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America's Cup: Exclusive interview with Malta Altus team boss

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com 6 Dec 12:09 PST 7 December 2018

The first late entry team who has challenged for the 2021 America’s Cup on an unconditional basis, has been accepted.

The Notice of Challenge has been filed by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, a first time Challenger, who will be represented by Malta Altus Challenge. It has accepted by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

The team is backed and led by Pasquale Cataldi - an Italian who lives in Malta, founder and CEO of Altus S.r.il. a multinational real state and development company.

"I'm not a sailor, " Mr Cataldi told Sail-World NZ. "So these past months have been a very accelerated education process for me to learn more about the intricacies of the America’s Cup."

The project has been making headway since the beginning of September. Several well known America's Cup sailors are being linked by the Italian and European with the new team, however Sail-World has been unable to get confirmation from those concerned, including oblique denials.

After Luna Rossa was confirmed as the Challenger of Record, several Italian groups have been promoted as actively assembling second and third Italian challenges. One of these was Sardinia based Andelasia Challenge, promoted by Renato Azara, who approached Pasquale Cataldi for backing.

"We had a couple of meetings but I did not agree with the way the campaign was going to be structured, so we parted ways," he explains.

"But the America's Cup appealed to me and I asked Niccolò Porzio (a Sports Events Specialist based in Valencia with previous America's Cup experience), and my Italian lawyer to continue with putting a Challenge together in a way that I believe is viable."

"The America's Cup is a global event, and it is one of the most important sports events in the world. It is a good fit with my business, Altus. A lot of what we do at Altus is centered around lifestyle, sport and hospitality which we have and will be expanding further under the Altus brand around the world."

Formula E experience

Pasquale Cataldi owned a Formula E racing team for two years, a sport that is similar to the America's Cup with its mix of technology, design and sporting talent. "It was a great experience. Like the America's Cup, Formula E is a global event and requires great teamwork to achieve success.”

Although the campaign is off to a late start and the team is well aware that the America's Cup has only been won by a first-time team once in its 160 years of competition, there is a longer term vision for this challenge.

“Our goal is to do three editions of the America's Cup. If you want to build a strong team, then you need to commit to three America's Cup cycles. I think everyone in this edition is in it for the long-term. We have a new class, so the game is level for everybody, and the differences are not so much,” he explained.

Royal Malta Yacht Club is one of the oldest and most celebrated yacht clubs in the world, famous for running the annual Rolex Middle Sea Race. Royal Malta sits very comfortably in the prestigious league of the existing Challenger and Defender clubs.

The challenge had been made without any condition in terms of the America's Cup Protocol and as a result was able to pass the vetting process of the Trustee, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, quickly.

Now the smallest nation to challenge

With the challenge is officially accepted, Malta (with a population under 500,000) becomes the smallest country to challenge for the America's Cup taking over the mantle that for the past 30 years has belonged to New Zealand.

Pasquale Cataldi hopes for a very positive reaction of the Maltese people to the America's Cup Challenge, which he expects to lift Malta's profile within the European nations, of which it is a member.

With several thousand years of maritime history, Malta will be only the second European nation to have a foiling AC75 monohull flying through its waters - against the stunning backdrop of high walled marine fortresses and citadels dating back to 1450 BC.

Government backing took 10 days

As in New Zealand, the Maltese Government is supportive of the Maltese challenge. Malta has the unique advantage of being part of the British Commonwealth and a member of the European Union.

"The Maltese Government has been incredible," says Mr Cataldi. "They have fully understood the potential of this project. They have worked quickly. In only ten days we signed a Letter of Understanding. We are honoured to represent this country," he adds.

“The Malta Altus Challenge project is a very exciting one for Malta,” said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. “We look forward to cooperate further to see this vision become a reality.”

Under Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Malta's thriving economy has been going from success to success. Dr Muscat is a strong supporter of the America's Cup challenge as he sees this very high profile venture to lift the island nation's profile in tourism, gaming, yachting and blockchain technology, in which Pasquale Cataldi also has business interests.

