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Gladwell's Line - #LetsGetDalton

by Richard Gladwell, on 25 May 2015
Oracle Team USA seem to have the new Challengers lined up nicely Carlo Borlenghi/Luna Rossa
Despite landing two major commercial sponsors, Emirates Team New Zealand continues to take a beating from local media as well as the other America's Cup teams.

With Italian team Luna Rossa now out of the mix for the 35th America's Cup, the nine-times Challenger/Defender is alone, despite having more Cup campaigns to their credit than the other teams combined.

With almost every decision being determined by a majority vote of the Competitors and with Oracle Team USA having a veto), the current tenor of the America's Cup is akin to the Ugly Sisters trying to keep the Kiwi Cinderella way from the Ball.

Far from being an America's Cup where the Defender stands separate from the Challengers, the current edition is all against Emirates Team New Zealand. Maybe the view is that whoever can beat the Kiwis will win the Cup.

Latest social media mantra is the hashtag #letsgetdalton used by Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill in an Instagram with his new best friend, Dean Barker, as the two posed together in Bermuda.

In their weird world of the America's Cup, those are the same two that were throwing barbs at each other on a daily basis in the last America's Cup. Well, Spithill did his best to irk the Kiwi. In the media scrum at the back of the press conference, Barker would turn the other cheek and dismiss Spithill's taunts with the line 'that's Jimmy being Jimmy. He does that all of the time.' The same Jimmy Spithill that Barker said he wouldn't have a beer with - even though they owned houses in the same Auckland street.

Now Spithill's team will be giving Barker and his new Team Japan a complete design for the AC48, help with crew and anything necessary to get the former Kiwi skipper into the 35th America's Cup.

Still the animosity to Team New Zealand remains, typified by the #letsgetdalton hashtag - which has taken the Cup down to the same personal level as the final media conference for the 1988 America's Cup when Bruce Farr, the urbane NZ designer, was told that he was a loser and to get off the stage.

Under the Protocol, governing the America's Cup it is not possible for the New Zealand team to hit back at the social media taunts. It is understood that there is one complaint to be heard by the yet to be assembled Arbitration Panel under Article 63, against Dalton for a previous misdeed. If the Arbitration Panel uphold that complaint, the fine is $25,000, with $100,000 for a second offence and $250,000 thereafter. Taking a complaint to the Arbitration Panel costs a non-refundable $25,000 - almost a grinder's monthly paypacket in Oracle-land, but a lot of money to the cash-strapped Kiwis.

While Kiwis may be Team No-Mates in the Competitor Forum, outside those frosty halls, the Emirates Team NZ is a hands-down winner in the social media. The Kiwi team has 158,000 Likes on their Facebook page, Oracle Team USA has 148,000 Likes and the other teams all have less than 21,000 Likes each.

Sailing with the Enemy
A Challenger sailing against the Defender prior to the America's Cup was unheard of prior to 2007, when Alinghi sailed in the Acts against the Challengers, but made the traditional split before the start of the Challenger Series. Even so, the state of Cold War existed between the Challengers and Defender, with the former operating under the mantra: 'To relieve the Defender of the burden of Defending the America's Cup'.

To many long-time Cup watchers, the current role of the Challengers seems to be to help Oracle Team USA to defend the Cup. Emirates Team NZ appears to be the only one who seems to be serious about taking the Cup off the US team.

That situation is understandable given that no first time Challenger has ever won the America's Cup - the exception being Alinghi in 2003. Making a Cup Final a laudable objective for a Cup team, and if Team New Zealand can be financially and strategically neutered, that task becomes a lot easier.

Currently, the Defender, Oracle Team USA will be providing design packages to two of the Challengers. Oracle justified that as a means of getting new teams into the Cup. However many are sceptical of how independent these teams are of their Design-Meisters when it comes to voting on Cup matters. How many will have the courage to bite the hand that feeds them?

The competitive tension between Challengers and Defenders that is a hallmark of the 160 year old competition is gone, replaced with a Bermudian bonhomie, that is as enthralling as watching Morris dancing.

No let up on the home front
News of the second major cash sponsorship announcement in a week seems to have done little to get the New Zealand media off the back of the Kiwi team.

Still the insinuations keep getting trotted out about ETNZ having their snouts in the Government trough - even though that funding line was taken off the table by the NZ politicians a month ago, who promptly announced the spend of $26million on a new NZ Flag survey. Currently polling is running at over 80% against the Flag change.

Money well spent? Or, would it have better spent on marketing the flagship of a New Zealand marine and composites engineering industry to pick up high added value international projects, in the way that Oracle's builder Core Builders Composites has been able to do?

