Please select your home edition
Zhik 2018 Hyeres 728x90

Gladwell's Line - America's Cup returns to its new home and thinking

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ on 29 Jun 2017
Emirates Team New Zealand - Match, Day 5 - Finish Line - Race 9 - 35th America's Cup - Bermuda June 26, 2017 Richard Gladwell
Emirates Team New Zealand's win in the 35th America's Cup ends 17-years of wandering in the AC wilderness and will open a new era of America's Cup, New Zealand and World Sailing.

A rookie crew won the most prestigious trophy in sailing, and one of the most difficult to win in any sport.

On Wednesday, I sat down with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Glenn Ashby to look at various aspects of the campaign and win.

Ashby was emphatic that the key reason for the ETNZ win was their decision to take an extreme and aggressive approach to the key design decisions, working with the cards they had been dealt by others.

'The key was our aggressiveness in our design philosophy - that to me sums up our whole program. We were either going to be a laughing stock in coming over here, or we were going to do what we did', Ashby said.

Having followed the Kiwi team and the other Challengers and Defender on the water, the outcome was never really in doubt after the first day of the Match. The only real question is whether the New Zealanders would be able to sail to their strengths, and hold together.

Looking at the team sailing in Auckland in the early days after the AC50 launching and then comparing that with video from Bermuda of the other five teams, gave a few clues as to the level at which the New Zealanders were operating - which was comparable or better than the other teams on foiling performance.

In June 2016, when ETNZ launched their AC45S with its AC50 geometry, there was an early indication that Emirates Team New Zealand was going to be the team that had to be beaten if another team was to be successful in winning the America's Cup. There was obviously some very smart thinking behind the boat and the good feeling in the team was evident at that stage.

In the end, the only surprising point was the way in which Emirates Team New Zealand dominated Oracle Team USA. Depending on whose stats you believe, the Kiwis were either a couple of knots faster all round than OTUSA, or they were the same speed. But ETNZ was sailed much consistently better and more accurately.

If Oracle Team USA had got faster in the five day break, as many claimed, then it wasn't apparent on the water for the last three days of the regatta. The obvious inference is that Emirates Team New Zealand got even faster - relative to the Defender.

Fresh ideas required for the Event.

At the winner's media conference, Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton bought some fresh thinking, plain speaking and quickly got the usually skeptical international media onside.

It was a refreshing change to hear questions answered directly and openly, and offering more information that was sought or expected.

There were no elephants in the room as has been the case with previous holders Ernesto Bertarelli and Larry Ellison, who left the announcement of the strategy and detail to their lieutenants. But as the two billionaires were ultimately underwriting the event, all knew that any major decision and actions were ultimately subject to their approval or otherwise.

For the first time in history the America's Cup has been won by a group that is a private company, and with a Board who are very experienced in finance and business in the New Zealand context and have substantial America's Cup experience and involvement. They are not there for personal gain but do need to set up an event and team structure which works for everyone.

Sir Stephen Tindall said during the celebration party that he wanted to bring integrity back to the America's Cup, and in a single word, that is a fair summation as far as Cup event structure is concerned. As one of New Zealand's most decorated sons Sir Stephen does have huge influence, and there is no doubt that he will achieve his goal.

The most disappointing aspect of the Cup win has been the reaction of people in high places in New Zealand to running an event in February/March 2021.

There is no point in revisiting plans and processes that were appropriate when New Zealand last set up for an America's Cup over 20 years ago.

The Cup has moved on from there, even if the politicians have not.

Bermuda a success
It is a load of crap that this America's Cup was a financial disaster; that there was a glut of vacant accommodation; no crowd interest, and no superyachts and the TV ratings were through the floor.

There has been no talk in the Bermuda papers about the event being an expensive financial flop. While the investment of $77million is talked of outside Bermuda as being a disaster - most forget that most of this spend went on infrastructure and that Bermuda now has a great legacy facility, as did Auckland from the Viaduct Harbour redevelopment. The Bermudans can now launch new initiatives to take a medium to long-term advantage from the facility, to recoup the dividend from their investment.

Over 70 superyachts registered for the event - reviewing the superyacht fleet was a highlight of the ferry trip across to the Royal Dockyard each morning. New Zealand attracted 96 superyachts for its Defence regattas and can do the same again.

The 35th America's Cup Regatta was well supported by the local fans augmented by the teams and international spectators. The full stadium could take 7,500 fans, and the wider crowd was estimated to be 10,000. For a country of 60,000 that is a significant percentage.

The stadium was full on weekend race days, and half-full during the working week. The people with a grandstand view of the racing were those on the top deck of the cruise ships, who could see the whole course, without needing to go the the America's Cup Village.

