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Letter from the Antipodes: Life in Lockdown Land .. A new OK .. Cup Shenanigans

by Richard Gladwell/ 29 Oct 2021 02:37 PDT 29 October 2021
Optimists and OK Dinghies sailing ahead of the advancing sea-mist - Wakatere BC October 25, 2021 © Richard Gladwell /

There seems to be plenty of noise but not much light at the end of Auckland's and New Zealand's COVID tunnel.

Labour Weekend has come and gone, it marks the start of the summer sailing season, and in the top half of the North Island, for sailors anyway, the focus goes on the Coastal Classic.

The 120nm race is a highlight on the sailing calendar because it caters for the wind-driven craft of all types. In the past, we've had supermaxis, MOD70's battle at the front end of the fleet, while the cruisers have a leisurely ride down the back. And putting in a guest appearance are the occasional 49er, board and kite sailors, which have turned in some superb performances of sailing endurance.

This, the 49th Coastal Classic, would have been a cracker - a record-breaker - with a strong breeze from just the right direction, and then with a nice sail/motor home on Monday. Saturday and Sunday were probably not great options for the same reason that Friday was so good. The images from Friday would have been unbelievable, as all of the big breeze days are. However, this would have been one from the top shelf.

Like many others, I am getting a little tired of being locked down, MIQ'd and otherwise controlled since July 22 - my departure date for the Tokyo Olympics. That was four months ago today.

Frustration levels are high. Everyone is keen to get back out on the water, and it was good to see this happen on Monday at various locations around Auckland and the rest New Zealand.

[Auckland and New Zealand was slammed into the most severe Alert Level 4 lockdown, as soon as the first case of the Delta variant of COVID was detected. That was eased for the rest of New Zealand, outside the Auckland province. Auckland with now over 100 cases a day - remains in Level 3, otherwise known as "Level 4 with takeaways". Those who can work from home are required to do so, some schools are still closed, the others opened just this week. Auckland city, and indeed all the surrounding shopping malls and suburbs are ghost towns, and have been so for six weeks. Many businesses are propped up by government handouts and wage subsidies are in place. Life is expected to remain that way until the end of November.]

For some reason, racing is not allowed, under the current Alert Level in Auckland - and apparently gets hit by the maximum group size of ten rule.

Only a bureaucrat could explain that logic, given that it is now conceded that the dreaded virus doesn't transfer particularly well in the open air. It also seems likely that sailors will take the situation into their own hands, start having impromptu racing, and start feeling human again.

The Coastal Classic was the latest in a long line of sailing events and boat shows cancelled in the name of COVID.

On Monday, we got the first look at the new OK Dinghy being built to the latest Dan Leech design by Mattie Mason - a four times America's Cup winner and OK sailor.

The new OK's are a big step forward in the class, which held its first nationals around 1964. But at the same time, the old boats are good boats - with Josh Armit placing third in the 2019 Worlds at Wakatere in a 35yr old Icebreaker hull.

We'll have a story later this week on the future of Olympic and international sailing for New Zealand sailors. But at present, the prospects look rather bleak for Kiwis. They are effectively unable to leave their country due to an inability to obtain a place in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ). The changes heralded yesterday sound like they are progress, but as with most of the COVID announcements the devil is in the detail. From the feedback from others who have travelled overseas, and from personal experience, New Zealand at least six months behind best practice, maybe more.

The upshot of that international travel situation, is that club sailing is likely to get a boost as sailors move across to fleets that are strong at a local level.

Under the proposed "traffic light" system for handling the different provinces of New Zealand, it is difficult to understand how sailors can move from one region to another to attend a North Island Championship or Nationals.

Internationally, so-called world championships continue to be held, in the knowledge that a fully representative fleet can't attend. It is relatively easy and convenient for the drive-up European competitors. But for internationals, the cost and process to get to Europe and return is almost prohibitive - unless you have access to borrowed boats and gear and have the time and logistical support/ability to understand and negotiate the required COVID testing procedures.

