Over the past few days, Sail-World.com has published a three part series taken from a long interview conducted last Saturday with Iain Murray, Commodore of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, who is at the sharp end of negotiations over the Protocol for the 35th America’s Cup.
To read Part 1 click here, Part 2 click here and Part 3 can be read here
In parallel with the Murray interview series, Sailing Scuttlebutt, USA published responses to a series of questions posed to Russell Coutts - Iain Murray’s counterpart on the Defender side. Coutts is a Committee member of Golden Gate YC, who are responsible for the conduct of the Defence, and organisation of the Match only, under the terms of the Deed of Gift, which governs the conduct of the Cup on an ongoing basis. The Defender is also by definition the Trustee for the America’s Cup, which effectively means they have to act in the best interests of the event, and in accordance with the donor’s intentions.
In his response, in Scuttlebutt, Coutts claimed: 'There is limited wharf space in the US, which limits the number of teams that can be properly hosted. So the concept is to have the challenger elimination series in AC62s begin somewhere else in the world, and then have the top four challengers complete the series at the final venue in the US. (Note: It's assumed that two venues are needed only with more than four challengers.)'
(In late December 2013, the San Francisco City offered five wharf locations, those did not include other space used by Luna Rossa and Artemis Racing at Alameda on the opposite shore, so the four wharf comment is a little hard to understand in the San Francisco context.)
By our count, there are at least six reasonably serious and quality Challengers for the next America’s Cup, being: Emirates Team NZ, the longest standing America's Cup team; the Challenger of Record, Team Australia – drawing on the top Australian Olympic talent; Ben Ainslie (GBR) expected to draw on the top British Racing talent; Luna Rossa (ITA) – long time Challenger for the AC; Artemis Racing (SWE) – already set up and sailing in San Francisco; and Franck Cammas (FRA) – Volvo Ocean Race winner and top large multihull sailor.
As we saw in the 34th Match, it is very possible for a competent team to go from a seemingly hopeless position to being clearly superior in the space of just seven race days. So how could anyone justify having a preliminary series outside USA, eliminating some teams – and then having a second round of qualification in USA, probably San Francisco? How do we know that a potential Cup winner is not being given a premature exit, after just sailing in the first qualifying regatta?
For what conditions does a Challenger design and optimize their boat - the first round in say, off Sydney Heads or in a light wind Mediterranean event or for the the real deal San Francisco? Remember the Challenger can only build one boat, and modifications are limited. The Defender can build two boats, if they wish and shift to an in-house campaign at any point of the regatta, according to information, last weekend, from the Challenger of Record.
Either way the Defender only needs to optimize their design for the Match venue. The Challengers must have an all-round boat.
On the basis of what has been previously published, the Defender could opt to sail in the first Challenger Selection Series, in say Sydney, and then decide to break out at the end of that series, launch their second boat in San Francisco, and then start two-boat campaigning in USA?
That scenario would of course allow the Defender to have a good gauge on the Challengers, from their first boat, make any changes required in their second boat – before she is launched, thus getting around the modification rule. Golden Gate YC has already stated in Court that there will not be a Defender Selection trials for the 35th Match.
Who gets to select where the first round of the Challenger Selection Series will be sailed?
Will it be the Challengers or the Defender controlled Event Authority, which will also handle the venue selection for the America’s Cup World Series?
Who gets the foreign venue fee for the Challenger Selection Series – the Challengers or the GGYC’s Events Authority?
It should be obvious from the above questions, which are just a starting list, that there are a lot of unanswered issues and permutations arising from some key fundamentals in the yet to be announced Protocol. These points need to be resolved before the document is signed and published.
But how long is that going to take – given that almost eight months has elapsed since the last Match, and Defender is saying that it will take 14 months until they can announce a Match venue?
The Defender's dilemma over venue selection is hard to understand given the plaudits that San Francisco was given for the last Match, and a return for AC35 would seem to be obvious – unless there is some other agenda in play by the Defender.
The commercial teams may not have the financial ability, to mount a credible winning Challenge if they are forced to wait around. Some would argue that again is to the Defender’s advantage, as the longer the current indecision lasts, the weaker some of the Challengers get financially, and eventually some, like Team New Zealand, could break up ahead of the announcement – particularly if the indecision on the venue spilled over into 2015.
The decision by the ETNZ not to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race is understood to have stemmed from the delay by the Defenders over the venue naming, and confirmation of key conditions for the 35th America’s Cup. That decision indicates the financial siege under which some Challengers are being placed by the delays over confirmation of the AC62 Class rule, the Protocol and Venue Selection. None of these key points have been publicly confirmed some eight months after the end of the last America's Cup. The critical venue decision will not be announced until November 2014 - 14 months after the completion of the previous Cup.
That is not in the best interest of the America’s Cup, and the Defenders need to consider whether they are complying with their obligations as the current Cup Trustee. For many years, the New York Yacht Club released a short memo, directly after a successful Defence. This stated the class of yacht they would like to use, the preferred dates of the next Cup, and the venue - along with a short entry window, at the conclusion of which they selected a Club to be Challenger of Record. Why couldn't Golden Gate have followed NYYC's lead?
The Defender seems to have become far too involved in issues that are generally the domain of the Challengers. In recent years, there has been a move to create some grand vision for the America’s Cup and take it to the next level. That can only be done through a proper consultation process with all involved teams, and not the Defender trying to impose their solution, and agenda on the others.
How many potential venues can withstand the cost of the vision of the creation of some giant America's Cup metropolis, as well as offering good sailing water?
Most of the America's Cup audience is a TV one - well away from the venue. A walk-up crowd of 20,000 to a centralised venue is miniscule compared to the global TV audience, which in NZ alone was over one million at the Kiwi-peak of the regatta, and pulled the highest viewership of any sporting TV broadcast in New Zealand.
The Cup is a television sport and an internet sport. Forty percent of Sail-World viewers catch the latest sailing news on their mobile. A survey published in New Zealand today, shows that people spend more time on their smart phone browsing the internet (40minutes a day), than they do talking on the same phone. So why all the focus on creating America's Cup Central? It's the worldwide audience, not the walk-up audience that counts.
Having won two major awards for innovation in sporting technology, and got the jump on other sports, one would have thought that Cup organisers would have headed off down the path of taking a technology rich sporting experience to a worldwide audience.
Why should the Defender be concerned about how many Challengers turn up and where they will all be housed? That's a Challenger problem - not a Defender's.
Russell Coutt's comments can be found here
. It is essential to read both sides of the argument - to see the points of agreement, and those of dispute - and then understand the implications of what is being proposed.
While some may feel that all the above is fine rules needlework and just shadow boxing the situation, the clear message from the last America's Cup is that rules intended to say one thing, often get manipulated in another way. It is important for the good of the America's Cup that there is a shared vision of the event, the way it will work, and that vision can last beyond just the current Cup cycle.
Otherwise the delay, frustration and endless Rules Hearings get repeated once again, and overall the America's Cup is much less of an event than it could be.
The America's Cup has never been fair, or a level playing field. That is the challenge of the event - but what is being proposed by the Defender goes well beyond what has gone before.
As Challenger of Record, Hamilton Island YC are right to be digging in on these key issues, and should be commended.