that like speed and also who like to race – this is going to be a lot more attractive. In other words, much more attractive to I would suggest, to younger people in the modern way of thinking.
Stuart Streuli: You mentioned the existing teams – what sort of response did you get when you talked with them about a multi-hull in terms of favorable/non-favorable, was it a majority or a minority that is looking forward to this change?
Coutts: The majority are looking forward to the change. Many of the – even the existing teams - think that it gives them a more even chance of competing. You are basically starting from a level where all of the teams – you wouldn’t say any of the teams actually in the Cup right now are super experienced at multi-hull. Even when you really look at our campaign, we haven’t spent a lot of days really sailing multi-hulls. A lot of the teams saw this as something new and exciting. And the other thing is people’s reaction when they first hear it, is different to once they have thought about it for a while, generally.
I will give an example – when I first proposed this to Vincenzo Onorato was like 'Wow I need to think about that. Then he thought about it for a while and thought I think this is going to be really great.'
When we had the designer come over here in Valencia, many of their designers, in fact the designers at that meeting thought mono-hull. Mainly because they believed match racing would be better in a mono-hull. Quite a few of them after a few days came back and spoke and said you know what? One of them in particular - he said 'You know what, I have thought about it and I am completely going 180 degrees the other way. The only way to go is the multi-hull.' He was thinking in a design rule sense to be able to balance between venues and also to be able to get in and dock the boats. In nice areas, in cities around the world you haven’t got the draft problem that you have got in a mono-hull. Plus, once we actually tested the match racing we sort of found out that it is still really – you still apply the same sort of thinking to the match racing game. Sure some of the tactics are different, but I guess the approach is the same and the good match racing sailors will be good in a multi-hull, I am convinced of that.
Streuli: Russell, you mentioned the match race – I wondered if you could give us a little picture of how multi-hull match racing or match racing in a boat that can do 25-30 knots differs from the mono-hull match racing. What are the components that are going to stick out right away as being new to the game?
Coutts: For start off, approaching marks in a high-performance multi-hull you really have to sail a boat to its optimum, and if you don’t sail it to its optimum for example – if you change course even in a minor way, the performance drops off a lot. So you can imagine how much more precise you have to be in terms of approaching marks. What that does is, it allows the boats behind attacking to set a situation up that makes it very very difficult for the boat in front to defend their position coming into a mark. Whereas in a mono-hull, and the heavier the mono-hull the more of what I am saying applies – in a mono-hull, it is really pretty easy to defend a lead position coming into a mark.
So that is both upwind and downwind – I think that will be one of the major changes to the game. As a result of that I think you are going to see more passing in those sorts of situations.
Then of course, we saw one situation where at the top mark of the last America’s Cup – if you were in a starboard tack boat it would be a pretty easy position to defend a lead, even if it was a small lead to get around that mark – so you would not have seen a lead-change. Whereas in a multi-hull it is a whole different game there, it is actually quite difficult to defend that position. Those are just two examples. There are actually quite a few of them. Pre-starts another one where the tack option in a multi-hull is much more limited than a mono-hull, so that changes the strategy or the way you achieve the goal in the pre-start. The strategies may very well be the same.
James Boyd: Can you give us an idea of how many teams are ready to push the button with their campaign at this stage? How many there will ultimately be or how many you think there will be as we come to 2013?
Coutts: Quite a few of the teams are assessing things and we are just waiting to see what the actual game was going to be. I think that it is fair to say that we already know that we probably – I say probably because you have to wait for entries to close in to know, but I think we will get more teams for a multi-hull format than we would have got from a mono-hull format. Now which teams are ready to push the buttons now?
They can’t enter until November 1st but we already know some teams wanting to buy – for example, the 45s and so forth and wanting to be one of the first teams to enter so they get the benefits in terms of base-position, and so forth. I haven’t really answered your question, but I think we will at least get eight teams as a minimum, and who knows what the top end will be.
Boyd: Okay, in terms of the boats are we looking at people ultimately being limited to two of the 72 and two-wings?
Coutts: They can get two of the 45s, but we are not sure exactly how that will work now because we can get the 45s ready for next season. But whether we can build two boats per team and get them ready for the next season - that would be a real stretch. So the two 45s per team may come online a bit later. Then the 72s – the teams are allowed to build two boats but they cannot launch the second boat before, I think November 1st 2012
Boyd: Are they limited to a number of wings?
Coutts: Yes I am sorry, the wings are limited to four which to be honest with you, you would struggle to get to four.
The rule is written so you build it in two halves for transportation. We talk about eight mast sections, for example – that's why I said it wouldn’t make sense to build four wings. I doubt that anyone will end up doing that – they will probably end up building two wings and then for example, improve or modify the top or improve the flaps or things like that. Your gains in a situation like that would be much better than probably starting again. So you are limited to say four wings in the protocol – eight parts - in other words. And ten dagger-foils, which are quite a time-consuming element to build because they are highly-loaded carbon part pieces.