Malta is promoting itself as "The Blockchain Island" and in early November hosted the first of a series of Blockchain Summits which attracted just under 6,000 delegates and 300 exhibitors centred around the Blockchain software technology.

Single AC75

For an effort which has been running only for a couple of months, the Malta Altus Challenge is still building a team geared around the plan of launching a surrogate test boat - similar to that currently being used by the American Magic challenge from the New York Yacht Club. Malta Altus Challenge expect to launch a single AC75 and to have a team size of 70-80. The team will be running on a smaller budget than the other three Challengers for their single AC75 yacht.

The new team says it is looking to the Defender, Team New Zealand, for inspiration in this regard, working smarter rather than throwing money at every problem.

"We don't want a very large team, because we need to stay focused on what we need to do. We are very clear about this. We can work very well with a team size of 70-80," Pasquale Cataldi explains.

"The approach is to get the key people into their roles and then the people in charge will decide exactly what we need, based on the time available and the budget," says Niccolò Porzio. "We want the right people to make the right decisions."

On the record, Malta Altus Challenge will not name team members. "Without Niccolò Porzio, Reuben Xuereb and Adriano Cefai I could not have assembled the good team we have now," Mr Cataldi explains. "We have started late, and I cannot name our sailing and design team at this time. What I can say is that the team will be presented early in 2019, in Malta. But believe me, we will have a strong team."

NZ presence from Day 1

One person they will confirm is Dr. Hamish Ross (NZL), a long time America's Cup rules adviser to several America's Cup winning teams as well as having been involved in various America's Cup related rules activities.

Ross has also been doubling as the MAC representative in New Zealand, handling various logistics associated with setting up in New Zealand. The team expects to arrive at the 36th America's Cup venue after the final America's Cup World Series regatta in October/November 2020.

"He's our man in New Zealand," says Mr Cataldi.

Pasquale Cataldi also indicated that the Maltese team would be purchasing a basic AC75 design package from Emirates Team New Zealand.

"We will be doing everything possible to make up for the lost time to allow our team to be competitive,” says Mr Cataldi.

"We are exploring that option with Emirates Team New Zealand', says Niccolò Porzio. "It would make a lot of sense."

“I have a good relationship with Grant [Dalton], even though we are a Challenger," says Mr Cataldi. “To be honest it is a good relationship. I met him in Florence a few months ago and I really respect him.”

“We should add that the Trustee and Defender have assisted us as much as possible we certainly appreciate that," says Niccolò Porzio. "It is part of their fiduciary responsibility, but not always easy considering the amount of requests they get from prospective teams.”

Reciprocal rights

The Trustee, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has a long standing reciprocal yacht club relationship with the Royal Malta Yacht Club and it will be an opportunity for old friends to get together again in the spirit of the Deed of Gift.

While the Protocol does have some tough aspects for new teams, the Malta Altus Challenge has not asked for any changes.

One of those is the "constructed in country" rule, which stems from the Deed of Gift, and will require the team to set up a boat building facility in Malta to build at least the hull of the AC75.

“It will be a good synergy with the Maltese industry and our project,” Pasquale Cataldi explains. Malta does have a strong superyacht servicing and marine industry, and the Challenge is expecting to take these resources to another level of capability.

Local crew selection

The requirements of the Protocol around sailing crew having to be either Maltese nationals or living for 380 days in Malta will be another challenge for the late starting team.

MAC will be working with Royal Malta Yacht Club to identify, select and train the nationals - of which there must be at least three on the AC75 race boat.

“The objective is to win the America's Cup with a crew of Maltese sailors. To achieve this we must grow a new generation of Maltese sailors to sail the boats, or should I say, aeroplanes. This will not happen with a single Challenge, which is why I am looking at three consecutive Challenges,” says Pasquale Cataldi.

“I am looking forward to coming to New Zealand which has built for itself an unbelievable reputation for sailing on the world stage. I have heard it is a beautiful country with friendly people and the whole Team is looking forward to living there.”

The details of the sailing team are expected to be announced in early January 2019.

On Thursday, Emirates Team New Zealand advised that they had a second late Challenge that was unconditional, and two others had conditions attached which may be accepted.

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