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Am Cup Rialto: Arms delay..Schedule reshuffle..Counting superyachts

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 23 Jul 2019 06:14 PDT 24 July 2019
AC75's racing in the America's Cup World Series - Cagliari, Sardinia © America's Cup Media

The America's Cup continues to simmer away, with the teams saying little, publicly, after a round of meetings in Newport RI, coincidental with the 12Metre Worlds.

The delay in the delivery of carbon foil arms is frustrating planning of both the individual teams, who need to be able to get their first AC75 launched and sea-trialed as the design cut-off for the second AC75, or race boat, gets ever closer.

It would seem that the carbon foil arms could be three weeks away from delivery. The reason for the delay isn't completely clear, given that the design has passed structural destruction testing. However, the construction time for daggerboards in the 35th America's Cup was 8-9 weeks once the design was complete, and it is reasonable to expect the same for the foil arms.

In hindsight, maybe it might have been a better idea to have let the teams design and build their own arms. However at the time, the decision was made to supply the arms as a one-design part, the Challenger of Record and Defender did not know who was going to Challenge and their design and construction capabilities. With the new boat type, the supplied one-design decision for the foiling arms and lifting mechanism removed a big piece of technology development from the design task list for new teams.

Of course, the arms and the lifting mechanism have to be integrated, but it would seem to be a smarter move now for the five teams to take ownership of their arms and issues and get the first AC75's sailing in what remains of the northern hemisphere Summer/Autumn.

Yet to be answered is the fate of the remainder of the America's Cup World Series which is being squeezed by the carbon foil arm delivery delay, along with decisions to be made by INEOS Team UK as to where they will spend the Northern hemisphere winter and get valuable sailing time in their AC75's. NYYC American Magic is expected to return to Pensacola in Florida.

For Emirates Team New Zealand the issue is less pressing, as the team is currently in the depths of the Kiwi winter - offering fine days with no wind, or wind by the sackful along with cold, horizontal rain. Even if they had an AC75 in the water now, the sailing opportunities would be limited.

The most serious consequence of delay for the two-boat team is that the time is fast approaching when they have to lock off their race boat design and start building. They will now be doing that with reduced time and ability to test sail their first AC75 design, and check those results and data with their simulators. The teams with test boats are getting some data, but it is not from an AC75.

Prada Cup schedule amended?

It seems likely the race program for the Prada Cup or Challenger Selection Series will be compressed but still stay in the January-February 2021 window, with the Match getting underway on March 6, 2021.

With four challengers and each race expected to take 35 minutes, the day's racing will probably be fitted into a two-hour window starting at 4.00pm. The entire Challenger Selection Series in Bermuda was stretched over 26 days in total - the same series in Auckland with four Challengers has 59 calendar days available from January 1 to February 28, 2021.

There is plenty of time available, and while some time may be lost due to the slower than expected delivery of carbon foil arms the sailing time can be easily caught up in the back end of 2020.

There are only three America's Cup World Series to be sailed in 2020 - the venues look to be Sardinia, in late April, Portsmouth in June and then Auckland in September/October. Whether the Christmas Cup gets sailed before or after Christmas remains to be seen - but it is most likely to be the curtain-raiser for the Prada Cup - which means the Christmas Cup will go back into January.

Superyacht cynics

The attempts to pull down the America's Cup continues in the Kiwi media - picked up and reported as fact by international sailing media.

Last week there was more negative spin, accompanied by some navel-gazing over superyacht numbers - as to who might or might not turn up in Auckland for the America's Cup.

Some put the visiting superyacht numbers as low as 50 vessels.

The reality is that 134 superyachts were visitors to Bermuda in the May-June period when the 35th America's Cup was sailed. That was a big increase from the 57 that visited the year before.

The current situation in Auckland is that there are 141 registered so far with just 71 berths available. Deposits will be called in a couple of weeks, and then an announcement made as to numbers. Of course, in Auckland, as in Bermuda the superyachts don't have to tie up to a marina berth - and many will anchor out.

In Bermuda, they were scattered around five locations - only two of which had special berthing facilities.

The trap the Kiwi media fall into is making some conclusion between superyacht visitor numbers and competing teams. In Bermuda, the British team had two or three of their raft of backers bring superyachts in, but otherwise, there were just single vessels per team belonging to team principals or backers.

Most of the high-rollers who come into town are first and foremost America's Cup fans - and are keen to see and witness the outcome of the America's Cup, regardless of whether they have a financial stake in a team. These fans, like twice Cup winner Ernesto Bertarelli, who was in Bermuda with Vava II, want to be in town to personally witness the playing out of one of the most magnificent events in international sport.

In fact, it is far easier on the nerves and stress levels if the billionaire fans don't have a financial stake in a team.

There is a massive program of activities for superyachts attending the America's Cup and build up in New Zealand.

According to Australian published statistics, there are over 200 superyachts per year operating in Australian waters last year of which 74 were international visitors. It is hard to see that a substantial portion of this traffic would not travel onto Auckland in an America's Cup year.

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