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America's Cup: David versus three Goliaths

by Richard Gladwell 28 Jul 2020 02:19 PDT 28 July 2020
Stars + Stripes Team USA's Taylor Canfield on the way to victory in the 2018 Congressional Cup © LBYC

The fourth Challenger for the 36th America's Cup has sought confirmation of their AC75 build and buy/lease approach from the Arbitration Panel, so that they can take on the three so-called Super Teams in the upcoming Prada and America's Cup.

Last Saturday morning(NZT) sailing chat show host Tom Ehman released details of a move to get a fourth team, Stars + Stripes Team USA competing in the Prada Cup, using a first-generation AC75 from another team.

Well into his bi-weekly show, Sailing Illustrated, Ehman disclosed that Stars + Stripes USA had earlier in the week, asked the Arbitration Panel for "an order from the Arb Panel they [S+S Team USA] can sail Emirates Team NZ's boat 1 [Te Aihe} in the Challenger Selection Series."

Emirates Team New Zealand later told Sail-World that there had not been a negotiation yet for the purchase of Te Aihe. However, it would be a logical approach, given that Stars + Stripes Team USA's partially built AC75 is to a very similar design to Te Aihe. The team from the Long Beach YC purchased a design package from Emirates Team NZ.

For the America's Cup Match itself the race yachts sailed by the Challenger and Defender must be built in their respective countries (in accordance with the Protocol definition of CIC). The requirement has existed for 150 years in which 35 Matches have been sailed for the most prestigious trophy in the sport.

It would seem that the top match racing team, S&S Team USA intends to purchase/lease another team's first-generation AC75 to sail and race while their AC75 is being completed.

Most who follow the America's Cup will be aware of the requirement in the Deed of Gift, the 19th-century legal document which governs the Cup, for the yacht "to be constructed in the country to which the Challenging Club belongs".

That requirement was clear cut from the first Match in 1870 until the suspension of Cup competition due to World War 2. Then CIC compliance was achieved largely by definition, as there was a second requirement in the Deed of Gift that the Challenger had to sail to America's Cup venue, on her own bottom.

But since the Cup's revival in 1956 and the rise of global manufacturing, the concept of a Cup competitor being constructed solely in its nation of origin has become very diluted.

The usual mechanism is that the Protocol, which governs each Match for the Cup, attempts to define what is mean by Constructed in Country for the upcoming Match. The definitions differ widely, but reached their all-time minimum for the last America's Cup, sailed in AC50 wingsailed catamarans, which were largely one-designs.

The Protocol for the 2017 America's Cup required that only the "exterior surface of the forward section of each Hull is laminated in the country of the yacht club represented by the competitor".

The specific wording used in 2013 America's Cup Protocol, sailed in San Francisco was different again and contained quite a detailed definition of the parts that made up a "hull" for an AC72.

The Protocol for the current America's Cup requires only the "hull" of the AC75 to be constructed in the country of origin, and sensibly uses the same definition of a "hull" as used in the AC75 class rule.

The "hull" is a defined term in the AC75 class rule being - "the main body of the yacht including the bottom, sides, transom, deck, cockpit and internal structures".

The definition doesn't say the parts have to be bonded together to comply with CIC requirements. In Stars + Stripes' situation, the quickest option is to construct the required parts in the USA, and fly them to Auckland and assemble the boat, at the Cup venue, and using expertise in Auckland and elsewhere in NZ. A standard boat building practice is to fit a lot of the internal systems within the open hull, and then putting the deck on as a final stage - the Protocol fails to mention a CIC requirement for a completed boat, or platform.

AC75's use a sizeable electromechanical foil raising and lowering mechanism, which is probably best part-fitted with the deck off.

The class rule has another relevant defined term - Platform assembly - which comprises the total boat - hull, foils, rudder bowsprit and other systems, hardware, fittings, and supplied equipment that that is weighed with those components.

"Platform" is a hangover from the multihull Cups, where hulls, cross beams and several other components could be switched in and out, and the finished configuration used the common multihull description of a platform - onto which the rig was placed.

