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Gladwell's Line: The Cup accelerates

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 18 Nov 2020 17:54 PST 19 November 2020
Splashdown after a minor sky jump - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli - October - Waitemata Harbour - Auckland - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Later today Emirates Team New Zealand will reveal and launch their AC75 Version 2, and race boat for the 36th America's Cup Match. We will have full coverage on Sail-World, from the ETNZ base, and had a preview of the Version 2 AC75, this morning.

As we have said in a couple of the Rialto stories, the Challengers' Version 2 AC75's are all very similar in performance - and to our eye don't look like they are any quicker than Emirates Team New Zealand's Version 1 AC75, Te Aihe.

However the V1 Kiwi boat was a very refined AC75 - as a result of ETNZ's development program continuing apace using the test boat Te Kahu, while Te Aihe was travelling to Europe and back for five months. After Te Aihe returned, we saw several wing shapes that were trialled in half size on Te Kahu, appear in full size on Te Aihe.

As has been pointed out previously, using the test boat means that ETNZ is not covered by the rules limiting the number of wings and flaps that can be constructed to six wings and 20 flaps for an AC75. Without the test boat, an AC75 only team has two wings (their final racing set) and four others per boat, which can be individually different or may be pairs.

Long story short is that ETNZ has been able to test more wing shapes than would be normally permitted in a single AC75 program, and as a result, one would expect their first AC75 to be well advanced of the others. There would be something seriously wrong if that were not the case.

It is normal for the America's Cup high-performance race boats to improve by 15-20% between launch and the end of the Cup. In 2013, Oracle Racing improved by that amount in just the final week.

The Challengers have a very hard-fought series ahead of then in the form of the Prada Cup, and we should expect that their performance will improve significantly before the start of the America's Cup on March 6, 2021.

Quite how Emirates Team New Zealand get up to that level remains to be seen. Their sailing crew also need to get themselves race sharp - without a Defence series of the calibre of the Prada Cup.

Going into the 2017 America's Cup, Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and Josh Junior all had the benefit of sailing in the 2016 Olympics before switching to the America's Cup program, and after a short break post-Rio, transitioned well. The other teams (Artemis Racing excepted) did not have helmsmen that competed in Rio, and the toughest racing occurred in the Challenger Final between the two helmsmen who had been combatants in the 49er class in Rio.

This America's Cup cycle Burling, Tuke, and one of Josh Junior/Andy Maloney would have sailed in the COVID19 postponed 2020 Olympics and could have transitioned into the 2021 America's Cup as happened in 2016.

With the collapse of world sailing events due to COVID19, all America's Cup teams will suffer from the lack of external race experience. Ben Ainslie's INEOS Team UK was on the right track with their entry in the Sail GP circuit, but after scoring an overwhelming win in the first round in Sydney, the rest of the circuit was postponed after the advance of COVID-19.

Not a good look

Over the past few weeks, the America's Cup has descended into its usual silly season where the rules experts try to make some points - which while they may be technically correct - create ridiculous outcomes.

We saw that over the America's Cup courses - a situation created by Ports of Auckland looking at its pre-COVID arrivals schedule and writing a letter which suggested restricted access to the five race course areas during the Round Robin and Semi-Finals of the Prada Cup.

For reasons best known to themselves the Port company (100% owned by Auckland Council) along with the Harbourmaster (an employee of a Council controlled organisation) sat on their hands as the issue progressed through the Arbitration Panel, who applied the rules and removed two stadium courses from the America's Cup menu. That outcome saw the Auckland Council Mayor telling the teams to sort out an issue that an Auckland Council company and COO employee had created. Once the post-COVID19 shipping schedule, was reviewed - with all cruise ship arrivals deleted - the matter was quickly resolved.

But why did the matter have to go through this exercise in applied stupidity?

The latest media beat-up is over the supposed late payment of an entry fee for an event, that was arguably supposed to be free. Maybe it makes good media headlines but does nothing for the event - which is perceived as fast descending into an exercise in self-flagellation.

This is at a time when the international sports scene is getting back onto its post-COVID feet. With the 36th America's Cup, there was a good chance to raise the profile of the sport to a mainstream audience.

Over the past week, on Sail-World our story stats show sailing fans are flocking to the Vendee Globe coverage. There the competitors are talking about the challenges of the event, instead of taking pot-shots at each other in the media and raising issues that can only have ridiculous outcomes - and in which everyone knows that sanity will eventually prevail.

As we head into Christmas, it should not be forgotten that there are a lot of Kiwis trying to get back into New Zealand, who can't. The point is not lost on their families that there are a large group of international sailors in Auckland who outwardly seem to be focussed on disrupting what should be an event that shows sailing at its best, not its worst.

Yes, we all know that disruptive behaviour is all part of the America's Cup game - but these are unusual times. The headlines of the past few weeks are not a good look for the sport, the event, the teams, and reflect badly on the individuals involved.

As an editorial decision, I'm not prepared to give these issues and people the media oxygen they seem to crave. Our readership stats reveal that few fans are interested in this self-serving minutiae and I would rather put my efforts into stories readers are keen to follow.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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