On the return ferry, people we talked to were going to the Cup for the day and seemed very happy. Trying to get out of the Village with the concert and entertainment in full swing was not easy. It was like trying to push your way through the crowd at a rock concert, not a sailing regatta.

The vacant accommodation claim came after the media got hold of a photo of the prestigious Princess Hotel showing the top floor lights out and they drew the conclusion that the place was empty. What they didn't know/tell their readers was that the one of the teams were based in the hotel. The shot was taken about three days after the team was eliminated and a lot of the team members and their families had left, that day. Of course, the top level was empty - but there was a good explanation.

The US TV ratings are never good in a regatta when the US is not winning. One of the take-outs from the regatta will be to look at how the TV package is structured for 2021. It didn't work well this time, and to many minds, the 34th America's Cup was better with its free to view components.

A Challenger's Meeting?

Expect a lot of new ideas and thinking for the 36th America's Cup in Auckland.

What needs to happen in the first few months is for a Challengers Meeting to be held in Auckland with existing teams and potential teams invited to get a formal consultation process running. That is quite a different approach from the past of holding a function to announce the winner of the venue bidding process, then another to announce the class, and a third to announce the Protocol.

These meetings have been held up to the 2007 America's Cup and were great for showing interest to potential sponsors as well as getting the Cup dialog running on a number of fronts. There is no need for these to be secret meetings.

The America's Cup is ripe for being lifted to a new level in a way that has not been seen before in sport. The key to getting this accepted is to bring the developments to the viewing audience well in advance. There has to be a financially viable preliminary series, work with an existing series, or both.

Emirates Team New Zealand was innovative with the Dock-Out and Dock-In shows, and although the concept was late and unrehearsed, it hit the sweet spot with the viewing audience. It is this sort of thinking that is needed in AC36 - along with ARL's 360VR which takes the fans aboard the boats for each race - they can now be the seventh crew member and that app should be incorporated into the 36th Cup. Fan involvement needs to be facilitated and maximised.

A new America's Cup Class

The choice of boat for the 36th America's Cup will be difficult.

Many of the media/photographers felt the AC50 was too small. Grant Dalton noted at the media conference that they might not be a great option in a fresh sea breeze in Auckland with the wind against the tide. For all its issues, the AC72 had speed and size. The AC62 may be a good compromise for a regatta sailed in the Hauraki Gulf.

While there are plenty of options being bandied about for the next AC class, the question has to be how it performs in 5kts rather than 25kts of wind.

The AC is first and foremost a TV event. There are boats which perform well in the lower wind strengths, and many do not. Most if not all monohulls would be in the latter category - foiling or otherwise.

Once foiling the AC50 can do 18-20kts in 6 kts of wind - and that is a hard benchmark for any class/boat to beat. It makes for good television - and the general public 'get' the fast foiling AC50 and its predecessor the AC72, although sailing fans are maybe less enamored of the wingsailed catamaran type.

The strength with the AC50 and its subset - the AC45S - is that there are plenty of boats around, and tooling available to build more if required. That means there is a good second-hand market. For new teams it is now easy to get onto the entry level, by picking up a second-hand platform, getting sponsor interest in that, and being visible on the water in countries that have probably only seen AC45/50's on television.

Both the AC50 and AC45S fit into a 40ft container, so transport is easy.

There are a lot of compelling reasons for staying with the wingsailed catamaran type. The AC50's were launched only a few months before the start of the regatta, and with each team running only one boat. Even if the AC50 was used in 2021, it would be a Mark II with the refinements which will come out in the various debriefs.

The Constructed in Country rule may come back in a revised form. But with several leading boat manufacturing facilities in an around Auckland there is an argument for allowing the boats to be constructed in New Zealand, or at least supplying the necessary tooling as was done for the 2017 America's Cup. Despite having a very loose CiC rule for 2017, four teams had the AC50 built in their own country using their own builders or a commercial team. Components came from a much wider group with Core Builders Composites heavily involved.

A feature of the 35th America's Cup is that all boats were kept running even under very challenging circumstances by the Shore crews, and as was found with the last Volvo Ocean Race there is a compelling argument for having tight control on the quality of the boat construction process, so that there is much less chance of boat-breakdowns occurring, and spiling the quality of the racing.

Nationality Rule has several consequences
The Nationality Rule will also be revised to make the America's Cup a contest between 'foreign countries' as prescribed in the Deed of Gift.

The change in nationality requirements will lower the team cost, as the top sailors will not be able to play one billionaire off against another, over salary - and will be locked into a choice of one team. Or they have the option of starting their own team, or they can sail on the professional circuits outside the America's Cup, or sail in the Volvo Ocean Race - which has no nationality clause.

With the Emirates Team New Zealand win, there is now a compelling argument for current Olympic sailors to be involved in the front-line of an America's Cup campaign. With several of the wider NZ Olympic sailing squad aboard Aotearoa New Zealand and there is now no reason why sailors without previous Cup experience cannot win. Both the Olympics and America's Cup gain from having sailors involved in both events.