The simple point is that to comply with the Constructed in Country requirements of the Deed of Gift and Protocol, you don't need a "sail away" boat, or even a platform, that is built in the country of the challenging or defending club. All the Protocol says is to construct the specified hull parts in the country of the team's Club, and then assemble the hull where you wish.

There is no doubt that the yachts sailed in the America's Cup Match have to comply with the CIC requirements of the Deed of Gift - modified for the current event by its Protocol.

It is not permitted for ETNZ's Te Aihe, for instance, to be sailed in the America's Cup Match with a crew from the USA, and compete against the second launched kiwi AC75 sailed by the Team New Zealand crew. There can be no NZ"A" vs NZ "B".

OK to switch boats?

The question arises as to whether a team could swap boats midway through the Prada Cup.

The most notable example of a mid-series switch being done in a previous Cup, was in 1995 in San Diego when Team NZ raced NZL-38 in the Qualifiers and then switched to NZL-32 for the Semis, Finals and the Match.

The current Protocol doesn't prohibit a boat swap. However, the Notice Race for the Prada Cup does list the Deed of Gift as one of the applicable documents. The effect of that rule is that the Constructed in Country rules apply for the Prada Cup, and Stars + Stripes Team USA would have to start the Prada Cup with an AC75 built in the USA.

The Protocol also says that the winning yacht club and its winning yacht shall become the challenger under the Deed of Gift for the Match. So for all teams, the winning yacht in the Prada Cup must be the one used in the America's Cup. If that does not happen, then the team lose their right to be the Challenger, and the privilege goes to the second-ranked finalist.

That means that Stars + Stripes Team USA will need a yacht that complies with CIC - and before the start of the Prada Cup.

Because the Deed of Gift is mentioned as one of the documents mentioned in the Notice of Race for the Prada Cup, that stops S+S Team USA or any other Challenger, using a yacht that not in compliance with CIC from being used in any phase of the Prada Cup.

The teams are required to declare which yacht configuration (platform and rig, etc.) they will use for an upcoming round two days before the start of the series. All that is needed is that they declare an AC75 yacht.

In the context of the current Cup schedule, and the tightened time schedules because of COVID-19, it would not be easy for a team to switch boats between series, as both would have to be worked up thoroughly, and that takes time which is a very scarce commodity at present for the Cup teams.

Article 3.1 of the current Protocol says the "winning Yacht Club and its winning yacht shall become the Challenger under the Deed of Gift for the Match". The obvious logic behind that requirement is that the top team, along with the fastest yacht is the combination has to progress to the America's Cup.

Back in the current context, the latest a team has to declare which of their two AC75's they will race in the Prada Cup is 4.00 pm on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - with the Prada Cup starting two days later.

Stars + Stripes Team USA would be likely to have a target of getting their USA constructed "hull" completed by mid-December, to make a Prada Cup starting on January 15, 2021.

Which boat for the Christmas Cup?

Turning to the America's Cup World Series Regatta/ Christmas Cup, Stars + Stripes USA could sail Te Aihe, or any other AC75 they can acquire to comply with the Protocol requirements in Articles 2.2 and 2.3 - which only requires that a Competitor participates - but not a particular AC75 yacht, or one they intend to use in the Prada Cup a month later.

The teams can make various plays. A team could race their first AC75 in the ACWS regatta and using the time to effect repairs/modifications to their second AC75. Or they may want to avoid damaging their race boat in a series which is exhibition sailing and a chance for the Defender to get their first and only contest with the Challengers before the 36th Match - where they will meet the winner of the Prada Cup.

Of course, the Challengers as a group could also decide that they will race on their first-generation boats in the ACWS/Christmas Cup - and completely deny Emirates Team New Zealand any opportunity to benchmark their race boat against the Challengers second-generation AC75's.

The Deed of Gift doesn't and has never applied to previous ACWS events. The Deed of Gift has as much relevance as the Rules of Rugby to the ACWS/Christmas Cup. In the lead up to the 2013 and 2017 America's Cup many of the AC45's used in the America's Cup World Series were constructed at Core Builders Composite facility, in New Zealand.

