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America's Cup - Late Protocol change further stacks deck against Kiwis

by Richard Gladwell, NZ on 22 Mar 2017
Emirates Team NZ - Waitemata Harbour - March 22, 2017 Richard Gladwell
Five America's Cup teams have dealt themselves a new hand with a new Protocol Change published three days ago.

On the face of it, the change - to allow 23 days training against each other repairs an omission by the Commissioner for the America's Cup which meant that teams had to work independently in Bermuda in their build up to the start of the Qualifiers on May 26.

But it is the timing of the move that is surprising - with now 65 days left before the start of the Qualifiers, in Bermuda. Plus one of the competing teams will be in transit almost half of the new joint training period.

Under the terms of the Protocol which governs the conduct of the 35th Match, the Commissioner (the now departed Gen Harvey Schiller) was required to publish a list of allowed training days 12 months before the start of the Qualifiers.

Schiller and his replacement, America's Cup Events Authority COO Sam Hollis, failed to do so. That set the scene for what should have transpired - that the teams worked independently once their America's Cup Class (AC50) yachts were launched, bringing to an end the cosy arrangements where designs and knowledge were shared between teams that were supposed to be in competition with each other.

The effect of the Commissioners' omission would have cleaned up the chummy relationships, which have beleaguered the 35th America's Cup and which has short-circuited sailing fans' perceptions of the competitive tension that is traditionally part of the premier trophy in sailing.

For the fans, the competitive teeth have been largely pulled for the 35th America's Cup by a series of changes which include - the Defender working closely with one Challenger on design and performance; the Defender sailing in the Challenger Qualification series; the Defender being able to take a point from that series into the Match and starting with a 1-0 advantage; and a myriad of other retrospective Protocol changes made after some teams have made serious errors in their design and construction strategy.

Known for at least four months

The Commissioner's omission was initially highlighted by Emirates Team NZ in a media release issued in late November 2016, after the end of the America's Cup World Series in Fukuoka, Japan. But the key date should have featured in the teams' rules advisers timelines well before that time. However nothing was done to put in an early fix. Either the teams were unaware of the issue, or more likely those who wanted the change could not get the required support. Those who were holding out now appear to have caved-in. It is just not credible that a simple fix could have been left this late without some underlying reason.

The now-amended Article 35.5(b) has been in place for two years - since April 2015 - the time of the switch from the AC62 to the AC50 as the America's Cup Class for the 35th Match.

Ironically the no-sailing outside the Qualifier venue appears to have been motivated by the 2013 America's Cup deal between Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand, where the Italians launched and trained against the Kiwis, in the New Zealand summer of 2012/13.

That move was taken to the International Jury by the Defender, Golden Gate Yacht Club, who won a partial victory limiting the scope of the arrangement. That off-venue training option was blocked completely in the next Protocol by Article 35.5(b) which was abruptly amended last week after the Commissioner's cock-up.

So why the rush to change just two months out from the start of the Qualifiers?

AC50's lining up already?

America's Cup Class race boats lining up already?
Until this week it was prohibited by the protocol, but now allowed after yet another rule change.
Working together to protect their future AC framework agreement?

Posted by Emirates Team New Zealand on Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Risk of being caught

Obviously, the teams could have realised that there was a strong chance of being photographed working up together on Bermuda's Great Sound and for a complaint to be lodged along with compelling evidence.

For some time the 35th America's Cup has been shaping up as a battle between the combined forces of the Challengers and Defenders against their common enemy - Emirates Team New Zealand.

'The enemy of my enemy is my friend', appears to be the common mantra of the 35th America's Cup, as the other teams appear to operate in concert against the isolated Kiwi team, whose history shows they are very difficult foe.

In the other 34 Matches, it has been the Challengers versus the Defender, as the donor of the 19th-century trophy, George Schuyler intended.

The exit of the second Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa, soon after the Italian team's suicidal decision to give their right of approval (effectively a veto) on Protocol Changes to the majority of the Challengers Committee, set the scene for changes to be made to the event rules anytime three of the Challengers agree on a matter along with the sanction or urging of the Defender.

Of course, the Defender, Golden Gate Yacht Club/Oracle Team USA were not so naive as to give up their same right of approval/veto and now very cleverly hold the whip hand.

The fortuitously late timing of the change gives a significant advantage to the teams currently in Bermuda.

On 23 days nominated in the 66 that remain until the start of the 35th America's Cup, the five teams based in Bermuda will be able to race or conduct on-the-water testing with a yacht of another team, in a 'co-ordinated manner'.

That means that the two-year design and development program between Defender Oracle Team USA and Softbank Team Japan can continue - the first time that a Challenger has actively worked with a Defender in the 160 years since the America's Cup became a Challenge trophy in 1857.