Much has been made about the need for visible crew functions rather than having four of the six crew turning handles with either their hands or legs to pump oil around the boat.

The easy solution to this is to allow electric powered winches - using batteries or powered by a small motor as happened in the 2010 America's Cup.

While would be nice to have the crew raising and lowering sails, but these have no use in apparent wind sailing at a speed. As we saw in the AC72 in San Francisco, the wind had to be under 10kts for a Code Zero to be effective. Otherwise you do what Oracle Team USA did in the last Cup and leave the sail ashore and its bowsprit too.

One of the features of the 35th America's Cup regatta was that J-class racing and also the Red Bull Youth America's Cup were part of the AC Regatta program.

Sorry, but the J-class are not a contemporary America's Cup boat. They are spectacular to photograph, but watching the giant keelboats race is not compelling viewing. The America's Cup is a yacht race not dressage.

Similarly, with the Red Bull Youth America's Cup - the event does have a big role to play in bringing new sailors into the America's Cup. But compared to the AC50, the all manually crewed boats look slow - even though there is plenty going on for the sailing crew.

Stadium sailing not an imperative
Much is talked about the need for stadium sailing. San Francisco presented a better stadium than Bermuda. In the 34th America's Cup, shoreside spectators could see the whole course. In Bermuda, they could see the last leg (from the leeward mark to the finish), and maybe the boats sailing part of the course at a distance. The rest they watched on big screens.

Sure they had excellent commentary and the sound of the crowd cheering loudly when any team was ahead of Emirates Team NZ was disconcerting when the water in front of the stadium was empty and the AC50s could just be seen way up the other end of the course.

Before and after the racing there was a big entertainment program running in the America's Cup Village - it had a massive party atmosphere. Often you would wonder if the America's Cup racing was just the warm-up act for the concert and entertainment.

Racing should not be held on the inner Waitemata. There is not enough room. This is the America's Cup not tiddlywinks or some spectator dictated entertainment show.

The America's Cup should be about sailing at its finest.

Holding the AC racing on the inner Waitemata is akin to holding the New Zealand Golf Open on Queen Street. It might give the fans and easy (and free) view, but isn't good Golf.

The racing should be held off Takapuna Beach - so those who want to see it live can do so, and the course is close to the 2000-2003 America's Cup course area.

Those who want entertainment and Dock-Out and Dock-In show can do it in the Viaduct Harbour - watching the racing on the big screens, with a great commentary aimed at the Village based spectators, and enjoy the entertainment when there is no racing.

Auckland's North Head does not work as a vantage point. Who wants to spend two hours each way in traffic getting to Devonport to watch two short races (currently of less than 20 minutes each)? That is less than half a game in Rugby. Fans might do it once - but each of 30 days of an America's Cup regatta??

We saw the AC72 racing off Takapuna in February 2013 when Luna Rossa lined up against Emirates Team New Zealand - and it was stunning. There is no need to go further out to the course used in 2000 and 2003.

The Viaduct Harbour is well positioned for getting crowds in and out of the City - being within walking distance of ferries and trains.

The three level Viaduct Events Centre is an obvious place to base the media and administration, and maybe house team and sponsor displays in its lower level.

AC Class dictates base options
Where the team bases are to be located, depends on the boat selection. The AC50/72 type have a big footprint - with hangars, corporate hospitality and cranes required to launch the wingsailed catamarans.

The big advantage with monohulls is that a travel lift can be used for launching and retrieval, but even so, a crane is still required to pull the rig.

But all that is in the future. What is essential in the interim is that the Kiwi politicians and others lift their eyes, stop thinking along outdated lines of 20 years ago and look ahead as to what is possible with this America's Cup event, both in the interests of New Zealand and the Sport.

The event needs to link and share with World Sailing and other major events, without being dictated by them.

World Sailing President Kim Andersen and CEO Andy Hunt were both in Bermuda for the Cup and should have a good idea of how World Sailing can dove-tail with the America's Cup

New Zealand has a huge opportunity, being the only country other than the USA to have won the Cup, lost it and then won it back. Even better it will be returning to the same City that staged two America's Cups

New Zealanders also permeate the existing Cup structure at all levels, and there is no shortage of expertise. Those people need to be listened to very carefully indeed, along with those who were involved in the organisation of the Bermuda event.

Now is not the time for dogma and political point scoring - just do what is best for New Zealand and the Challengers for the Cup - but without compromising the event so much that the Defender cannot win.

Integrity is a key word to govern the next Cup, so are Vision and Transparency.

Doyle-Foiler-660x82  NZ siteBailey InsuranceSouthern Spars - 100