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Tea Route update, Cup news, previewing the 2020 Laser Worlds

by David Schmidt 4 Feb 08:00 PST February 4, 2020
Francis Joyon aboard maxi-trimaran IDEC SPORT © IDEC Sport

While most North American sailors are still contending with cold, snow, a recently-concluded Super Bowl, and the results from the Iowa caucuses, not to mention a (recently) topsy-turvy stock market and understandable jitters surrounding the dangerous Wuhan Coronavirus, life is far simpler for the five sailors aboard the maxi trimaran IDEC Sport as skipper Francis Joyon and his four-person crew attempt to best the standing record for the 15,000 nautical mile Tea Route, which stretches from Hong Kong to London.

This historic route was once plied by the great clipper ships of yore as a "race" to bring their wares to market, and it traditionally took the square-riggers some 99 days to complete this lengthy passage. In 2018, skipper Giovanni Soldini and his crew aboard the Multi 70 trimaran Maserati sailed this distance in just 36 days, two hours, 37 minutes and two seconds, at an average pace of 17.4 knots, to establish the new reference point that Joyon and company are currently attempting to hunt down.

As of this writing, IDEC Sport had managed to rack up a lead of more than 24 hours over Maserati's reference time and had recently cleared the Cape of Good Hope. This in and of itself is impressive, as Joyon and company were not dealt an easy passage across the Indian Ocean, which failed to deliver reliable tradewind conditions. Instead, IDEC Sport had to wend her way around high- and low-pressure systems, which resulted in much higher true wind angles than the crew would have liked.

Now that the team has reached the Atlantic, the game becomes one of weaving their way through the Azores and St. Helena high-pressure systems and keeping their boatspeed as high as possible for the remaining (ballpark) 6,000 nautical miles that separate their bows from their finishing line.

Meanwhile, in America's Cup news, the Challenger of Record (CoR; Circolo Della Vela Sicilia) for the 36th America's Cup, recently posted official notice that only four of the five teams that are hoping to contest the next Cup have paid their $300,000 entry fee, which was due on January 23, 2020, for the first America's Cup World Series (ACWS) regatta, which is slated to unfurl on the waters off of Cagliari, Sardinia, from April 23-26, 2020.

As Sail-World's New Zealand editor Richard Gladwell recently reported, Stars + Stripes Team USA is the odd team out. While rumors of the team's demise have been swirling for months, failure to pay this entry fee could be a game-ender, as the Protocol requires that all teams participate in the ACWS; moreover, each team must pay their entry fees and performance bond in order to be eligible to compete in any ACWS or America's Cup race.

To be fair, Stars + Stripes Team USA, which is being led by skipper and CEO Mike Buckley and helmsman (and match-racing great) Taylor Canfield, has already ponied up the first $1,000,000 of the $2,000,000 America's Cup entry fee. Additionally, the team has a partially-built AC75, which is thought to be similar to Emirates Team New Zealand's first-generation AC75 Te Aihe, but the Protocol stipulates that all teams must participate in all ACWS events.

Should Taylor Canfield not race in Cagliari, their only hope of moving forward rests on a possible future agreement between the Defender and the Challenger of Record to modify the Protocol. And while there will likely be some pressure on these decision-makers to increase the number of "AC36" teams from four to five boats, flexibility with the rules will likely come with significant strings attached for the fledgling American team.

So, while the CoR's official notice isn't game-over for Stars + Stripes Team USA, as some political hopefuls found out this week in Iowa, the writing is now becoming discernible on the proverbial wall.

And finally, for anyone who needs a mental escape from February's cold rain and snow, the Laser Worlds (February 9-16, 2020) are set to begin next week on the waters off of Melbourne, Australia. Competition will be fierce, as it is with any world championship regatta, however five Olympic medalists will be amongst the 131 sailors (from 45 countries) that will be competing. Additionally, many countries (including the USA) will be using this high-level regatta to determine their Laser representative at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, thus adding significant pressure to an already highly competitive regatta.

Stay tuned for more news from the 2020 Laser Worlds, as it becomes known.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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