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America's Cup: Plenty of options for DutchSail ahead of AC37

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 7 Jul 14:46 PDT 8 July 2019
DutchSail founder Simeon Tienpont will be looking a few options for the team over the coming months, aiming for a tilt at AC37. © James Blake / Volvo Ocean Race

Double America's Cup winner and Volvo Ocean Race 24 hour record holder Simeon Tienpont says he will take a few weeks to consider his options, but ultimately he is "still very passionate about the America's Cup and trying to get a Dutch Challenge together."

He spoke with Sail-World a couple of days after announcing that the fledgling team DutchSail would not be continuing with its Challenge for the 36th America's Cup.

"I truly hope that Team New Zealand can successfully Defend it, and I'll keep building on a Challenge for the 37th America's Cup," he says.

"There are still opportunities for Holland to join, and I will keep pushing to make it happen here, at the other end of the world."

DutchSail would seem to be plenty of options - a shot at the 2021/22 edition of The Ocean Race, where Tienpont says he would rather have a crack at the new fully crewed IMOCA60 class, rather than a repeat in the one design VO65 class.

A SailGP entry for 2020/21 would look to be a good starting option for DutchSail, who in that regard would follow in the footsteps of Australia SailGP team, which joined the circuit after skipper Tom Slingsby tried unsuccessfully for several months to put together an Australian America's Cup Challenge.

"If I ever get the opportunity again to compete in The Ocean Race, I would take it, because I need to win it!", Tienpont laughs. "That plus having not been able to put an America's Cup team together. That's two frustrations I still have to get away from in the sailing world!"

"For the Ocean Race (formerly the Volvo Ocean Race) I prefer the fully crewed IMOCA60. If we can put such a team together in The Netherlands, there would always be interest and from some of our stakeholders. "

"But I can assure you that in the last six months we have been full-on with the America's Cup. We have tried with everything we have to get that campaign going. So we haven't been focussed anywhere else at all."

"The ambition is to keep looking forward to the next America's Cup, and if there is an ocean race coming along somewhere, that would be great to consider. But at the moment I have to rearrange my thinking, and see how the future shapes up."

As was disclosed on July 1, despite pitching the price of the title sponsorship for the America's Cup Challenge at about the same level as the sponsorship of his Volvo Ocean Race entry, DutchSail had plenty of interest, but time was too short.

"The biggest challenge for us was to get the title sponsorship together. If we had secured the title sponsorship we would have been full ahead," he says ruefully.

"We had plenty of suppliers and corporates who had committed to the campaign in the early stages, but it took time to find the "umbrella" /title sponsor. "

"Six months time has been proven to be too short to get a title sponsor".

Crowdfunding defended

Many in the media were quick to mock the Crowdfunding approach, which sought to raise €2.4million from pledges by 1,000 supporters.

"The crowdfunding program was a good idea," Tienpont says in its defence. "It was not the first time this had been done. It's been around for many years for new projects. The intention was not so much to get the funding to cover some of the USD4million entry fees, but more to create ambassadors in the Netherlands who could explain to their contact network what the Cup was, and why it everyone should be enthusiastic about it."

Despite being invited by Queen Victoria to participate in the 1851 Race for the trophy that became the America's Cup, Tienpont says the Dutch "need to remember that we haven't done this race in 168 years, and will have now have to wait for over 171 years now before making another attempt.

"We had 1000 crowdfunding certificates, and more than half of those were subscribed."

How does Holland - arguably the World's top sailing nation get into the America's Cup?

"A good question," Tienpont replies. "It's something that I am going to have to think about more this summer. We need to keep pushing. Of course I am disappointed because I believe we had an excellent plan in place and some outstanding people within the team and the Challenge, but I am sure that the investment and the infrastructure we have created will not be lost and now we need to keep it growing for the next cycle.

"The positive thing I take out of it is that not ever before the America's Cup has been much alive within The Netherlands than in the last six months. It will be our mission with Dutch Sail to keep this positive vibe growing".

In the case of the three Late Entries - from Malta, USA and Holland, Tienpont says that time was always short, and disclosed that the negotiations for his title sponsor in the last Volvo Ocean Race, took six months to complete. Stars & Stripes Team USA got off to a fast start, but then called a time out for a management restructure. Fortunately, issues with the America's Cup World Series and supply of carbon Foiling Arms forced a six-month time-out for all teams.

