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America's Cup: New AC50 World Series circuit resurfaces again

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 5 Jan 00:42 PST 5 January 2018
Land Rover BAR and Emirates Team NZ are so far the only two teams who will carry over into the 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell

Reports from mid-October 2017 of a world series circuit being developed using AC50's re-surfaced this week after America's Cup veteran Tom Ehman reeled off a list of six teams said to be interested in competing in the event.

Speaking on his regular Tuesday video show on the "Sailing Illustrated" website, Ehman later confirmed that his information was all verbal and came from various sources he said were "highly reliable".

Past prognostications by Ehman have generally been on the money.

His comments were very similar to those made in mid-October 2017 by long-time Australian sailing and America's Cup correspondent, Rob Mundle. Those, in turn, were preceded by a newspaper report from Bermuda in earlier in the same month, that a series sailed in AC50's would be contested in the venue for the 35th America's Cup.

During his show last Tuesday Ehman said the first regatta in the AC50 tour would be held on October 28 - November 1, 2018, in San Francisco, to coincide with Oracle's Open World - which attracts some 60,000 visitors from Oracle Corporation and their customers.

In 2013 Oracle Open World opened in San Francisco in the third week in September - about the time that Oracle Team USA was down 8-1 in the 34th America's Cup sailed in AC72's. Then CEO Larry Ellison used his America's Cup team's rising fortunes and eventual win to pump some very positive themes to delegates at the 2013 convention.

The shift of the America's Cup venue to Bermuda kiboshed the potential for a visible ongoing link with Oracle's Open World, Oracle Team USA and the America's Cup.

For 2019 World Series of Sailing in the AC50, Ehman said his information was that the circuit would be extended to Bermuda (consistent with the October 2017 reports) and Chicago. Chicago was tipped to be the choice of Defence venue if Oracle Team USA won the 35th Match.

On Tuesday's show, Ehman named six teams Oracle Team USA, Alinghi, Red Bull (backing an Austrian team), Japan (less certain), Artemis Racing and the [Groupama] Team France. Four of those teams were signatories to the Framework Agreement announced in late January 2017.

Mundle had earlier named four teams - OTUSA, Sweden, Japan and France - plus Alinghi.

Ehman claimed that Alinghi (winner of the 2003 and 2007 America's Cup) was in the process of acquiring or building an AC50. He added that each of the six teams would have two boats.

While Bertarelli is said, in Bermuda, to have expressed some interest in being part of an America's Cup again the point remains that he would have to Challenge through a club "having for its annual regatta an ocean water course on the sea or an arm of the sea, or one which combines both". He would not (following the clarification of what "having" means in the 2007-2010 New York Supreme Court case) be able to challenge, as he was allowed in 2003 AC, to sail under the burgee of a club which had its annual regatta on a lake. However no such condition would exist in the WSOS - which is for professional teams with minimal emphasis on nationality as was the case in the 2017 America's Cup.

By one count there are six AC50's and about nine AC45S - the development platform used by teams in the buildup to the Bermuda event.

Equalised fleet needed
Ehman claimed that the logistics for the new circuit would be difficult. However, while previous circuits have failed to fire, none have had the leg-up enjoyed by a new AC50 circus.

The original plan for the AC50 was that it would compete at multiple venues, prior to the 2017 America's Cup and not just Bermuda. The boat was designed to be broken down and fit inside a 40ft container. Although no class rules covered the smaller AC45S, for transport it too could be similarly reduced.

Some teams developed the AC45S in such a way that it could mimic the longer AC50. Emirates Team NZ was the last to launch their AC45S and extended their boat by the addition of a metre long rudder gantry which supported the rudder, or after T-Foil.

In the foiling world, overall length is somewhat academic if the drag, weight, foiling geometry and righting moment of the boats are equalised, and standard foil packages are used.

As with the AC75, the need for crews to have to constantly pump hydraulic oil is expected to be eliminated by removing grinding pedestals and hydraulic gear and replacing these with batteries and electric powered winches and hydraulics.

In addition to the AC50/45S fleet, also available is the fleet of AC45F (one designs) that were used for the Red Bull Youth America's Cup, and which could be used for a Youth Series.