Blackout work-around
There were more than a few perplexed sailing fans after the Challengers and Defender agreed to a 28 day no-sail period in mid-December - just two weeks before the permitted launch date for the new AC50 wingsailed catamarans to be used to contest the 2017 America's Cup.

That perplexity was heightened when racing was organised between four of the teams in the no-sail period in their AC45S test boats. ACEA's reasoning for running the racing was that it could be the last opportunity for the regatta organisers to get some training and understanding of the nuances of running AC races in Bermuda.

Many sailing fans saw it as a work-around for the sailing blackout - which was believed to have been brokered by the anonymous Arbitration Panel as part of the remedy for the illegal switch of Qualification Venue from Auckland to Bermuda. Substantial financial compensation is expected to be made to the New Zealand team.

Two teams were excluded from the organised racing in the Blackout period - Groupama Team France and Emirates Team New Zealand. Both had previously planned to stay at their home bases - rather than go to Bermuda in the winter.

In fact, they had no choice - the artificial island on which their bases are to be located still has reclamation work underway. Team New Zealand's base is now being built in Bermuda while the team sails in Auckland. Oracle Team USA moved into their base in Bermuda in 2015. Three other teams are their adjoining neighbours.

In the latest change to the rules of the event, Team New Zealand will miss at least 10 of the joint training days - if indeed they are prepared to work with another team.

The situation will become a lot more serious if racing is organised by ACEA, or others, for the teams in the period in which Team NZ is in transit. The conduct of officially organised practice racing from which one or more competitors are effectively excluded is unprecedented in the sport.

Ongoing daggerboard saga
Further Protocol changes have been made recently to the rules governing daggerboards. The latest by the consent of all teams - allowed construction failures in the first two AC daggerboards to be declared by February 19, 2017, and the boards could be replaced without impacting the numbers allowed in the four and a half pages of rules that govern the numbers of hydrofoils allowed.

The previous, majority vote, changes to the Daggerboard rules worked against Emirates Team NZ, who were believed to have been working on using a single all-weather set of daggerboards with one spare set. The Kiwi team would not sign-off on the Protocol change.

The other teams had gone down the path of developing light and heavy air sets of boards, and when boards began breaking the other teams clubbed together to make a retrospective rule change.

The New Zealand America's Cup team, now in its 30th year is also on the outer with the other five teams over the so-called 'Framework' - a mechanism to control the next two editions of the America's Cup.

Announced in London in late January to a select group of media and others, Emirates Team New Zealand did not sign the document, which some America's Cup rules experts believe run counter to the Deed of Gift which governs the America's Cup. The Kiwi team is prohibited from making any adverse comment on the proposals due to another majority only vote by five of the six teams which prohibits any adverse comment about arrangements proposed for future America's Cups. Fines range from $25,000 US to $250,000 US for a breach.

The closing of the ranks amongst the four Challengers and Defender could be in response to a perceived threat by Emirates Team New Zealand to return the regatta to a style favoured by the New York Yacht Club, pre-1983. Such conditions would require yachts to be designed and built in the country of the challenging or defending club and the crew would need to be at least 75% nationals of the defending or challenging club.

Currently, the boats are one design; collaborative design between teams is allowed; only 2.7metres of the bow of the AC50 needs to be built in the country of the defending/challenging club, and only one crew member needs to hold a passport of the defending/challenging club.

A New York Yacht Club style America's Cup is quite different from the style of regatta to which the other teams have agreed in the London document, and to some, it is logical that the five other teams would work together to prevent the Kiwi scenario occurring.

The New Zealand team looks very good in their trialling on the Waitemata. The shift to pedal powered grinding coupled with their foil development has given the Kiwis a big edge in their almost imperceptible tacking and gybing. The ever attendant spies will have reported that back to their masters in Bermuda.

The lesson from the 2013 America's Cup is that the New Zealanders are more than capable of working alone and arriving at a regatta venue with a very fast boat. Clearly, for the other five teams, the best means of defence is a collective attack, and that is another probable reason for the late Protocol rectification.

PS: Early racing between the teams has already started in Bermuda - but apparently organised between the teams themselves. Reports in social media stated that in the first race between BAR and Oracle. Oracle walked away from BAR beating them by over half a leg. Groupama were out late but were apparently not up to full speed or were still testing their AC50. Breeze was reported as SW 16-20. BAR were previously reported to have been slow and later reports from Bermuda had it that the British team had improved - but today's racing produced a rather one-sided result.

It is not known if the US-flagged team stopped by after the session to give the Brits some tips on where they could improve.

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