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Time starts drawing thin for teams preparing for the 36th America's Cup

by David Schmidt 19 Mar 11:00 PDT March 19, 2019
Flying's the only way to travel - the Mule heads out for a training session - NYYC American Magic - Pensacola, Florida - February 2019 © Amory Ross

While the sailing world has been distracted by Caribbean regattas and the rather unsavory revelation that Stanford University's former sailing coach has pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges, the 36th America's Cup, which is set to unfurl in just two years time, is quietly hoving into view. While 2021 might still seem like a long way off, for the teams involved time is now likely as critical a resource as funding and personnel. And for some of the newer teams, time truly matters most as they work to build their design and sailing programs from the ground up.

Solving the crazy-looking physics problems that define the AC75 class, which will be used to contest "AC36", would be hard enough for most top designers. But the added pressures of competing on an America's Cup racecourse against teams such as Emirates Team New Zealand, the Defender and a squad known for pulling design magic out of their hat, while also racing the clock, helps creates the kind of drama that makes the Cup great.

"Not even close, we could use four [more years]," says Terry Hutchinson, American Magic's skipper and a veteran Cup racer, in an official press release, when asked if the remaining timeframe is sufficient. "Every single day is already accounted for as we work and prepare for the 36th America's Cup."

Others agree. "Normally if you manage your America's Cup properly you run out of time at the same time you run out of money," said Grant Simmer, a four-time America's Cup winner and CEO of INEOS Team UK. "You can sometimes find more money, but you can never find more time. So, managing time is a critical part of the program and this Cup is like any other - you have to time your developments to come online right at the end of the Cup."

This past week, the America's Cup Arbitration Panel determined that the three last-minute entries - Malta Altus Challenge, DutchSail and Stars & Stripes Team USA are valid. The trouble for these teams, however, is that valuable time was lost during this arbitration process, and worries have now emerged that this time pressure could force Malta Altus Challenge out of the competition two years before the first warning guns even begin sounding.

As for the other two latecomer teams, the Defender and the Challenger of Record (Circolo della Vela Sicilia, which is being represented by Luna Rosa Challenge) are now working with DutchSail and Stars & Stripes Team USA to help them attain their goals of racing in 2021. And while these teams will be under enormous pressure, both on the sailing side and on the design side, both of these programs are staffed with some of the world's best.

And, in the case of Stars & Stripes Team USA, the team has been employing some interesting social-media tryout requirements, which are also helping to burnish the team's media profile and adding an entertainment component for fans.

Also, in an interesting twist, the America's Cup Arbitration Panel found that teams need to pay their eye-watering entry fees only before the first AC36 race, and these monies do not need to change hands in order for a team to be considered a challenger.

As with most things America's Cup, there's a thick veil of secrecy surrounding most teams, however American Magic has been gaining valuable experience aboard their "Mule", which they have been sailing on the waters off of Pensacola, Florida, during the winter months. Better still for Cup fans, American Magic has offered some great video and image-based glimpses into their training and design programs.

"Everything that we are doing is developing either our Mule boat, or boat 1 or boat 2," said Hutchinson. "There are so many items that are coming at us and so many choices that we are going to have to make as we work through this process, that you can easily see that as we develop our equipment, our sails, our foils that every day is going to be occupied."

So, while two years might seem like a long time for anyone in need of a proper America's Cup fix, it's a tiny sliver of time when placed in the context of creating the kind of greatness needed to win the America's Cup.

Game on!

May the four winds blow you safely home.
David Schmidt

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