Sail-World's America's Cup Editor, Richard Gladwell, talks with Team Australia CEO and America's Cup Challenger of Record negotiator, Iain Murray, in this third part of a three part series, updating on the state of the 35th America's Cup, as seen through his eyes.
To read Part 1 click here
and Part 2 click here
With seven months having elapsed since the last America’s Cup, the clamor from Challenging teams for a new Protocol and Venue to be announced becomes shriller as the weeks pass.
Finances for the commercially based teams are not infinite, and with no income and team poaching by the better-funded competitors being rife, many are running on drip-fed financial tanks.
As one of the key negotiators of the Protocol, Murray says that the public release of the Protocol is very close.
'We keep saying 'within a week' for the last two months. I hope in the next couple of weeks that we will agree on all the fine points we have been discussing.
'Why the process is so protracted is that we are so much wiser than last time – when there was so much left open to be decided by later voting. But this time we know the racing rules. We have a very polished up boat rule. We understand the boats are going to foil. We understand the safety. We understand the television systems, the arbitration systems and have experience with all of that from last time.'
'There has been a large concentration of how this event can be commercialised going forward'.
'Last time many non-sailing people did not understand where the event was going and what it was doing. But they get it now, having seen the Cup Final. There is a product to commercialise, and obviously the Event Authority is working hard to do that, and we are working hard to make sure the teams can work and survive in that environment.'
Murray says that all the major decisions will be made this year in terms of venues and number of teams allowed to enter. Most potential teams are waiting for the Protocol, Rules and venue to be announced before making a decision. However Murray explains that there will only be a short time window for them to enter.
It will be up to the new Events Authority to decide how many viable teams have entered and how that relates into an America’s Cup World Series competition before the EA starts having discussions with possible ACWS venues, which will be quickly confirmed.
'It is a Catch-22 situation, in that teams want to know what the venues will be so they can tell their potential sponsors and get sponsors on board. And venues want to know how many teams and how big the event is before they can commit their facilities and resources,' Murray explains.
'Everyone is very wary of last time, when it was suggested at City Hall there were going to up to 14 teams, and we finished up with four.'
'Getting the expectations aligned is not easily. I have been on both sides and can see it both ways. There is nothing easy about it to be honest,' says Murray briefly slipping on his old hat of Regatta Director for the last edition of the America’s Cup World Series, and America’s Cup itself.
Murray pours cold water on the notion that newbie teams will be able to race in the America’s Cup World Series, but not go on to compete in the America’s Cup. 'I don’t think that is the preferred position,' is his short reply.
'Is up to Golden Gate Yacht Club as to whom they accept as entries. I think it is going to be very clear that they are not going to promote teams who aren’t going to get there. That made it very difficult last time.' Tense debate on Challenger selection Series
One area that Murray is reluctant to discuss publicly is how the Challenger Selection Series will run, despite public comment being made from the Defender side.
San Francisco seems to be the preferred venue for the Challengers - © Luna Rossa/Studio Borlenghi/Borlenghi-Butto
'The Americas Cup World Series (sailed in AC45's) will have the ability to be split into multiple venues same as last time', he says.
The Challenger Selection Series itself, or Louis Vuitton Cup, is traditionally sailed in its entirety at the venue for the America's Cup.
Comment from the Defender has been that maybe only the final four challenger teams may be able to sail in the CSS. The report have caused alarm and consternation amongst the potential challenger groups as having won though the early qualifiers the top teams would have to pack up and move to the Match venue. The Defender, on the other hand, with their ability to sail two AC62's could be at the one venue for the duration. There are a number of other permutations which all work the Defender's way.
Murray won't comment on the reports, except to say 'there is flexibility on how the event may be split depending on the number of entries'.
'This has been a very debated part of the negotiations and until the Protocol is released it's probably better that I say no more.' Event organisation gets rewired
As Challenger of Record, Hamilton Island Yacht Club has no involvement in the organisation of the America’s Cup World Series – that will all be done by the new America’s Cup Events Authority, which will handle event and race management.
Murray says the race management will be even more independent that last time, with the costs being shared between the teams, and not just the Defender. His comment negates the cynical line that in the last Cup, ultimately the race officials were all paid by the Defender, and were, therefore, ultimately beholden to them.
Murray won’t delve into the detail on Event Management and the concept floated by Oracle Team USA CEO, Russell Coutts that the International Jury or some of its functions might be replaced with a Commissioner.
'I’m not at liberty to talk about all of that,' says Murray. 'The structure of how all that is going to work will vary a little but there will be a Jury, there will be umpires, there will be a measurement committee, and principal race officer. There will be a commercial commissioner role'.