A key to getting an AC50 event underway and viable will be the standardisation of boats and parts and a common shore team of which the best parallel is the Volvo 65 one-design fleet and their support systems.

The AC45S could be extended into a near AC50 by altering the transom section to mimic the gantry hung rudder employed by Emirates Team New Zealand on their AC45S, launched in June 2016.

With that configuration Emirates Team New Zealand was able to replicate the foiling geometry of an AC50. If a similar modification was undertaken on the existing AC45S fleet, it should be possible to retrofit and expand the total fleet to the twelve boats required for a six-team competition.

While the modification process is not simple, Oracle Racing Inc own Warkworth NZ based builder Core Builders Composites who are more than capable of undertaking or co-ordinating any modification work required. As well as being outstanding composite engineers, they have transitioned from multihulls into monohulls and currently have Sled under construction in Warkworth - a new 52 Super Series racer for New York Yacht Club’s Takashi Okura.

Core Builders have constructed the male plug for Sled using their 18 metres (59ft) long CNC milling machine - the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere enabling the hull tooling to be shaped as one piece.

New series must find own niche
Quite where the new World Series of Sailing circuit would sit with the America's Cup is a matter of conjecture.

The Protocol for the 36th America's Cup in Auckland does not allow competitors to participate in an "ambush" regatta (one that purports to be America's Cup-related), or one which infringes America's Cup trademarks.

When queried last year on the prospect of WSOS using AC50's a senior member of Team NZ commented off the record that they weren't particularly concerned as the Auckland based America's Cup "would have the faster boat".

With the subsequent announcement of the AC75 foiling monohull claimed to be capable of 50-60kts that may well be the case. Currently, the AC50 has a "sound barrier" of just under 50kts due to the onset of daggerboard cavitation requiring special high-speed daggerboard shapes to resolve the issue.

Whether that same "sound barrier" exists with the AC75 remains to be seen.

The AC50 WSOS event will also be more appealing to the multi-national America's Cup teams who are struggling with the 100% Nationality Rule adopted for the 36th America's Cup. In the last Cup, only one crew member needed to be a passport holder of the country of the club the team represented.

For AC36 the nationality pendulum has swung the other way, and all members of the sailing crew have to be nationals of the country of their challenging club, under one of two systems specified in the Protocol.

In many ways, the America's Cup and AC50 Circuit regattas could co-exist.

The events that would be most affected are the existing foiling multihull series, using GC32s and the like.

The Preliminary Series regattas for the 36th America's Cup using the AC75 are set down to be sailed in both northern and southern hemispheres. They are due to start racing the first launched AC75's in one or two events in the June-December 2019 period, with a further three events scheduled for 2020, concluding with a Christmas Regatta in Auckland in December 2020.

It is possible that teams with both AC75's and AC50's could compete in both events - provided the America's Cup and its proprietary marks were not used to leverage the AC50 event.

New TV model essential
A significant difference between the two events will be in their approach to television, with the 36th America's Cup organisers committed to running a "free-to-air" model designed to attract the biggest possible viewing audience at the expense of some rights revenue.

The AC50 WSOS event will probably be forced to switch to a similar "free to air" model as the value of TV rights will be significantly reduced for an event that does not have the prestige of the America's Cup.

That, in turn, will call into question just how the new event will wash its face financially - which has an impact on professional sailors salaries and the enduring viability of the AC50 WSOS regatta circuit.

A parallel universe was the Louis Vuitton Trophy series sailed in 2009 and 2010 in both hemispheres involving America's Cup teams sailing four equalised IACC monohulls. That circuit lasted two years at some hefty financial cost and was intended more as a life support system for the sidelined America's Cup teams, while Alinghi and Oracle Racing had their differences resolved in the New York Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Ehman repeated Mundle's earlier claim that the AC50 WSOS event had managed to attract long-time America's Cup Challenger Selection Series sponsor Louis Vuitton to their cause.

Framework comes back into play
When Mundle revealed a new "World Series of Sailing" last October, the series was geared around the AC50 and four of the five signatories to the "Framework" document announced in late January 2017.

The Framework Agreement was originally intended to plot the course for the 36th and 37th America's Cup. All but one team competing in the 35th America's Cup signed the agreement.

