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America's Cup- Plenty of questions surface after Competitors' Forum

by Richard Gladwell on 31 Jan 2012
Emirates Team NZ’s AC72 is craned into the water with Luna Rossa already in, both feature the new top wingsail section © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz

At a media briefing after the conclusion of the America’s Cup Competitors Forum, in Auckland, Regatta Director, Iain Murray confirmed that some differing agendas and subjects were emerging, after the competitors’ group were split in two with some focused only on AC45 issues, with the other four team being more focused on AC72’s.

'Many of those issues relate to the transformation of the event as it evolves from being a series in which the AC45’s were to be sailed until the mid-point of this year before switching to the AC72 class for the America’s Cup World Series.

'Now the AC45 class and the ACWS is an event in its own right running through to the America’s Cup Regatta. When, at this stage, it was planned to end, and the focus shift to the bigger event sailed in AC72's only.

'The shape and direction of it all has changed,' says Murray. 'We now have a feel for what people like and don’t like, we are starting to implement other changes like the race length, type of course, races in the day, how we allocate points and so on.

'Then you have to split it all up amongst the various agendas and it is getting more complex by the day, is the rounded up discussion. The teams that are better organized, are digging deeper into the discussion,', he added.

For the AC72 contingent, most the focus was on getting the length of course sorted, the format of the racing and the way the racing would be scored.

Given that there are only three Challengers with AC72's, sustaining media and public interest for a six week period leading the Challenger Final, will be a difficult task for America's Cup organisers.

Additionally as the teams work through the design process for the new America's Cup boats, speed predictions of 18kts upwind and 30-35kts downwind are looking very likely says Murray. On that basis, they are looking at the various course options and time taken for a race.

One option floated is for there to be three races per day, with the winner of two races taking the point for the day. There will be matchracing rather than fleet racing, so laying that into a race program would mean that each pair would rotate every fourth day, with the winner taking the point for the day.

Quite how that would lay into a full series over six weeks was not explained, nor was the issue of what happened one boat had won two races straight - as that would make the third race of the day a dead rubber.

'We want to maintain viewer interest', Murray said, 'And don't want a situation with only one race a day, and someone sits down watches the start and part of the first beat, and then comes back for the finish and hour later.'

Short race solution
So the solution is three shorter races of 30 minutes each, which then got Murray into the physical requirements of sailing the AC72's which are expected to be extremely demanding on the crews, to the point where a 30 minute race, consisting of a series of five or six-minute legs is expected to be at their physical limit.

Not explained in that formula is what happens between races, with typically the downtime being 40 minutes minimum and more if there is gear damage that must be repaired. Whether viewers will stay tuned for replays and analysis for that period between races remains to be seen.

'The boats go faster than anyone anticipated, and there is now an appreciation of how hard they are to going to be to sail. It is going to be hard yards.

'The teams are very keen to know the course configuration, the leg length, course width, distances between the gybes and so on.'

'Where we are coming from is that we have been able to hold good courses, and have a variety of winners in races that range from 12 to 45 minutes in the 45’s. We will hold a two lap course on a three mile course. To drag that out to 75 minutes would require five laps, and the feedback we are getting is that three half hour races is a better solution.'

'The attention span is better when you are watching a race of 30 minutes duration rather than an hour-long race. And our objective is to keep the viewers in their seats for the whole race.'

It was noted that Formula 1 was capable of sustaining viewer interest for over an hour, and wasn't run as a series of three points races for the day, and why should the America's Cup be any different?

Murray's response was that in Formula 1 the safety car came out as soon as there was an incident, and effectively racing was suspended for that time, until the restart - so there were, in effect, multiple races. He then moved onto the physicality of the boats, and the demands made on the crews conceding that in his 18fter days they would sail hour-long races, but claimed that the AC72's were more physically demanding than 18fters.

'If you take the Cityfront leg of about three miles, you are looking a set, three gybes and a drop – all in six minutes', said Murray. The skill level required, co-ordination, and athletic ability required is a big task.'

'In terms of racing these courses in these boats, I think the crews are going to be absolutely exhausted after 30 minutes.

'You have to do six big winds, just to gybe the boat,' he says drawing comparisons with the supermaxi Wild Oats XI. 'And you haven’t even pulled it up or down. So that is eight big winds, and then you factor in having to pull the sail up in 55kts apparent wind speed. There is a lot of horsepower required there, and for 11 people to manage all that, is going to be very tough. It is going to take well oiled, well-managed sailing machines to manage sailing these boats.