Several of the myths of the 34th America's Cup are still constantly repeated - echoing the poor level of understanding of the Cup by New Zealand media - and subjecting Team NZ to a regular barrage of friendly fire.

First of these is the claim that New Zealand could have opted to sail on September 16, 2013 - the day it is claimed Oracle Team USA made major Cup-winning changes to their boat.

The fact is that this day was not set down as a race day when the Sailing Instructions were published (neither was the preceding Monday as there had been two race days over the weekend). The day was put into the schedule as an optional race day after so much time was lost in the first half of the regatta, due to wind limits as low at 19.9kts.

There was no prescribed process in the Protocol or Sailing Instructions for formally determining whether teams would or would not race on that day.

The decision for Team New Zealand may have been taken by Grant Dalton. However, other parties had also to be consulted in the same way - and Dalton's was just one input. Others were from Oracle Team USA, Television and the Race Director, Iain Murray, who has to make the decision taking into account the inputs.

Both teams had to agree to race and Oracle did not want to race. Also as a result of the Safety Review it was agreed that the boats would not race for more than three days in a row. If they had sailed on the 16th, they would not have been able to sail on the 17th - there was only ever going to be three days racing in the four-day period.

The decision not to race on September 16 was made as the boats were returning from racing on September 15. Skippers on the race boats were still sailing in, and the decision was made by team management.

In the end, the Race Director made the decision and communicated it on the water.

At that stage, Emirates Team NZ were on 7 points. Had they won two races on the 16th they would have won the Cup. Being a rest day there was no expectation that television would be required, and it is inconceivable that the races would be sailed, and the America's Cup won, with reduced or no television coverage.

The second myth is that Team New Zealand was shaken to the core by the near capsize in Race 8 and never recovered their confidence.

The fact is that that Race 9 was started immediately afterwards. Team New Zealand was leading well into the third leg (upwind) when the race management computer system recorded wind in excess of the prescribed strength and shut down the race. The wind was 23.1kts.

It should be noted that race officials had no control over the system used to start and run the racing - it was all handled by a computer that ran the timing sequence as soon as the Race Director determined to make a start. If the wind limit (set at 23kts with an addition or subtraction for the tidal flow measured at a single point in the race course according to a computer model) exceeded one of the parameters set before the start or before the end of leg 3, then the computer would just shut down and the race would be over. There was no discretion allowed to race officials, as is normally the case. Under the usual racing rules of sailing, officials cannot call off a race when a boat is clearly leading in good breeze, unless there is a safety issue. Given that the AC72's were sailing in apparent windstengths on Leg 3 of around 50kts it is hard to see why such a hair trigger system was used, that could not be overridden by the Race Director.

This computer driven system and the tide adjusted wind limit, never used before in race management, dictated the outcome of many races and starts in particular - resulting in the schedule being extended to become the longest America's Cup regatta in history.

The third myth is that Emirates Team New Zealand was unaware of the fact that they were at risk of not finishing the first running of Race 13 on September 20, 2013 when the time limit expired. Both teams were advised several times before the start of the regatta that if a race was started in 10kts and the wind did not increase significantly during a race the boats would not be able to complete the course. The first attempt at Race 13 got underway in light winds, the breeze increased but not enough and the time limit was exceeded. This had nothing to do with the timing system described above - the outcome would have been the same in a normal yacht race, as time limits cannot be altered by the Race Officer.

Protocol's installment plan
The revised Protocol (Version 5) has just been published with provisions that have been known to the teams for some time, but not publicly announced.

A significant change is in the payment of the third payment of the Entry Fee and Performance bond. A team can either pay these by the due date of May 1, 2015 or opt for a staggered installment system of paying $225,000 per month for four months for the Entry Fee and $250,000 for four months for the Performance Bond.

If a team opts for the installment system, they lose their voting rights until the payment of the third installment of the Entry fee and full payment of the Performance Bond. It is believed the Team France and Emirates Team NZ are in this category.

The key elements with boats and launching dates remain unchanged.

No team can launch an AC48 earlier that 150 days before the start of the Qualifiers

The Defender is allowed two AC48's - the first of which can be launched 150 days from the start of the Qualifiers, the second can be launched 30 days before the start of the Qualifiers.

The Defender cannot sail two AC48's against each other until the Qualifiers have concluded.

The Defender must sail its first launched AC48 in the Match.

The Defender can substitute a wrecked or damaged boat, a Challenger cannot substitute and the Protocol is silent on the options. Reality is that they repair within the Rules or drop-out.

The full document can be read by clicking here

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