The exception being the team who won.

Later Emirates Team New Zealand said they agreed with much of the contents of the Framework - but didn't like the two year cycle. It is now obvious that the AC50 would not work for them either.

The keypoints of the Framework were for the America's Cup World Series to resume in Q4 of 2017, ie three months or so after the end of the 36th Match. Up to twelve events would be sailed over the two years before the 2019 America's Cup.

The first year of the America's Cup World Series would be sailed in AC45F (one designs used in the ACWS leading into the 35th America's Cup) then for the second year the switch would be made to the AC50 class. Then the AC45Fs would be retired and all racing in the ACWS ahead of the 36th and 37th America's Cups would be only in AC50's. The construction of surrogate boats (AC45S) would also be banned.

Cup entries quiet
With entries for the 36th America's Cup having been open for five days there has been no word from either Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron or the Challengers individually that their Club had lodged a Notice of Challenge in the prescribed format with RNZYS.

The British team are the only one of the five signatories to the Framework who have announced their intention to enter the 36th America's Cup.

Land Rover BAR also announced the day they were eliminated at the Semi-Final stage of the 35th America's Cup Regatta that they were fully funded and ready to contest the next event.

At that stage the outcome of the Match was yet to be decided, and whether it would be won by one of the Framework signatories. In which case the next event would have been sailed in 2019 and using AC50's as per the secret agreement.

Only a highlights version of the Framework agreement was released at a media conference in London led by Land Rover BAR's then CEO Martin Whitmarsh. While the full document has not been publicly disclosed, it is believed that there are substantial penalty clauses for teams who break the Agreement.

What was never made clear is the whether the Framework signatories were legally bound to compete in an alternate AC50 circuit, if the sole non-signatory, Emirates Team NZ, won the 2017 America's Cup.

AC75 cost perceptions wrong
The release of the concept drawings and graphics for the AC75 foiling monohull on November 20 did cause mixed reactions in America's Cup circles.

Four-time America's Cup winner Dennis Conner slapped a $US100-$150million price tag on a winning America's Cup campaign using the AC75.

That is almost three times Emirates Team New Zealand's winning campaign cost in 2017, using a single AC45S development boat and a single AC50.

While British challenger, Land Rover BAR may welcome the design and technology challenge of the AC75, it seems the concept has made others wary, with Ehman noting on Tuesday that one potential US team had backed away from a Challenge after seeing the AC75 concept.

It is now clear that most 36th America's Cup players expected a more conservative boat that was more in keeping with current monohull racing and styled along the lines of current supermaxi technology.

Offsetting the big ticket AC36 theories at is the fact that Team New Zealand is the primary developer of the AC75 concept and class rule. The last two Challengers of Record (2013 and 2017 America's Cups) have both managed to negotiate themselves a Protocol that was beyond them financially, and they both subsequently withdrew early in the Cup cycle.

It is unlikely that Team New Zealand will repeat that error.

The AC75 rule will be published in three months time. At that point only will it be possible to see what areas of the new class will be open design, which will be restricted and which will be supplied one design parts. Only then can the boat cost can be properly calculated - and there is still 3-8 months left to enter.

Will new series have cut-through with fans?
The ultimate success or otherwise of the AC50 "World Series of Sailing" will hinge on whether its rockstars do indeed have a serious fan following outside the spotlight of the America's Cup spotlight, and a profile that can be monetised.

WSOS will also be a test of whether the AC50 is a must-see for sports fans, or if like its bigger sister, the AC72, its short life made it a sailing curiosity piece.

The fact that the AC50's can sail at four times windspeed in 5-6kts of breeze will overcome the TV tedium that was a feature of the former America's Cup World Series sailed in the one design AC45F.

To be successful in the medium to long term the WSOS must be able to command substantial event fees, pull a substantial TV audience and create a meaningful pinnacle event that puts it beyond the realm of a weekend exhibition sailing regatta.

However, the bottom line is that despite all its financial backing and potential, any series styled along around former America's Cup sailors, and using a former America's Cup Class will always struggle for the simple reason that it is not for the current America's Cup, the premier trophy in sailing.

For the previous story from October 2017 click here

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