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Gladwell's Line: Stars & Stripes resonates with fanbase

by Richard Gladwell/ 17 Dec 2018 15:17 PST
Taylor Canfield beats rival America's Cup Challenger in the Final of the 2018 Congressional Cup at Long Beach Yacht Club © Bronny Daniels

Last Thursday's announcement that the fifth accepted Challenge for the America's Cup would carry the name "Stars & Stripes" received quite a remarkable reception from the New Zealand media, and indeed worldwide.

The familiar name provided a vital connection back to the two America's Cups in Auckland where "Mr America's Cup", Dennis Conner sailed "Stars & Stripes" in 2000 and 2003.

For the non-sailing public, the name of the boat that kept KZ-7 out of the America's Cup Match in 1987, in Fremantle still had a very familiar ring.

It was a marketing masterstroke - one of those pieces of serendipity, which got the new Challenge through the critical lift-off phase.

Maybe that was because Stars & Stripes had featured in six America's Cups, starting with the win in Fremantle, and continuing into the wingsailed catamaran that defeated Michael Fay's 130ft monohull in the MisMatch of 1988, and was then carried by another four International America's Cup Class (IACC) race boats through to 2003.

Auckland in 2003 was Conner's swansong from the America's Cup when his team was eliminated from the Quarter Finals Repechage - by OneWorld who in turn was beaten by BMW Oracle in the Semi-Finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

It was a generous call by Conner to allow the boat name that became synonymous with the four-time winner of the America's Cup, to continue into a new era for the Cup.

Even better that he allowed it to be taken over by a young team - headed up by a 29yr old and 32yr old.

The former Team USA 21 challenger has made all the right calls so far - of which asking over lunch to be allowed to use the Stars & Stripes name was a masterstroke.

Taylor Canfield and Mike Buckley present a desperately needed young and fresh approach to the Cup.

In the Dennis Conner style, they are taking a commercial approach to funding their Challenge. A billionaire backer would have been a nice safety net - but as one of the founders, Mike Buckley told Sail-World back in May they, like several others, wish to emulate the Emirates Team New Zealand model.

That note seems to have resonated well with their US audience, who have taken a shine to the Stars & Stripes "All-American" mantra.

Those two simple words seem to have been the release valve on a decade of built-up frustration created by US sailors being the exception rather than the rule on the US-flagged Ellison fleet. Those ten years or so have covered the IACC 75ft monohull, the 120ft trimaran, the AC72 and AC50 foiling catamarans.

In the 2007 America's Cup Regatta in Valencia there were just four US nationals (including Ellison) in the 37 strong sailing team. The practice reached its zenith in 2017, with only one US passport holder being the minimum required on the Sailing crew.

Their fellow US Challenger American Magic has opted for a multi-national crew - including the recruitment of Dean Barker (NZL) with six America's Cup campaigns in his log book. But they do have a far bigger proportion of US Nationals in their team than the Ellison era.

Against that backdrop, maybe it's not too hard to see why the Stars & Stripes All-American approach to the recruitment of sailing talent is being greeted with more than just a few "atta boys".

As Dennis Conner mentioned in his Facebook interview in this edition, he too only sailed with an All-American crew in each of his none America's Cup campaigns.

Running with Long Beach Yacht Club is another good move. Particularly with helmsman/skipper Taylor Canfield being a four-time winner of LBYC's signature regatta, the Congressional Cup.

Anyone who has been to Long Beach YC will know the pride the club has in the Congressional Cup - which is the premier event in match racing - regardless of whether it is part or not of the World Match Racing Tour. Quite rightfully the Club has been uncompromising with the organization and style of its premier event - which is why the Congressional Cup has survived as the beacon of the match racing scene.

This America's Cup Challenge will be the first for LBYC who invented match racing. The formula being picked up by Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron with its Citizen Cup, which later becoming the Steinlager Cup. The RNZYS event was sailed on sailed on what will be one of the two main race areas for the 36th America's Cup - Course C - running either side of North Head.

Long Beach YC were also the first to run a match racing event using on the water umpires, and worked up the basics of the system that is now in common use today. In fact it seems bizarre now to imagine that a match racing event could be run with protest hearings extending well into the night.

It is surprising then with the America's Cup having "borrowed" so much from the Congressional Cup, that the Long Beach YC has not previously been involved in the America's Cup.

While the young Stars & Stripes team may lack for some of the years of experience of the other teams, they have made some very good moves - which could well pay a big dividend with sponsors and backers further down the campaign trail.

Fortune favours the brave in the America's Cup as well as elsewhere.

Hopefully, the new Stars & Stripes team and program will encourage others to put together programs in the future for the America's Cup, but also "The Ocean Race" as the Volvo Ocean Race has been renamed.

Challenger "update"

Little is known of the status of the other six Notices of Challenge received.

We were told at the Auckland Council Governing Body meeting two weeks ago that there were two Challenges that were unconditional - which proved to be first-time challengers Royal Malta YC and Long Beach YC.

Then there was a group of four, who had conditions - which implied that some Protocol changes might be required - but otherwise were capable of being accepted.

That left two, which by implication probably had issues meeting the Protocol and Deed of Gift requirements to be a legitimate yacht club, and one entitled to have a Challenge accepted for the 36th America's Cup.

Under the Deed of Gift, and Protocol there is no such thing as a conditional Challenge. If your club complies with the Deed of Gift, and Protocol - provided that the Protocol does not over-ride the provisions of the Deed of Gift, then the Challenge has to be accepted by the Defender. Any pre-Conditions get negotiated after entry via the limited Mutual Consent provisions of the Deed of Gift. The Challenger may not want to enter under those terms - but that is their call - not the Defender and certainly not the Challenger of Record's.

Approaches by Sail-World NZ to the Challenger of Record organisation and one of the believed Challengers drew a polite "No comment".

It would be expected that Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Emirates Team New Zealand would be trying to accept all the Challenges that comply. The Deed of Gift is very clear that a Defender cannot do otherwise, and trying to cherry pick Challenges can expect an expensive response in the New York Supreme Court or at best the Arbitration Panel for the 36th America's Cup.

The Defender's stated intention was to have the Challenges resolved by Christmas/end of December.

Time is marching on, and with Stars & Stripes declaring they will probably be a two-boat team (therefore requiring a double base), it would seem that there is no room at the Wynyard Point Inn - as it is currently configured.

A Race renamed

The other significant news of the week is the announcements around the next edition of "The Ocean Race" - the new name for the former Volvo Ocean Race, formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race.

The IMOCA class has made necessary class rule changes which will facilitate fully crewed boats as well as short-handed, it is hoped that the VO65 one design fleet will once again all race in their own Division. Six of the boats have been mothballed, the other two are privately owned. The talk is of 10-15 IMOCA60's being on the startline in late 2021. That could make a 20 boat fleet with the VO65's included.

Frankly the new name doesn't spin our wheels.

We hear that there will probably not be a sponsor embedded in the event name as Volvo and Whitbread were - in an attempt to open up the sponsorship for the teams.

Some feel that other car makers were constrained from being involved in the Volvo Ocean Race, however Steinlager 2 did win the Whitbread Round the World Race and others were involved that had conflicting sponsorships. Prada has been heavily involved in the Louis Vuitton Cup over several editions.

It would be more meaningful if The Ocean Race were entitled the "World Ocean Race" or they picked up the event's original old title of "Round the World Race" sans Whitbread. World Ocean Race - is an easy acronym (WOR). And Round the World Race says a little about the event's heritage.

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