'There has been a long and protracted discussion over the Protocol. Producing the AC62 class rule has been a really good experience, and I think it is a really good boat.'
That's Iain Murray's quick take on the seven month long negotiation over the new America's Cup class rule, and Protocol for the 35th America's Cup.
Murray is a familiar face in America's Cup circles - most recently as Regatta Director for the 2013 event and its build-up.
On arrival home in Sydney, after the conclusion of the 34th America’s Cup, he was immediately summonsed to visit long-time friends, Bob and Sandy Oatley, who had lodged a Challenge for the 35th America’s Cup.
Their Letter of Challenge was accepted by Golden Gate Yacht Club, and the Oatley’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club now found itself in the invidious position of being Challenger of Record.
Murray is Oatley's long time go-to man, having had an ongoing association with the Australian wine making family, through their supermaxi, and multiple Sydney Hobart winner, Wild Oats. Now nine years old, she was given a makeover under Murray’s guidance and won her seventh Sydney Hobart in late 2013.
With the Challenge being lodged by a representative from Oatley’s winemaking interests in North America, Murray was unaware of the proposed entry until the day of the last race of the 34th America’s Cup.
On his return to Australia, he was bought up to speed very quickly after he’d donned his suit and met with father and son, Bob and Sandy Oatley.
It would be fair to say that the Challenge from Hamilton Island Yacht Club, based in a resort owned by the Oatleys, was a surprise package for most of the yachting world. They’d expected a repeat of the Challenge from Sweden’s Kungliga Svenska Segel Sällskapet (KSSS), with whom Defenders, Oracle Team USA had a very chummy relationship during the 34th America’s Cup.
The Louis Vuitton Cup had been an all-time fizzer. But the wingsailed catamarans exploded the America’s Cup Match into life as the home team pulled an incredible comeback, with the outcome of the regatta being determined only in the third leg of the final, 19th Race.
From the outset, the testy octogenarian, Bob Oatley made it very clear that Hamilton Island YC would be no push-over as a Challenger of Record. That was a charge that had been frequently leveled at KSSS, as they time and time again sided with the Defender’s point of view, much to the chagrin of the other two stronger Challengers.
In his first media conference, Bob Oatley came across as a direct man – with a long term vision of how the America’s Cup could play out in the future. He expressed a refreshingly clear focus and direction. His son, Sandy, was more diplomatic but also right on target for leading the Challenge.
Murray on the other hand, has an extensive yacht design background, mainly in high performance yachts. His America’s Cup background is extensive beginning in 1983, in Newport aboard Advance (Syd Fischer) before co-designing and skippering the unsuccessful Defender Kookaburra, and before going again with One Australia in the 1995 Match, in San Diego. He was a popular choice to be the Regatta Director for the 34th America’s Cup, getting a big tick from Challengers and Defenders alike. While much was made of the independence of his role, some of his decisions clearly irked the Defender’s CEO, Russell Coutts.
That dynamic set the scene for a very protracted Protocol and Class Rule negotiations post September 2013, a process which has now been running for some seven months. Iain Murray is now installed as CEO of Team Australia, as the Challenger representing the Hamilton Island Yacht Club is known.
Murray was dropped in the deep end by the Oatleys who charged him with handling the Challenger of Record responsibilities, and running that vital function as it should be, under the 18th century Deed of Gift that governs the 162 year old America’s Cup challenge trophy.
Murray has also had to put together a new team, establish a base, and run a recruiting effort made more difficult when most of the key Australian America’s Cup sailors refused to leave their existing teams, and re-signed with their former gigs.
Bob Oatley and Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards talk to the media - Finish line, 2013 Rolex Sydney Hobart - Crosbie Lorimer
Negotiating the Protocol has been an exasperating experience for the commercially funded Challengers, who are stretching their funding lines to stay alive.
'At this stage with the Protocol, we are now digging down into the detail', Murray told Sail-World, 'and making it the best we can, given the constraints around what everyone wants to do. It is fair to say that it is not entirely what we’d do, and some of the things that we want are clearly not what they (Oracle Team USA) want.'
Over the past seven months, the protracted negotiation process has not unsurprisingly sprung numerous leaks – some deliberate, most off the record, as the parties try and advance a negotiating position. America's Cup World Series to remain but count
In the draft Protocol, the preliminary series, to be sailed in AC45 wingsailed catamarans will count for points towards the final Challenger Selection Series, previously known as the Louis Vuitton Cup.
'We have agreed that the America’s Cup World Series will be meaningful through 2015/16 as a lead into the AC62’s and the Challenger Selection Series,' says Murray.
'In previous ACWS we have seen teams send Youth crews along to the regattas, and to some extent some teams have just gone through the motions, because they were only obliged to just turn up and sail in the ACWS rather than treat it as a full blooded competition.'
'The Event Authority is trying to link a package of events including the World Series, Round Robins, Semis and Finals and America’s Cup. We want an understandable process that has a progression running through it, and one that counts and has meaning.'