"There wasn't really enough time for us in the last six months to get properly organised with the parties we were talking with, even though they were unbelievably promising. If we were going to be able to get a Challenge fully organised in another two or three months, it was not going to be realistic time-wise to compete in 2020 America's Cup World Series, or be fully prepared in for the Cup in 2021."

"In the Volvo Ocean Race last time, my title sponsor took six months to negotiate. This time we had an ambitious plan but could not get that title sponsor lined up."

DutchSail Foundation widens options

Tienpont says the DutchSail Foundation, the funding arm of the DutchSail team is the most valuable legacy of the America's Cup campaign.

"The great thing we have learned in the last six months is that we can seek support through the DutchSail Foundation to bring professional sailing infrastructure to The Netherlands", he explains.

"We can create opportunities long-term for youth, for innovations and for sustainability. We can promote that through the Dutch Sail program into high level, top sailing events, like the America's Cup but we also want to look on The Ocean Race, or the Vendee Globe and other major events."

"Approaching a lot of companies and asking the question "Do you want to be part of an America's Cup team?" Is way more difficult, emotional and more loaded question, than if you ask a multi-national company to support a sailing Foundation for a 20-year term that looks for opportunities for Youth, Innovation and Sustainability."

"The message we had back from the multi-nationals is that they want to support our Foundation, but they want to look to us to decide what we do or how we develop these opportunities best through the America's Cup, The Ocean Race, or whatever is the best suitable event."

"This campaign has set up the infrastructure on a commercial basis for DutchSail to continue and hopefully create a future entry in the America's Cup."

A catch-cry amongst several of the Late Challengers and other was that they wanted to set up a team structure along the lines of Emirates Team New Zealand, rather than opt for the billionaire model.

The former seems to survive as an entity for a lot longer, while the billionaire backer model survives only at the whim of its investor.

The commercial team aspirants often forget that Team New Zealand started as New Zealand Challenge off the back of a wild-card Challenge, in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's name, by a Sydney based businessman with strong connections to New Zealand. That initial Challenge only got traction after Sir Michael Fay's involvement, and hands-on management coupled with winning 38 races before being eliminated in the Challenger Final and captured the heart of the Kiwi nation - triggering a 30-year love affair.

Fay stayed involved as an underwriter for three Challenges, telling the team "to focus on the sailing, I'll look after the money." The involvement did him and partner David Richwhite's profile no harm - off which Fay, Richwhite merchant bankers, were able to leverage several very lucrative business deals.

Challenge model needs a tweak

Tienpont believes DutchSail were on the right track for the 2021 America's Cup.

"I think this time the plan was good. There were some good people around it. I think it is important that the Challenge, as Emirates Team now sets it, New Zealand allows a country like The Netherlands to compete for the first time. So hopefully we will keep having that chance for next time as well."

"Some things that we have invested in will not be lost, and hopefully that energy will come back for the 37th America's Cup (which is only four and a half years away).

"We will, I feel, Challenge some time in the future. I still have strong hope that we will succeed."

Asked if he thought commercially based start-up teams were viable in contemporary America's Cup, or are a bank of Billionaires the only way?

"I think the best way is a combination of everything - in the Cup's 168-year history we have seen it all", he says.

"In the Netherlands situation, I think it is the same as New Zealand - you need to have the support of a few business people who want the challenge to happen, and also have big stakes to make it happen for their businesses. But in the end, most of our budget was still coming out of value in kind - from materials to high-quality personnel which helps with our core business, but one third is still cash from the title sponsorship."

Echoing the New Zealand Challenge model Tienpont says "you need the support of a few big businessmen/women who want this to happen in their country. And which works for their industries. But the most important thing is to be backed up by Government and by the marine/maritime industry, the aeronautical industry and others."

AC75 a big selling point for sponsors

Asked to compare the degree of difficulty between funding an America's Cup compared to The Ocean Race (formerly the VOR), Tienpont says the two are similar but quite different.

"For a start-up team, the America's Cup is very difficult because it competes with many other high profile sports. The good thing is that Sailing is so complete - if you look at sports marketing and the different sports, you have to compete against to put that sponsor's name on your sail or your boat.

"Yes that is very hard work, but the great thing about sailing is that it is so complete on a technical basis. It is so inspiring from the human side - the life-science proposition. Sailing is also such a clean sport. Those are all selling points that are very powerful."

