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America's Cup - Team NZ rebuilds from just four in sailing team

by Richard Gladwell/ NZL on 16 Jun 2015
Emirates Team NZ sailing team - Glenn Ashby, Ray Davies, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke Emirates Team New Zealand
Emirates Team New Zealand are on a crew search and selection ahead of the first regatta in the America's Cup World Series, to be staged in Plymouth. UK in July.

The teams website lists just four sailors following the departure of grinders Winston Macfarlane, Derek Saward, and bowman/trimmer Jeremy Lomas. Chief Designer, Nick Holroyd also departed about the same time.

Recruiters for Softbank Team Japan, now headed by former skipper Dean Barker, are believed to be active in Auckland.

After not winning the 34th America's Cup, there were widespread calls in New Zealand for new blood to be bought into the New Zealand America's Cup team, that process was started in January 2013 with the introduction of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke to the sailing squad and the forging of a partnership with Yachting New Zealand, instead of the previous distant relationship.

Five sailors are required to sail in the AC45F, the foiling one design to be used in the Portsmouth series and other regattas in the ACWS. The AC48 requires six sailors, plus others if there is to be crew rotation and reserves.

Two of the sailing squad, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have just won their 17th consecutive 49er class regatta in Weymouth,, along the southern England coast from Portsmouth, but will be returning to New Zealand for a week before returning to UK and the start of a full on sailing program until the end of September.

Emirates Team New Zealand is believed to be looking at the two crews who placed first and second in the Red Bull Youth America's Cup sailed in San Francisco is the primary source for talent to bring into their sailing team. Also expected to come into consideration are NZL Sailing Team members once the requirements for the 2016 Olympic Team are better defined, with a year left to run to the Rio Regatta. Young Kiwi sailors coming out of the Volvo Ocean Race, could also be an option.

(Two hours after Sail-World published this story Emirates Team NZ released a story - click here to read - with further details of the crew selection and sailing team replenishment, confirming many of the points in this story.)

Emirates Team New Zealand now has a good working relationship with the NZL Sailing team, which to date appears to have worked well for parties. Prior to this America's Cup cycle the New Zealand national sailing body was criticised because it had no real relationship with what was perceived to be New Zealand's premier professional sailing team. The joining/sharing of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke between the two teams seems to have been very well managed and sets the scene for others to work in both theatres and other sailing events.

Olympic selectors have to make a difficult choice when there are multiple options for an Olympic team - where only one crew can be nominated. The choice falling between the benefits of selecting early, and freeing up the successful crew to focus on their Olympics or leaving the selection process to run for a longer time, and picking the crew or sailors that seem to be in the best form leading up to the Olympic Regatta.

Following poor performances in the 1996-2004 Olympic era and to a lesser extent in 2008, there has been a preference to select early, as is often done in Rowing. World single scull champion Mahe Drysdale attributed his winning of just a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics to being forced to undergo a selection trial and having to taper to that in February 2012. He believed that he would have been in a much better position to win the Gold medal had he been able to focus his preparation solely on the Olympics in July 2012 instead of running a split physical buildup program.

The dilemma with the NZ Olympic yachting selection situation is that there are multiple crews finishing in the top ten in Sailing World Cup events. There is further incentive to release crews not required for the 2016 Olympic team, and allow these to work with Emirates Team NZ, if required. The multiple crew Olympic options occur in the Laser, 49er and Finn classes. The physical attributes required to sail all of these classes overlay well into the America's Cup team.

While some look askance at the departures from Emirates Team New Zealand, calculations after the last America's Cup showed that only two of the sailing squad on the AC72 would be under the age of 40 years by the 2017 America's Cup, and the current turn-over in the team was both predictable and expected. An All Black rugby team comprising of mainly over 40-year-old plus players would be the subject of wide derision, and with the reduction in size of the boat for the next America's Cup to just 48ft, along with smaller total crews, the options to carry older crew in the afterguard will vanish. Few would now argue that the physical requirements and fitness are any less in the America's Cup, than in other international sport, and the age of crews is expected to reduce accordingly.

The Portsmouth ACWS will comprise of just two days of fleet racing of two races per day, plus a one day preview series, and it may be that Emirates Team New Zealand trial two new crew in the foiling AC45's.

Ahead of that series will be the requirement for the America's Cup Events Authority to get its house in order in terms of Racing Rules, reaching an accommodation with the International Sailing Federation and getting an Arbitration Panel appointed.

The ACWS events are clearly part of the America's Cup Regatta, as it counts in small way for Challenger Selection and is specified in the Protocol as such. The ACWS is therefore are covered by special Regulations of the world sailing body which is required to sanction the regatta and some of its arrangements to ensure fair play and consistency. Other arrangements including financial are also required.

If the regatta proceeded without the sanction of the ISAF, then it could be declared an unsanctioned event by the ISAF, and that would have implications for sailors who competed.

There is no formal announcement as to a relationship with the Italian Luna Rossa Challenge, however it is expected that the New Zealand America's Cup team will interact in some way with the self-suspended Italian team which has two foiling AC45's and other America's Cup gear which would be useful to the now-reduced budget Kiwi team as it builds to its ninth America's Cup campaign.

Team New Zealand cuts a lonely figure in current America's Cup circles - with it not being involved in the gear, design and personnel sharing that has riddled the 35th America's Cup, and which has seen the Defender cross traditional lines to work closely with first time Challengers.

The Italian team, who are very popular in New Zealand have little in common with the Challenger ranks that they left, after the switching of the AC62 to the smaller AC48 some nine months after the announcement of the open design 62fter for a one-design AC48. The Italians had established a substantial training bases in Cagliari, Italy and engaged a team of 80. Additionally they were due to host two events in the America's Cup World Series circuit in 2015 and 2016. All that has been wiped with the decision mainly of the first time Challengers to switch to the smaller boat, against the wishes of the Italians team who were also Challenger of Record and had held the right of approval on Protocol Changes.

It is therefore unlikely that the Italians would release gear and boats to other Teams, with the exception of Team New Zealand - who publicly supported the Italian position, and were rewarded with the withdrawal of the America's Cup Qualifiers by the America's Cup Events Authority within a few hours of the Kiwis announcing their support for Luna Rossa in the social media.

That in turn triggered the withdrawal of NZ Government financial support for the team, which had been predicated on hosting the Qualifier in Auckland, and the loss of that funding line, and cash flow triggered numerous other adjustments to the team's strategy and budgets. The most significant being the departure of long-time skipper, Dean Barker, and other changes in the sailing team structure - some of which, due to the age of the sailors were expected anyway. However, they would have been offered new roles in a bigger team than at present, rather than leaving the team entirely. Pay reductions are also believed to be an issue.

Team NZ CEO, Grant Dalton is believed to be in Italy, whether that is related to any deal with Luna Rossa or on an entirely unrelated matter is not known. Team sources would not comment on or off the record to, late last week.

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