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Gladwell's Line: A Week of Firsts - Finn Gold Cup, AC75 Capsize and an AC dispute

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 24 Dec 2019 04:52 PST 25 December 2019
Te Aihe, Emirates Team New Zealand's first AC75 sailing in down town Auckland © Emirates Team New Zealand

It has been a week of firsts - the first-ever win by a New Zealander in the Finn Gold Cup - probably the most revered world championship in the sport.

The first-ever capsize by an AC75 - and despite dire words by some pundits, Te Aihe emerged relatively unscathed.

And now the first serious dispute in the 36th America's Cup - with the Challenger of Record and Defender - going to the Arbitration Panel over wind limits for the 36th America's Cup and Prada Cup.

A win for the ages

Josh Junior's win in the Finn Gold Cup sailed in Melbourne, was not expected. He'd had a good season by NZL Sailing team standards. Most would have expected his Emirates Team NZ team-mate, Andy Maloney to prevail - and with both to finish close to the top end of the 60 strong Finn fleet.

Instead, Josh put his mark on the fleet, along with rival Maloney, when they finished the first day of racing tied on points and places.

After that, the 2016 Olympic representative never looked back holding a very handy lead for the rest of the six-day series.

The win was the first World title that Josh Junior has won, and he must now be regarded as the favourite to get the nod from the Olympic Selectors for Enoshima in late July 2020.

Before the Olympics, Junior will have to defend his world champion's title at the 2020 Worlds in May in Palma, Spain.

It will be a difficult call for the NZ Olympic selectors - they could leave selection open until the conclusion of the 2020 World Championships, and naming their choice just over a couple of months before the Olympic Regatta. That might not get the best result at Enoshima - as with both Maloney and Junior working closely, it will be in New Zealand's best interests for that relationship and friendly but competitive rivalry to continue for as long as possible.

Another angle is that both are sailing team members with Emirates Team New Zealand. Both were part of the 2017 America's Cup-winning crew, in Bermuda.

But the first of the America's Cup World Series regattas will be staged in Cagliari, Sardinia from April 23-26 - preceded with a build-in period of three to four weeks. Will one,or both, be spelled to allow Josh Junior to build up to defend his Finn world title a couple of weeks later, and Andy Maloney to make a late claim for Olympic selection?

As matters stand, the Finn Gold Cup in May 2020 will be the last for the Finn as an Olympic class. Over the past couple of weeks, we have had the ludicrous sight of World Sailing running requests for information for suitable classes, that could be anointed as regional classes for the new Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat event. The actual Olympic boat not being named until just over six months before the 2024 Olympic Regatta. Almost in parallel with the World Sailing's search for suitable classes, advertising is being run by national authorities seeking to attract crew to sail the yet to be named class.

The situation is completely nonsensical and more deserving of a storyline out of 'Yes Minister'.

Area L (SW Pacific/Oceania), of which Yachting New Zealand is a member, is a supporter of the Offshore Keelboat event, a position which is now even harder to understand given that three sailors from Area L are in the top six in the world in the Finn class. This diversity of sailing kick is all very fine and dandy, but it must also get signed off by the sport's funders.

Quite how do you explain to your state funding organisation that you are turning your back on a class, in which you are the current world champion, and in which you have a strong history in terms of Olympic success? Instead, you want to that ditch that strong Olympic option in favour of one in which the class hasn't been named, the event hasn't yet held a credible world championship, and several countries are running advertisements to attract sailors to put through a coaching program, in the hope that a million dollars or so later they might get a crew to roll the offshore dice in a winner takes all light airs event in Marseille.

And there's another three new events that are in the same category.

Good luck with that one.

America's Cup Airshow

On Thursday, Emirates Team New Zealand, as well as being the first AC75 launched, also became the first to capsize.

In a breeze of 7-10kts, Te Aihe was moving most impressively, and quickly - given that at these light windspeeds the AC75, we are told will sail at three or four times windspeed.

After putting in a very quick gybe - too quick as it turned out - the AC75 reached for the sky, coming almost completely clear of the water, save for the wing attached to the leeward foil arm, and the rudder wing, before crashing back into the water like a humpback whale breaching.

To its credit, the team released a video showing the spectacular jump and its aftermath, and the relatively straightforward recovery.

Sure the capsize wasn't as described in the animation - which had it that the AC75 would be able to self-right and recover from these whoopsies.

But it was impressive that the AC75 appeared to float correctly in the horizontal position. The hull did not float so high that it inverted - which would have seen the mast stick into the mud at the bottom of the Waitemata harbour.