'Effectively all the previous roles are there, but where the responsibility lies and their jurisdiction is slightly different. Just trying to detail the responsibilities up front is where much work has gone in with the Protocol discussions. ' A fresh start with Team Australia
Turning to matters closer to home and equally pressing, Murray has a big task ahead with Team Australia.
'We are just starting. This has been a huge job for us and the Oatley family.
'To just dive headlong into the politics of this event and the America’s Cup it is never easy. There are some very strong willed characters involved, and it has taken a long time to work through'.
Team Australia has already announced 2012 Olympic Gold medalist Matt Belcher as its skipper, and a sailing team has been formed. Many of those in the team will be combining Olympic and America’s Cup programs. Part of that has involved sailing against Oracle Team USA in the AC45’s on Sydney Harbour. That exchange continues next week.
'Luckily the 'Aussie Oracles' seem to have camped down here and are quite happy to sail with us. So we have to make the most of that opportunity - it’s a great opportunity for us'.
'Those guys are all good mates, because they were all in the Olympic team together. So we have to make the most of that opportunity while we can. Sailing one design AC45’s is a good way for us to step up'.
'We are also sailing with GAC Pindar in the Extreme Sailing Series, which has been a great relationship and valuable learning experience,' he adds.
'We are working hard and that and making in-roads. But we are not an Oracle or Team NZ in terms of experience.'
Team Australia has established a facility at Woolwich Dock, where the Oatley’s supermaxi, Wild Oats is also based. The team owns an AC45, and which is also based at the same facility, however, Murray doubts of they will be able to sail an AC62 out of Woolwich Dock. 'When and how all that happens is TBA, at this stage,’ Murray quips.
He expects Team Australia to build to a 50-60 strong group. That is well shy of the 120 listed for Emirates Team New Zealand in the 34th America’s Cup and the 220 (including builders) for Oracle Team USA.
'We obviously have to build the boats here, in Australia, but we have a very good composites industry, and there's a lot of skills and facilities here.
'We also have had a very good long term relationship with Southern Spars, who have supplied all the spars and rigging for the Wild Oats boats. I can see Southern building a lot of rigs for people, like they did with Luna Rossa. Strong base in Austalian Sailing Team
Had the 35th America’s Cup been sailed on a State of Origin basis, with a 100% home-grown nationality rule, Team Australia would be in a very strong position indeed with the top designers, sailors and managers in the Americas’ Cup business.
But Australia’s hiatus from Cup competition has seen their top sailors sign on and develop with other teams. They were all reluctant to return to the Lucky Country, despite the heart-pulls of home.
The task for Iain Murray is to build a team grafted from the Australian Sailing Team, which is a top performer at Olympic level. The Oatleys and Hamilton Island Yacht Club have always been strong backers of the Australian Sailing Team, so the relationship is an easy one.
Team Australia has had to build a team from scratch without being able to draw on its top crews in other teams - Carlo Borlenghi-Luna Rossa
'I think we can do a good job', says Murray. 'We have to build our team from scratch. We have hired some good people. But we need to bring some experience into the team.
'We have stated from the beginning that we want to give young guys the opportunity - with people like top 18ft skipper Seve Jarvin and match racer David Gilmour. They are going to be great in the future.'
'Matt Belcher dominates the 470; Tom Burton dominates the Laser, and Darren Bundock in the foiling Nacra. Jason Waterhouse and Euan McNicol are also doing well in the Nacra.
Iain Murray has had a 30 year Association with Channel 7 through his 18ft skiff program - Frank Quealey
_©_-Australian 18 Footers League
'Within Olympic circles we still have a very strong sailing team. There is a lot of talent coming through, and a lot of enthusiasm in Australian sailing. There is also a wealth of talent in other sailing pursuits, in Australia and many guys have just never had the right opportunity'.
'It is a matter of harnessing all of that, blending youth and talent with experience, and getting them all up to speed. That is the work that is in front of us.'
Whether the Oatley’s have to carry the Australian America’s Cup effort on their own remains to be seen.
Team Australia will look to corporate sponsors, but are in the same bind as other Challengers of not knowing the venue details or the Protocol – vital to be able to state the value position in any sponsorship proposal.
'We have not gone out to the market yet', Murray explains. 'You’ve got to have a story to tell. The detail of that is still in the Protocol, but it is getting clearer by the day, and we are formulating that approach, and will be out there soon.
'We have a number of existing corporate relationships,' he notes. 'My relationship with Channel 7 goes back 30 years to 18ft skiffs.
'You only have to look at the relationships we have built with the supermaxi Wild Oats. We are not really a start from scratch team – we are building on a long and successful history in this country.'
To read Part 1
of this three part series click here
and Part 2 click here