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Gladwell's Line: Life in Lockdown Land

by Richard Gladwell/ 12 Oct 05:51 PDT 13 October 2021
New Zealand SailGP Team co-helmed by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in action on Race Day 2 at Spain SailGP -10th October . © Bob Martin/SailGP

It seems that we will be still enduring, another Level 3 lockdown of indeterminate length, in Auckland and the surrounding regions. But at least we can go sailing.

In the alternate universe - Planet Cherub - it is great to see the Lockdown being put to good use, where the home-build virus seems to be running amok. Fortunately no vaccination is available, and frankly the more who catch it the better.

Going through a couple of the Cherub groups on Facebook, it is great to see the various building and rebuilding projects underway. The class has had a resurgence of late. But after flicking back through old magazines, the Cherub class has had several revivals over the years. It still keeps popping back with a new generation of sailors joining the incumbents. That's the sign of a good class that always has a place in the current sailing line-up.

The Lockdown also seems to be a great opportunity for the design creativity juices to start flowing again in Cherub aficionados, with a few of the good old boats being made even better. Most of the re-design is being done on the fly, which is the only real way to get it right.

Judging by what we can see on Facebook, there are plenty of interesting shots of open-heart surgery being performed on Cherubs, to give some great boats a new life.

GOATS in Cadiz

Saturday, was a big day for SailGP and Women's Sailing, when the first female members of the teams raced with their male counterparts in expanded F50 crews.

It was a moment in history when the two Greatest Of All Time of Olympic Sailing - Ben Ainslie and Hannah Mills - with six Olympic Gold medals and two Olympic Silver medals between the two of them - sailed in the back-end of the Great Britain SailGP team.

The move is the first step towards a proposed women's SailGP event for the 2024 season. Ten teams should be sailing in 2022, and bringing the women's event onstream for 2023 is a great move.

We're generally against running quotas for mixed sailing events. It is a very patronising approach. With the move to electric power systems, there should be no reason why women cannot compete in an open competition or separate women's events in the same equipment - as happens in most Olympic sports.

Sailing in a mixed crew, women of the ilk of Hannah Mills and many others raise the IQ of the boat and lower its average crew weight. Surprisingly, teams in other classes who race under an average crew weight rule have not picked up this dynamic.

Some didn't agree with the female quota system introduced for the last Volvo Ocean Race. In hindsight. it was a very clever rule - and has upped the number and skill of women sailors. And there is no longer any real argument that the graduates of the last Volvo Ocean Race, regardless of gender, can compete in open competition on merit.

Not that women succeeding in trans-oceanic racing is anything new. Looking back at the most challenging events in the sport - solo and short handed trans-oceanic sailing - great names spring to mind like Isabel Autissier, Florence Arthaud, Ellen McArthur, Dee Caffari, Sam Davies, Catherine Chabaud, Clarisse Crémer and many others. Of course, a New Zealander, Dame Naomi James, was the first woman to complete an almost non-stop circumnavigation.

AC37 venue decision on hold

A decision as to the preferred venue was supposed to have been made on September 17 but was postponed after Ireland had been told they were the preferred venue, but the next day, they backed away as Irish politics and bureaucrats in their Ministry of Sport intervened.

Anyone who has followed Irish politics would be well aware of their obsession for point-scoring. Unfortunately, the America's Cup Venue decision announcement was due in the same week as the long-delayed opening of the Irish Parliament. Other political issues surrounded Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, the champion of the Cork AC37 Hosting bid.

Additionally Coveney's party, accused by its opponents of being one of insiders and cronyism, is dropping in the polls. Fortunately, the next Election is several years off. In the current context signing an America's Cup hosting deal for Ireland is either a political masterstroke or a coup de grâce.

A bloated price tag of €400million being touted in the Irish media for hosting the Cup did not help Coveney's predicament - it was later inflated to a ridiculous €600million (NZD$1billion). Of course there was no budget, or detail on such an outrageous claim - but why let the facts get in the way of a good headline?

The actual cost of the Auckland hosted AC36 event (without one-off costs) was NZD$45million. That is a huge difference, from $1billion and we looked at the reason for this variation in an earlier story.

Suffice to say, the lower number of NZD$45million is correct, calculated using the same principles used in financial accounting. In fact it is even less if the $3million is taken out for for AC75 design project.

The larger NZD$1billion "cost" seems to have been put into the Irish media purely for political reasons. No breakdown was given. Neither was there any sanity check undertaken by the sailing and mainstream media that this amount could have funded all teams competing in the last Cup, paid for the infrastructure, and the broadcast coverage?