Te Aihe did not float so low that the cockpit was partially underwater, and allowing the ingress of a substantial amount of water below.

To her and the team's credit, they jumped back on The Dolphin and put in a four-hour training session as planned.

As we noted in the report, in this edition, the breach was spectacular, the G-forces involved must have been incredible, and the crew remained attached to the boat. Presumably, they are tethered to the AC75 (only three of the 11 crew changes sides in a tack or gybe). Had they not been attached, the crew would have been falling out of the boat during the aerial acrobatics.

From the images and video (from the team and other sources) there do not seem to be crew hanging off the capsized boat as happened in the nosedive in Bermuda during the Challenger Semi-Finals.

The fact that Te Aihe was able to go for another four hours of test sailing and training on The Paddock, also indicates little went awry during the spectacle worthy of any airshow.

Mutual discontent

Despite being able to reach a mutually agreeable position on most matters concerning the conduct of the 36th America's Cup and its preliminaries, relations between the Challenger of Record and Defender seem to have cooled over the past month. The first issue came with the announcement that Emirates would be the naming rights sponsor of the second leg of the America's Cup World Series to be held in Portsmouth, UK.

The Protocol required that there be three America's Cup World Series regattas before the teams came to Auckland and sailed in the Christmas Cup in mid-December 2020.

Subsequently, INEOS Team UK decided that they would move to the warmer climes of Sardinia rather than sail during the UK winter from Portsmouth. The previous winter they sailed their prototype foiling monohull from a venue in southern Spain.

Simple logistics says that it is much easier for the Brits to relocate to Sardinia from Portsmouth, train through the northern hemisphere winter, compete in the first America's Cup World Series event, in late April and keep sailing in Sardinia, until they are ready to go to Auckland. While the Challengers and Defender are not permitted to sail against each other, except in a sanctioned event or practice session, inadvertent hookups are an inevitable bonus when they are sailing from the same venue - as will also happen in Auckland.

For NYYC American Magic it is more inconvenient, in that they would ship their AC75 from their winter base in Pensacola Florida, across the Atlantic to compete in Sardinia, before returning her to New York or Florida.

Emirates Team New Zealand was the biggest loser, in that they face a 50-day voyage to Sardinia, and then another 50 days back to Auckland. Clearly they would want more out of that exercise than just a single four-day regatta in Sardinia, plus practice - sanctioned and otherwise.

As Defender, Emirates Team NZ have to sign off on any Protocol changes, and clearly, the Kiwis wanted to see at least two ACWS regattas in Europe, preferably three if they are going lose 100 training days while Te Aihe is in transit to and from Europe, on a ship.

The upshot is that original four regattas are now folded into three venues. Two of the regattas will be hosted in Auckland. Two will be hosted in Europe to give ETNZ's sponsors at least some exposure in the Northern Hemisphere - but maybe not all that was promised if the venues had been Sardinia, Portsmouth and New York as originally anticipated.

Having put that one to bed, the battle lines were drawn over the wind limits to be specified in the March Conditions. The Kiwis were only too mindful of the ridicule from 2002/03 Louis Vuitton Cup in Auckland when a 19kt upper limit was primarily responsible for over a third of the racing not being sailed as originally scheduled.

This time around the deal advanced by the Challenger of Record was for 20kts for the now Prada Cup, and 22kts for the America's Cup Match.

The Defender's preference was for 24kts for both series, and for the same wind measurement system to be used as in Bermuda.

No serious racing, Opties included, is ever cancelled in Auckland because the breeze hits 24kts.

25kts is the usual limit - and probably with more in the gusts.

20kts? You cannot be serious.

Sea state does come into it at the upper end of the wind range. There are five course locations specified for Auckland - a couple of which - including ETNZ's favoured training area, The Paddock - east of Auckland - are near landlocked, making sea state a less of an issue.

The full story with all the whys and wherefores can be read here

Long story short the matter will be resolved by either Mediation conducted by an Arbitration Panel member, or by a Decision made by the full Arbitration Panel - who have until the end of March to make up their minds.

Finally to all our readers and advertisers, have a great Christmas and New Year. The first year of the new decade holds plenty in store - with three America's Cup World Series regattas, and the 2020 Olympics at Enoshima, Japan.

Stay safe.

Merry Christmas

Have a cracker of a Christmas everyone. ??

Posted by Emirates Team New Zealand on Monday, December 23, 2019

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