'The ACWS will carry something forward, it is not huge but it will be worth fighting for. It will depend on how many competitors there are, and all of that.'
When questioned whether it will be as much as 20% of the points for the Challenger Selection Series, Murray makes it clear that it will not be done on a basis of percentage of points basis.
'It will not be done on a percentage of points, because that would depend on how many teams there were, and we don’t know that yet.'
He notes that the last time points were carried forward from a preliminary series, was in 2004-2007 with the 13 Acts that preceded the Louis Vuitton Cup. The top team carried four points into the Louis Vuitton Cup and the three following carried one point less. In the final analysis, the same four Challengers who topped the Acts won through to the LVC Semi-Finals.
'There is a desire to have the ACWS simpler, and add something to the Cup, at the end - and have the teams take it seriously and perform the whole way through the series.
'That is the way it is going to be,' is Murray’s definitive final comment on that issue
The re-use of the AC45’s, a wingsailed one design catamaran, raises the question of whether the boats will be modified to turn them into foiling catamarans.
'The World Series will be in AC45’s but they are unlikely be foiling initially,' Murray explains. 'There is a possibility there will be limited foiling later, which needs to be considered. But for 2015, I doubt they will be foiling.
'The issue with the AC45’s, is that they are not built to foil. Spending a lot of money on beams and foils and cases to make them foil is something that needs to be considered wisely.'
Given that some teams own multiple AC45’s, some have AC72’s and others have surrogate boats of various types, the introduction of a new class for the 35th America’s Cup, the AC62, raises a number of issues.
'AC62’s will be introduced a set period of time before the start of the Round Robins of the Challenger Selection Series,' explains Murray. (The AC72’s were introduced just under 12 months before the start of the Louis Vuitton Cup.)
'Before that, what you will see is the teams running experimental surrogate boats, and racing on the ACWS circuit - which is going to be condensed into three day events. Then you will see the AC62’s launched and there will be an intense period for the teams to get them all sorted out.' Only one AC62 per Challenger
Murray confirmed that the teams will be restricted to building just one AC62 each, with the Defender having the option of two AC62’s – given certain restrictions.
He is not expecting to see the AC62’s sailed on the ACWS circuit, with logistics being a big factor, as the smaller AC45’s were designed to fit into a 40ft container, and the 62fters would need to be shipped as deck cargo. That response implies that the AC62’s will be seen sailing at their homebase, and maybe at the regatta venue only.
Murray confirmed that the Defenders will sail in some part of the Challenger Selection Series, but in the Round Robin phase only.
In the lead up to the 2007 America’s Cup, the Defender Alinghi sailed in the 13 Acts, but her placings were separated from the Challengers to calculate the Bonus Points carried forward into the LVC. In their overturned Protocol produced after the 2007 America’s Cup, Alinghi, with the sanction of their puppet Challenger gave themselves the option to sail in the Challenger Selection Series until the 'final between the two Challengers to select a Challenger for the Match'.
Current Defender, Golden Gate YC hauled their predecessor, Societe Nautique de Geneve (Alinghi) into the New York Supreme Court over this issue, and several others, which they claimed were contrary to the Deed of Gift for the America’s Cup. But in an about face, GGYC have now apparently acquired a similar right themselves.
'The Defender is allowed two boats after they are cast aside,' explains Murray. 'It is up to the Defender whether they run two boats and crews,' he adds. 'While that may give Oracle two crews to draw on, there is no limitation with the Challengers as to how many sailing crew they have in their team.'
The key point is that only at the point at which Oracle Team USA is broken away from the CSS will they be allowed to sail their second AC62. The key point is that there is a strong incentive for the Defender to not compete in the CSS at all.
While the one boat per Challenger restriction, is a significant cost saving measure, it has a major flaw. If one team crashes a boat, through a nosedive or capsize and writes it off their campaign is prematurely finished, unless they can mend the boat within the alteration restrictions of the Class Rules and Protocol.
'Unless they can repair it, and a repair doesn’t count as a modification under the restrictions, they will be out,' Murray confirms. The Defender will be treated equally severely, and won't be able to use their second boat in the event of a catastrophic face-plant in the Match.
That then raises the issue of limitations on spares, and whether teams could have sufficient parts to build a second boat, albeit disassembled and sitting in the shed, ready to 'Plug and Play'.
'The spares are not going to be limited, and the teams will be allowed a couple of wings,' Murray says. 'The most likely causes of damage are boats running into things, or hitting each other – and there are winners and losers out of that, which I am sure a Jury will be involved in – as is normal in yacht racing.'
'The AC62 will be more conservatively designed and there will be a series of structural tests not too dissimilar to what Team NZ and all the teams had to do in the end last time, to make sure they are all structurally robust.'
'I am sure all the teams will have a full inventory of spare parts for the boats and systems. Like last time, they have crash panels in the front, plus spare transoms.'
That comment would appear to rule out the possibility of having spare hulls available, although moulds may be on site, to assist with the construction of replacement sections. In Part 2 we look at Murray's thoughts on the Venue for the next America's Cup