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What's happening in America's Cup land?

by Mark Jardine 4 Oct 2021 12:00 PDT
America's Cup match day 6 - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Emirates Team New Zealand battle it out in race 9 © ACE / Studio Borlenghi

A lot is written about the America's Cup, and a huge amount of it is speculation. Like it or not, it is the pinnacle event in yachting, and for those who try to win it, it becomes an all-consuming obsession.

It's all a million miles away from what you and I do in our sailing, in open meetings, at weekends and increasingly on weekday evenings; in many ways, it is an incredibly strange event. This has much to do with the Deed of Gift and the event's history... and there is no single trophy in international sport with a longer history than the America's Cup.

The moments after an America's Cup seem a bit like throwing balls in the air and seeing where they land, so here is a quick run-down of which balls are on terra firma and which are still caught in a tornado.

The 36th America's Cup was dominated by Emirates Team New Zealand when they defended the trophy in Auckland. Having won the 35th America's Cup which was held in the foiling AC50 catamarans in Bermuda, they promised to return the event to monohulls, while also being faster than the cats. This seemingly impossible conundrum was solved with the AC75 foiling monohull, which seemed so outlandish when the first renders and CGI videos were released, then enthralled us when seen sailing.

So, what do we know about the 37th America's Cup?

The Challenger of Record is Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd's INEOS Britannia. Why is this important? The Challenger of Record negotiates with the holder of the America's Cup what the rules are. For the 36th America's Cup the Challenger of Record was the Italian Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team, who won the Prada Cup selection series to face the holders in the America's Cup itself.

It will be held in AC75s again. The rules may well be changed, with fewer crew mooted, by replacing the grinders with battery systems.

It's also likely that the bowsprit will be removed, since at no point did we see the gennaker used which hoists from the end of the sprit - even in the very light wind points of races. The sprit is part of what makes the boat 75 feet long, so maybe they'll keep it for that reason alone...

There will be a Youth and Women's America's Cup. In September these events were announced as part of the Protocol for the 37th America's Cup, using a new AC40 class, which sounds like it'll be a One Design for both events. The teams entering the main America's Cup will have to field teams in the Youth and Women's America's Cup, but they will both be open to other challengers, which should lead to good participation.

Ahead of the 36th America's Cup all the teams built smaller versions of their main yachts for testing, known as 'mules'. An interesting part of the AC40 class will be that, while being one-designs, they can be used by teams to test foils and rigs ahead of the Cup.

In the world of foiling, it's very possible that the AC40s will be nearly as fast as the AC75, which should provide for exciting racing, especially if part of the event, or the warm-up events, is fleet racing.

What don't we know?

The biggest question right now is where the event will be held. Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) need cash, and putting the host venue out to tender was one way to solve this. The venue announcement was supposed to be on 17th September, but this was extended to gather more details.

Purists would like to see the event held in Auckland. It's the home of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and the principle that they should defend at home is a strong one. But Grant Dalton, CEO of ETNZ, is pragmatic and knows that defending with a competitive boat and team is the most important aspect of any campaign.

From what we understand, the potential host venues are Cork in Ireland, Valencia or Barcelona in Spain, Jedda in Saudi Arabia and of course Auckland. Like all things America's Cup, the process is complex, intriguing, political and at times underhand. I'm not going to dwell on this but read Richard Gladwell's stories on and you'll see what's going on.

Each venue has its positives and negatives. Some have more positives, and some certainly have more negatives but, at the end of the day, money talks, so don't be surprised if the venue which is chosen isn't your favourite...

Who will challenge?

So far, as we've mentioned above, we know of the Defender from New Zealand, the Challenger of Record from the UK and an American Challenger in the form of Mike Buckley and Taylor Canfield's Stars+Stripes working with the New York Yacht Club.

Will we see Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi team or Larry Ellison's ORACLE TEAM USA return? Will the American Magic team, backed by Hap Fauth, Doug DeVos and Roger Penske, submit a challenge? Does the event continue to spark the interest of Patrizio Bertelli and the Luna Rossa Challenge after 20+ years of trying to win the Auld Mug? How about some of the dotcom billionaires, such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos? Or is their vision more off-planet that on-water?

Many of these questions will be answered in the coming weeks and months, but one spectre always hangs over the America's Cup, and that's the threat of court action. The event is fighting to remain relevant and in the public eye, especially with SailGP now established, which has given sailing a true world-wide sailing circuit, utilising a modified version of the AC50 platform from the 35th America's Cup.

While there will always be intrigue and strong words, the times that the fate of the event has ended up in court have been low points in the 170 year history of the Cup. For sure we saw some innovative boats created, such as Michael Fay's KZ 1 monohull in the 1988 match and the extraordinary wing-sailed BMW Oracle Racing USA-17 in the 2010 match, but actual racing was as one-sided as it gets. The outcome of the match was all but known before the first race had even started.

Today saw INEOS Britannia, previously known as INEOS TEAM UK, announce their core leadership team. Sir Jim Ratcliffe is bringing together the expertise from the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team and key members of his 36th America's Cup challenge, with James Allison announced as the Chief Technical Officer of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team and INEOS Britannia. Another key appointment is naval designer Martin Fischer who was a key part of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli's design team. Dave Endean, Project Director for the team's 36th America's Cup campaign, completes the leadership team as COO.

On the sailing side Sir Ben Ainslie returns as Team Principal/CEO and Skipper, together with Giles Scott, fresh from his second Finn class gold medal at Tokyo 2020.

Speaking at the launch Ben Ainslie said:

"The America's Cup is the ultimate team sport and to be successful you need continuity. It takes time to develop the IP [intellectual property], skills and know-how necessary to be a winning team, especially when you are up against teams with over 25 years' experience. As we enter our third campaign, we have taken a lot of learnings from our previous challenges and assembled a world class team combining talent from Formula 1 and the America's Cup. Mercedes-AMG F1 Applied Science bring a legacy of design to the table. They are proven winners, it's in their DNA, it's in their culture.

"As Challenger of Record we have been negotiating the upcoming Protocol with the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand and are pleased that there is an increased commitment to diversity and inclusion in our sport, through the Women's and Youth America's Cup Events. That is something we have been working to through our Official Charity, the 1851 Trust, since the team's inception in 2014, and remains core to the team's values moving forwards as we continue to provide pathways into sport and inspire the innovators of the future."

The Protocol for the 37th America's Cup is due to be published 17th November. In the meantime, it's a case of watch this space...

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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