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America's Cup: American Magic prepares for move to New Zealand

by Richard Gladwell/Sailing World magazine 25 Apr 2020 15:15 PDT 26 April 2020
Playing the waiting game - American Magic - Pensacola, Florida - February 2020 © Will Ricketson

Prestigious US sailing magazine Sailing World reports that the New York Yacht Club's America's Cup challenger is marking time at their winter training base in Pensacola, Florida, waiting for a travel window to New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the construction of the team's second AC75 continues at the team's building facility in Bristol, RI, with some intervention from the state governor.

All America's Cup teams are now having to re-focus their programs following the cancellation of the two preliminary America's Cup World Series Regattas in Cagliari, Sardinia and Portsmouth, UK. All have lost the vital benchmarking of their design and development programs that those two regattas were expected to provide.

The teams will all be launching their second AC75, without knowing how their first boat performs against its rivals. Sailing World reports that American Magic have had just 40 days sailing time, in Defiant, despite being the first team to launch an AC75.

The relative performance issue is compounded by the fact that these boats are the first generation of a new class, and none have any accurate on-the-water reference point against another competitor.

The teams are entirely reliant on the accuracy and analysis performance of the data gathered from their first AC75.

All teams AC75's have their individual strong and weak points - which can only be correctly evaluated in a racing context across a couple of regattas and other competitors racing in the same conditions.

While on the water reconnaissance rules have been relaxed, and cameras with long lens are a common sight on spy boats, competitors are prohibited, under the regatta Protocol rules from "obtaining positional data about another Competitor via electronic means". That rule effectively prohibits the use of speed cameras and similar laser-based devices to measure competitor performance in a given windstrength and wind angle.

The only way of getting such information is by pacing the competitor in a chase boat - but the recon teams don't know whether their competitor is sailing under computer-controlled flight system - which can work both ways.

However had the two ACWS regattas been held, then competitors would have had access to data from "publicly available sources" used in TV and other broadcasts of the event. They would obviously have had access to onboard video and the like from their competitors. Now they are all flying blind until the first hit-out in the Christmas regatta in mid-December in Auckland.

"Eager to get to New Zealand" - Hutchinson

"It's been a difficult few weeks," Hutchinson told Sailing World. "What makes this situation hard, today is the unknown. When we had the America's Cup World Series on the schedule, what made that hard was the logistical challenges of moving 70 people and our boat and gear around the world over an eight-week period, while at the same time moving our containers to New Zealand. Now, we are eager to get to New Zealand and get setup, but we have to follow the government's guidelines, and there are many things out of our control. There are unknowns in that, and that's what's unnerving."

The shutdown of the Persico Marine facility in Bergamo Italy at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy has affected the construction of Luna Rossa's second AC75. However Persico Marine is also the sole manufacturers of the carbon foil arms for the entire fleet of AC75's, and Level 4 lockdown from April 8 to May 3. Foil production was previously delayed by six months, pushing the start of the first ACWS regatta by six months.

"We've been reasonably lucky that it hasn't had as big an impact as it could have, but in saying that, I don't know if we're out of the woods yet. We have to keep navigating through that and be ready for all the what-if scenarios."

Meantime the team is focussed on maintaining team fitness, and training on the sailing simulators.

Their AC75 was packed and ready to be shipped to Cagliari from Pensacola on March 16, a few days after CoR36, organisers of the first ACWS Regatta decided to pull the pin on the regatta. Ten days earlier, on March 6, American Magic filed with the Arbitration Panel to have the regatta cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic which was ravishing Italy. The Arb Panel ruled in their favour of March 18.

Waiting for the door to open in Auckland

Emirates Team New Zealand was not so fortunate, with their AC75 having left New Zealand in late January/early February - they were unable to avoid transhipment to Italy from the Singapore hub, by a couple of days, and won't see their AC75 until June.

Hutchinson says, the next puzzle to solve is the relocation of personnel and assets to New Zealand.

"We're fortunate that a few team members are New Zealand citizens so they could enter in today," Hutchinson told Sailing World. "When we ultimately choose to ship to the Southern Hemisphere, we can have them offload the boat, the containers and the tent. We do have a little time to ship and move our assets. We're prioritising safety over ambition, and I can happily live with that."

A couple of pieces of the puzzle at the New Zealand end appear to have dropped into place late in the past few days.

First was the announcement that New Zealand would drop from its Alert Level 4 down to Level 3 come Tuesday (NZT), that will allow base (and boat) construction to take place.

American Magic is expected to work from a container wall/flexible roof structure, similar to that used in Pensacola and of the same style the Emirates Team New Zealand used in Bermuda in 2017. Establishment of that style of base takes 4-6 weeks depending on the level of pre-fabrication.

Second is the agreement of a process to allow superyachts and similar vessels to enter New Zealand, and for a way through the complete immigration ban implemented in late March in NZ. That agreement is the first sign of flexibility on the visitor ban. It could lead to the implementation of a similar mechanism to allow America's Cup team members into New Zealand.

Currently, all NZers returning home are required to undergo a 14-day period of quarantine under government supervision in a government-provided hotel or similar facility.

That covers America's Cup team members who hold a NZ passport and can enter, subject to quarantine, while the nationalities of other countries are not.

At least six members of American Magic, including helmsman, Dean Barker qualify to enter as NZ nationals, along with two other members of the sailing team, Jim Turner and Sean Clarkson. Three design team members Richard Bouzaid, Riley Dean and Steve Wilson also hold Kiwi passports.

For the full Sailing World story click here

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