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Gladwell's Line: Burling & Tuke back in business as Cup rumbles

by Richard Gladwell, 5 Feb 05:39 PST 6 February 2019
Peter Burling up nice and high - 49er - and Day 3 - Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta, February 2019 © Michael Brown, Yachting New Zealand

With just five weeks gone in the year, 2019 has seen plenty of sailing action - in New Zealand at least - with two World Championships, and a third to start later this week. Plus Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta, the 83 boat OK Nationals, and Sailing World Cup Miami. While the America's Cup scene looks to be quiet, that is not the case.

A lot of the focus at the Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta was on the performance of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. They returned to the 49er after a 30-month absence, in which they managed to fit in an America's Cup win and a lap around the Blue Planet in the Volvo Ocean Race.

It would have taken a lot of courage to bet against the current Olympic and America's Cup Champions not winning the three day long, 11 race, 49er event which attracted a 16 boat fleet from New Zealand, Australia and Korea. The Olympic Gold and Silver medalists won in style - winning six races and only twice being out of the top three in the series.

With the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 Worlds and Olympic Qualifier being staged in Auckland in late 2019, the series gave the sailors and race management a good look at the water for the worlds. There are a few issues to be addressed.

Fast ferries rip through the course en route to Waiheke creating some very solid, closely grouped wakes, which even forced our very solid RIB to reduce speed. The breeze can be very shifty and patchy - essentially the race area is land-locked - meaning that there are some significant shifts and changes in pressure.

For race management obviously, the area is a challenge.

The standout feature of Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta was the size and standard of the 49er fleet, with the numbers being lifted by international entries, and new Kiwi crews coming into the class.

One of the very encouraging aspects of the junior, youth and early 20's sailing scene is the way the sailors are sailing multiple classes, and stepping up into classes which are a challenge. Previously they would have stayed locked into age-group sailing in the belief that they improve with age, and pretending that getting bigger and heavier won't slow them at all.

It was great to see a lot of young sailors lining up against the top sailors - maybe they weren't going to win, but over the coming months leading into the 2019 Worlds they will learn a lot - and that has to set them up well for their future sailing careers - inside or outside the Olympic classes.

In the same vein, it was great to see Helena Sanderson and Jack Honey from the Bay of Islands out sailing in the Tornado Worlds off Takapuna a couple of weeks ago, and this weekend winning the Nacra 15 class which is also a Youth Worlds selection event.

Back in 1976, following a poor performance in the Montreal Olympics, Peter Montgomery and Don St Clair Brown had the idea of starting Air New Zealand Olympic Week. The idea was to lift the standard of New Zealand Olympic sailing with a trip to the class worlds for all winners in the Olympic class events.

At the next Olympics [that NZ sailors attended] in 1984, the Kiwis bounced back with two Gold medals and a Bronze, and that annual regatta set the scene for Olympic success in 1984, 1988 and 1992 - and total a medal haul of 10 medals - four of them Gold. That was a big improvement on the previous three Olympic regattas, where New Zealand had not won a single medal.

Sure you need the talent coming through, but it is events like the former Air New Zealand Olympic Week and Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta that help hone the edge on that talent, without the expense and logistics of overseas travel.

Plus you can't measure the impact of having the Youth classes competing on the same water and ashore as their Olympic heroes.

Can you imagine what it must feel like as a young sailor in a 29er sitting waiting for their start, and having the likes of Blair Tuke and Peter Burling zipping through their fleet in the 49er? It's a very powerful motivational experience - and much more potent than listening to an entertaining speech at a club or coaching function. Hopefully the Olympic sailors go and have a chat with the Youth sailors nearby after the racing and pass on a few tips.

For young sailors, being on the water and sailing the same course, and maybe the same fleet as the Olympic veterans, helps you feel part of the same peer group, even though you are a very junior member. It an environment in which you'll always learn, and never forget.

That is the good side.