While sailing within your own province might be restricting, it is better than being Locked Down at Level 4. It remains to be seen what damage has been done to the sport in the medium to long term - or if sailing emerges stronger for the experience.

What is not clear is what the effect of the "traffic light" system will be on summer cruising. If boats cannot sail from Auckland to Russell for the Coastal Classic, then logically the same will apply for cruisers - as long as "traffic lights" of differing hues control the two provinces. Same for Great Barrier, Coromandel and maybe Waiheke Island.

This week's announcements did little to clarify the ongoing situation, and like the frustration of a windless regatta, there no other option but hurry up and wait.

The America's Cup continues to rumble on.

This week comes the news that Emirates Team New Zealand have signed Nathan Outteridge, maybe best known as the helmsman of Swedish team Artemis Racing who made a strong contest of the Final Series for the Louis Vuitton Trophy, in Bermuda. That contest, which the Kiwis won by a flattering 5-2 margin, set Emirates Team New Zealand up for the America's Cup win on June 26, 2017.

Outteridge is a long-time training partner and rival to Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in the 49er class, where he has won a Gold and Silver medal. Outteridge is now a rival on the SailGP circuit sailing for JapanSailGP. Quite how he slots into the already talented Emirates Team New Zealand mix remains to be seen.

Equally intriguing is what direction Peter Burling and Blair Tuke will take given the opportunities they have from the America's Cup, Paris2024, The Ocean Race, SailGP along with the conservation trust Live Ocean. A big part of that decision will rest with the announcement of the Protocol for the 37th America's Cup, and the venue for the Regatta. A key will be the dates of the regatta, and how those work with the required training and testing required for the AC75, along with sailing an AC40 in the Preliminary Events for the next America's Cup.

Burling and Tuke have been together for 12 years, and are probably the first sailors since Peter Blake to have developed as their own "brand", meaning that they have diverse marketability outside the Olympics, and should be looking at endorsement opportunities. Therein lies the potential difficulty with ETNZ, who don't do rockstars.

While the two have just spent two weeks in Managed Isolation and Quarantine, being in solitude for 22 hours or longer a day would appear to be a great time for some quiet contemplation. However MIQ affects everyone differently, and often it is to be endured rather than enjoyed. So don't expect too many deep and meaningful discussions and decisions from their direction, until the America's Cup landscape is fully revealed. We did twice try to get an interview, but were twice politely turned down.

Last week the spotlight shone fairly and squarely on the New York Yacht Club and the actions of its Commodore, Chris Culver. Four months ago, Culver surprised many by announcing that the club would run with a new team, Stars+Stripes USA, headed up by top match racers Mike Buckley and Taylor Canfield. Missing from the July 24 announcement was any reference to their former team American Magic.

Then last week came a second announcement from Commodore Culver that the Club had decided to "pause" its America's Cup activities.

Culver cited delays in producing the Protocol - due in three weeks - and eight months after the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron had retained the trophy. His statement was a curious one, given that the America's Cup Class had been announced as the AC75, two days after the conclusion of the 36th Match, along with some of the key points of the upcoming Protocol. Sure the venue might not be certain, but the options were widely known. By most analysis, for the next Cup, regardless of venue, an all-round boat is required that will foil early using small foils.

Emirates Team New Zealand reacted to the comments in the announcement. Looking back objectively at the key dates for Protocol and Class announcements form for previous Cups, AC37 will be one of the quickest and most certain - the America's Cup Class was announced within two days of the end of AC36. The Protocol will be announced eight months after the last race of AC36. That's not as quickly as AC36, which took just three months, but the same as for Bermuda in AC35. With COVID and most countries/venues only being able to see their way clear in the last month, the original deadline of six months following the last race was maybe a bit ambitious - and perhaps we won't see an outcome until next March.

Given those timelines and what is normal in an America's Cup context, what is happening with AC37 is not unreasonable. What was really behind the NYYC's decision is a matter of conjecture, particularly after Stars+Stripes USA only found out their abandonment by New York YC several hours after the Club's decision had been leaked to SailingIllustrated, and published.

Good sailing!

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