If you look at the numbers up and downwind, that is 16 massive grinds for every two legs

He also noted that there was a tendency for races to get shorter and shorter as the Cup had evolved since heMurray first became involved in 1987, in Fremantle. 'Then we had races of four and a half hours duration over a 24 mile course. Then it got shorter in San Diego, because of the lighter winds and so on.'

Drawing further on his own sailing experience, Murray noted that the AC72's have about the same sail are as the supermaxi Wild Oats XI, but with only 11 crew available, for around the buoys racing with relatively short legs, not offshore sailing.

No new teams on horizon
When asked twice as to whether new teams were stepping up to the AC72 class from the AC45's currently in use for the America's Cup World Series, Murray said that he was not aware of any further builds or teams, and noted that the runway would run out in the not too distant future - a deadline he put at at May 2012. 'The build takes about eight months, and you have to work backwards from the start of the regatta, factoring the build and design time in to arrive at a cut-off date.'

While there were no new teams in the AC72 viewfinder, Murray noted that the entry of Ben Ainslie Racing had been accepted (previously it was listed as pending). 'He has no intention to build an AC72', said Murray.

Murray says there is little prospect of late teams being helped into the America’s Cup. 'We’ve done a lot with shared design to help teams with lost time. You’ve seen Luna Rossa team up with Emirates Team NZ, and solved their time issue. which I think is good. But if you think the America's Cup Events Authority are going to jump in and provide financial support to teams, I think the answer is 'no'.

On the subject of partnership and collaboration agreements, Murray said that the International Jury had interpreted the rules, and that he was sure that all teams would abide by that decision. He was not aware of any rules changes being mooted to ease the burdens imposed by those interpretations.

'Everyone is trying to get a clear understanding of what it is all about. And we’re in the middle to try and massage the interpretation to get practical solutions and keep it out of the Jury Room. We want people to work with each other rather than fight with each other.

'There is a desire for teams to find out in advance who the rules will work rather than repeat what has happened in the past and everything winds up in Court.'

'All of this is theoretical to some extent. Luna Rossa won’t be sailing until September, and by that time the New Zealander’s second boat will be well underway.

'If you take the available sailing times, and the travelling times to the venue, it’s a storm in a teacup, really.

'Even if you had a free rein - if you could sail a 72 for one day out of four - you’d be doing well. The current rules allow one day out of six or seven. So there is nothing lost really.

'Something that we will investigate is running racing in the southern and northern hemisphere, which will be outside the 30 day limits. There are four voters (each of the AC72 teams have one vote), and if they can agree we’ll do it. In fact, we’ll do anything they can mutually agree on.'

World Series to be streamlined
On AC45 matters, Murray said they had a team in Naples to discuss issues with City Officials and they were assured that all would be good. The final ACWS event in Round 1 will be in late June in Newport.

Murray confirmed that there will be some streamlining of events. 'You will see a lot fewer pieces around the edge of what we are doing in terms of the entertainment side of things. There will be a lot more emphasis on the races. We will stay with the high quality TV. We will try to increase the numbers of races and ensure that the teams are on the water every day.

'We can’t go to cities where there are going to be a substantial loss any more. Murray noted that one of the factors against the southern hemisphere for events is the costs of the ship needed to get the boats and gear down and back for maybe just one event.

Murray is emphatic that they don’t want to break down the History and Heritage of the America’s Cup and will have high quality matchracing. 'The fact that the races get shorter, to me is not the point. It is the quality of the races. I have been very concerned at the difficulty of sailing these boats and translating that into quality racing. That is my main concern.'

Murray said they were looking at taking the AC45’s into the America’s Cup as part of an extension of the World Tour. 'I think that is a really good idea,' he said. The stated aim of Ben Ainslie Racing is that he wants his own English team next time. He can’t do it this time ,so he is having the best of both worlds for this time and for the next Cup.

'We can certainly manage the racing and I’m sure the venue can manage it. We’re lucky that we have a huge amount of space at Pier 80 for overflow. There is a huge tract of waterfront available in San Francisco which offers us a lot of flexibility and opportunity. I think the idea of having AC45 teams there in a secondary event is something we should pursue.'

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