"I think the great thing about the America's Cup is that the audience is so big and you are pitching into big multinationals or big brands that can reach a lot of people in a very inspiring way."

"The strength of The Ocean Race is that is a business to business proposition where you can get big multinationals or big brands to experience a nine months journey with their clients."

"I don't think you can compare them with each other. But on the other hand, they can reinforce each other as well. It's a hard question you ask."

One of the squalls that blew through the America's Cup fleet just before the July commitment deadline was comments from various sources and teams that the foiling AC75 monohull was too extreme.

Rather than spook potential backers who weren't prepared to take the risk with an AC75 campaign, Tienpont says the extreme AC75 was a strong selling point with sponsors, suppliers and fans prepared to back the new team.

"For The Netherlands, the AC75 was the greatest thing that could happen, because the whole foiling generation is growing within The Netherlands and also there is the interest for more commercial foiling [such as water taxis] is also growing as well.

"So the AC75 and the challenges that came along with it were my best selling points with stakeholders who had committed to us. We had a good story to tell about "look at what we have got here in The Netherlands".

"For sure, the AC75 is a challenging boat, but with the capabilities we have, we can make it different. I believe The Netherlands we can compete in this type of boat and better than any other team. In that sense, I liked the challenge, and I liked the boat. In The Netherlands, there are still great opportunities for the team (and others) to look within the marine industry, but also going at the research institutes to get some very niche knowledge."

"The way it has been televised is incredible and is appealing outside the sailing fans. Even in The Netherlands since 2013 more people have started watching. The bigger you can make the Cup as a television sport, the better it is."

"A strong point is that even though New Zealand is far away, you have to develop and train in your boat in your own country, which gives you opportunities to activate. If the television production is very well done, then that will attract new fans and followers, who continue to follow the event as they have done in the past."

A twice winner of the America's Cup, with Oracle Racing, Tienpont says that he hasn't thought about joining another America's Cup team for 2021.

"If that question came up, the America's Cup is the greatest sporting event in the World Even though the dream is to participate for The Netherlands. If the offer came from one of the other Challengers, I would have to consider it, as that would be an opportunity to stay connected and be active at the top of the America's Cup World."

Dutch Government and Marine Industry keen to be involved

Tienpont says they were able to work with Government and industry, and the DutchSail team and Foundation were able to achieve their tangible objectives in that part of the program.

"The support from Dutch Marine Industry has been huge, and also in combination with the Government, who were very keen to support us along with all the investment in composite technology, or the design side of the AC75 - and the foils in particular.

Tienpont says the marine industry committed a significant proportion of their budget in the first three months of announcing the campaign. "Hopefully that investment will not be lost for DutchSail in the future."

One of the surprising aspects of the current America's Cup has been the torrent of adverse comment that began almost as soon as three Late Challengers had their entries accepted by the Defender. It continued a theme that started almost as soon as Emirates Team New Zealand won the Cup in June 2017, when the Kiwi America's Cup knocking machine found a new gear.

Tienpont doesn't believe the critical commentary had any real effect on the team's approaches to potential title sponsors and others.

"The people who write or say that the glass is always half empty, are never the people I talk with.

"If you are talking about something that is straight forward and you are building on a dream, then you are talking to people and companies around you that are doing the same on a daily basis. And they have a lot of respect that as DutchSail you are making a difference and trying something that has not been tried before."

"You always have the people who don't like change, and are sure that nothing will ever succeed."

"It is great if you can prove them wrong, but it is essential that you can show that you are not being distracted by those people who are always negative, and instead you are taking a positive approach."

Unprompted, Tienpont paid tribute to the role of the Defender and Challenger of Record in trying to get DutchSail to the2021 America's Cup.

"Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa have been very supportive and very helpful. In the end, that is the great thing if you have an excellent Defender like Team New Zealand.

"Of course they want to win, but they also want to put an amazing event forward, and both teams have been helping us from the start and supporting us in every single way to make this Cup happen for us.

"There is a huge thank you especially to Team New Zealand but also to Luna Rossa who wanted us to come in as a Dutch Challenge and to make the 36th America's Cup into a bigger success".

"I feel sorry that I couldn't deliver and we weren't able to make it so. Hopefully, we can keep working with them in the near future."

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