Sadly, ashore the focus is slowly shifting to the antics of the panjandrums of World Sailing and their agenda to change the shape of Olympic Sailing. The first drumbeats of that dirge are being heard with the announcement of the single-handed dinghy trials, in Valencia, with four boats trialling to take the spot currently occupied by the now 43 year Laser and Laser Radial. While the Laser is part of that four boat trial, one cannot dismiss World Sailing's current fetish with "Activation" - or how they can make money out of Olympic class selection.

When the World Sailing President makes comments like: "If we had equipment in there like the offshore program, as a sponsor, we could activate an offshore program, but we cannot activate on a Finn or a 470 or a Laser," then you get a very good idea of the direction of travel, and the fact that eight classes/events are slated for review should surprise no-one.

Surprisingly there were only two New Zealand Laser competitors in the five-strong Laser class event in the weekend (but the Laser Nationals attracted a fleet of 50 in the Standard rig (Open and Masters) and a total of 115 entries in all rigs).

Maybe that 115 entry number gives an idea of the price to the sailors of World Sailing's "Activation" agenda.

In the past week, there has been comment coming from the sailors and coaches from Sailing World Cup Miami, the first SWC since World Sailing's Annual Conference in November, and Event decision which effectively dropped the Finn out of the mix and means no dinghy event for 85kg plus males.

The buzz from Europe is that the process of inviting information for the new offshore keelboat class is getting underway, and preliminary discussion have already been held with manufacturers.

It remains to be seen whether the International Olympic Committee will be enamoured with the prospect of having boats with beds in the 2024 Olympics.

If Lausanne believes that a keelboat costing $250,000 a pop and jammed with media gear is the way to go for the Summer Olympics, why not bring in Car Rallying in as an Olympic sport? The Activation possibilities on the "Olympic Car" would be eye watering.

Hopefully wiser heads will prevail and save World Sailing from itself.

Talk of having a sponsored Olympic offshore keelboat fleet is not realistic. There is no free lunch - someone has to pay somewhere and somehow.

Of course, the new Offshore event will be open to aged but wealthy weekend warriors who can afford the offshore boat, but wouldn't have a hope of achieving selection in any of the current Olympic classes. Maybe their wealth extends to be able to pay for a top offshore professional sailor on their boat and enhance their Medal chances. They will also have to put up with the drug testing and compliance regimes that are an unfortunate but necessary part of Olympic competition.

Yes, there's a lot of water to go under the Olympic bridge on this one.

Under the surface of the America's Cup

On the America's Cup front, we have another in the AC Rialto series, which looks various happenings around the America's Cup. This latest one one looks at a Protocol interpretation on the always vexed issue of Nationality. The effect is that a tight rule has been eased, and it will work better for some teams than others.

From the Challenger of Record and Defender's perspective, at least they have tried to put in a mechanism to control an aspect of the Cup which has created a negative impression of the event over the last couple of decades.

Short of trying to analyse and equalise several nation's passport and nationality issuance policies, they can do no more than has been done. Teams that are genuine national teams can play up this theme to their advantage, and there is no doubt the event has turned a significant corner in this respect.

There are still unanswered questions on several issues relating to the 36th America's Cup and its buildup event, the America's Cup World Series. We look at these in the AC Rialto story, which also has an update on the progress with America's Cup base development in downtown Auckland.

While these issues may cause some grinding of gunnels within the Challenger of Record and Defender ranks, to date no-one has written the Perfect Protocol. They are living documents, shaped around the teams that enter - and need to find a position that works for everybody, not just the majority. That is not an easy process.

These issues do require careful consideration so that there is not a repeat of 2003, when Alinghi was allowed to enter under the auspices of a yacht club that did not have "for its annual regatta on the ocean water course on the sea, or on an arm of the sea, or on which combines both..." as later defined by the New York Supreme Court on the dispute over first Challenger, the hapless CNEV for the 33rd America's Cup.

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