In the same vein, the cost of the last America's Cup contained in one of the official reports in New Zealand was put at $774.2million. But those reports were at least tagged (a fact overlooked by the mainstream media) to the effect that the cost was not calculated according to financial accounting principles.

Emirates Team New Zealand has said little of a venue since running up the postponement flag on September 17. Had the Irish come through and signed off on the preferred venue, that September 17 announcement date would have been achieved.

Sadly the Irish have a reputation, where the hosting of major sporting events is concerned, of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. However, our Irish sources tell us there is more to come.

We assume that responsibility for lining up the venue options is back with ETNZ's agent, UK-based Origin Sports.

New Zealand is unlikely to be the host venue for several reasons, which can be elaborated at a later date, but which are reasonably obvious from reading the America's Cup Event Ltd report on the last Cup.

F1, here we come

The move this week to align America's Cup teams with Formula 1 race teams is interesting and potentially far-reaching.

While the INEOS Britannia/Mercedes-AMG relationship is portrayed as an innovative move, reports in the UK media have it that the champion Formula 1 team, would have been forced to downsize in the face of upcoming F1 cost cap reductions, limiting team spend on a reducing scale to USD$135million per year in 2023. Excluded from the cap are all marketing costs, race driver fees/salaries and the costs of the team's three highest-paid personnel. The reductions are a response to the tighter market reacting to COVID.

The three big teams - Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari- are expected to downsize, bringing them closer to the size of the other seven smaller teams.

The British media have it that Mercedes-AMG will restructure by moving people across to the America's Cup group - keeping them under the same roof at Brackley while dropping the required numbers from the F1 team payroll. Between 1800-2000 people are said to work at Brackley, so 30-40 for an AC design team is a drop in the bucket. Whether a relationship with an F1 team becomes a must have for AC37 remains to be seen.

You will note that the F1 teams are spending much more in a single year than the Cup teams are spending in a four-year cycle. In that context, an F1 team having an America's Cup partnership is probably cost-effective but will hike Cup costs, as the AC/F1 team sizes will likely increase.

While the INEOS Britannia and Mercedes-AMG-Petronas relationship has been formally announced, a second one between potential challenger Alinghi is rumoured - with some hiring believed to have been done, but nothing yet announced.

That may not happen until the Protocol is announced in five weeks - and Ernesto Bertarelli can get a look at the nationality clause and maybe see if his twice America's Cup champion Alinghi can masquerade as an "Emerging Team" and be allowed to run a multi-national crew.

The way is also wide open for a Cup backer to sidle up to an Australian Club and run like a fox through the chicken coop of Australian Olympic, Skiff, Sail GP, America's Cup sailing talent, marrying a top international, multi-national design team with a top group of sailors who can't get financial backing in their own country, and who are marooned by a Kiwi-penned tight AC37 nationality rule.

Of course, rubbing elbows with the glitterati of the F1 design world is probably the easiest part of the Brits' F1/AC arranged marriage.

The buzz of being able to go into work and talk about what happened in the weekend's F1 event, and the lessons that came out of the debrief, should come as a real buzz for the INEOS Britannia boffins. It will surely sharpen up their approach to testing.

The very experienced Mercedes F1 team management should be able to bolster the Brits AC management, and with the shorter cycle thinking of an F1 team there should be focus on hitting performance milestones.

Before they can go much further, the Brits, along with their friends from the other side of the Atlantic, have to work out a way of getting their boats out of Fortress New Zealand. The Brits will find there's a queue of 30,000 kiwis ahead of them, trying to get one of just over 3,000 beds in quarantine - and America's Cup sailors never seem to be flavour of the month with this Government.

Then there is the subject of a base, getting a sailing program running - with a useful test boat, and then getting a design and performance program running. None of that is going to happen overnight. Frankly, the Brits could do worse than go sailing out of Auckland (Jacinda-willing) for a season and get their heads around the practical solutions to Britannia's light air issues.

In the meantime, the Brits and American Magic are in for the long haul on a simulator, while the Kiwis can do the same or go sailing in their test boat.

Entirely what Luna Rossa are or aren't up to, with two boats and a base in Sardinia and the ability to sail year around, is anyone's guess.

It's game-on, not forgetting that time is always of the essence in any America's Cup - and in the end, every available hour counts. They're ticking away now at the same speed they do a week before the Cup.

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