The bottom line on this issue is that if one of the so-called Super Teams could not beat a young S+S Team USA, who will only have a few months sailing experience in an AC75, then they don't deserve to be a worthy Challenger for the America's Cup.

Why would the Super Team Goliaths be so fearful of taking on David reincarnated in the form of S+S Team USA?

Some may believe that by racing their CIC-compliant boat in the Prada Cup, Team New Zealand will gain an unfair insight into Challenger performance because Te Aihe and S+S Team USA's race boat are sister-ships.

That is a straw man argument. The reality is that the performance of a crew who are yet to be announced and have at best been sailing together for five months, cannot be compared in terms of experience with winners of the 2017 America's Cup, who have been sailing AC75's and a 12-metre test boat for the past ten months. The sailing experience of the defending champions cannot be compared with a rookie crew. Of course, ETNZ's crew in 2017 only had one America's Cup Match between them, prior to Bermuda, and were the rookies of that series - however that argument doesn't carry over into the 2021 situation.

As for any performance analysis by ETNZ, if Te Aihe were sailed by S+S Team USA, the information would always be tainted by the crew experience factor, or operator error.

The flip side of that argument is that in having a Te Aihe clone in the Prada Cup, the Challengers get the benefit of being able to test themselves against a first-generation AC75 designed and worked up by the Defender. If they can't beat that combination - then what hope do they have in the Cup, itself?

"Friendly competition between foreign countries

Of course, given that the Deed of Gift does apply to the Prada Cup, then so too does its oft-quoted provision: "This Cup is donated upon the conditions that it shall be preserved as a perpetual Challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries." While multiple challenges were not contemplated in 1877, and the latest version of the Deed of Gift, it is clear that the Donor's intention was for the event to be inclusive, and not exclusive.

One of the catch cry's of the current America's Cup is that the event needs more teams - so when there is a way that the fourth team can compete - why would anyone push back on their inclusion?

Stars + Stripes Team USA is a valid entry for the America's Cup. They have paid over USD$1million of entry fees so far of a total of USD$3million required. They are legally entitled to race an AC75 in the Prada Cup and America's Cup.

It is always a very serious matter, in sailing if a legally entered and accepted, competitor, is excluded on a fine point of rules technicality.

On a couple of instances in this Cup, licence has been given, and Stars + Stripes Team USA should also be cut a little slack.

Having four boats in the Challenger Selection Series provides a much more balanced competitor card for the Prada Cup - where all four boats sail in the Round Robin phase, and the Semi-Finals and the top two competitors go through to the Prada Cup Finals.

Currently, with three teams, the Prada Cup schedule is lop-sided with the top boat from the Round Robin going straight through to the Final, and the other two sailing what is effectively a Repechage (rebadged as a Semi-Final). The reality for TV viewers is that watching a genuine four-boat semi-final, in which two will get knocked out, is way more exciting to watch than a Repechage between the two slowest teams from the Round Robins.

The objective of any Challenger Selection Series should be to provide the hottest possible competition and to give the winner the greatest chance of lifting the America's Cup. In this regard, four boats are better than three.

And of course, from a fan and TV perspective, four AC75's competing in a full-blown Round Robin, Semi-Final and Final Series will have a lot more audience interest and give sponsors much more exposure as a result.

All teams competing must always be aware that with all that has gone on in the World in 2020, that the America's Cup is fortunate to have located itself in a venue that has COVID-19 at elimination level. With the arrival of American Magic, there is now the certainty that the 36th America's Cup will proceed.

While Defiant's first sail on the Waitemata on Monday was significant for the team, it was also a very significant event for the 36 America's Cup - showing all the doubters that it is game on - ready or not.

Undoubtedly it is in the best interest of the America's Cup to have a fourth Challenger, with a young, fresh, diverse image crew to add a touch of David to take on the Goliaths.

Besides which every America's Cup needs an "underdog" - a role which Stars + Stripes Team USA fits admirably.

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