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Letter from the Antipodes: America's Cup Entries ... Sail GP - the best yet ... Xmas bargains

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 19 Dec 2021 17:33 PST 20 December 2021
New Zealand Sail GP briefly leads the fleet from the start line © Bow Caddy Media

It has been a big couple of weeks in the sailing world, particularly the New Zealand sailing scene.

Firstly, Auckland has emerged from the 100day plus lockdown, and we've been given back some of the rights taken from us in the name of COVID.

This means that it is now possible for sailors to participate in club racing - with some issues - provided the club is prepared to limit that participation to vaccinated members only. Quite what happens with the rest remains to be seen.

The same thinking applies to regional and national sailing contests, but most of these are a few months down the track - and it remains to be seen how these are handled. Of course, there are ongoing issues with COVID variants, but we can only work with what we have in front of us.

On one of the many America's Cup fronts, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron received a Special General Meeting request over conducting the 37th America's Cup defence in Auckland. As some may be aware, it was withdrawn a few days beforehand. The RNZYS Annual General Meeting has subsequently been held, covering much the same ground, but in a lengthy General/Other Business segment.

Without an SGM, no motion could be put, or vote held.

At the Annual General Meeting - and while everyone heard both sides - no vote could be taken. That should be the end of the matter. Maybe it is, maybe not.

Sail-World and one other journalist, Cup veteran Todd Niall, reporting for Stuff.co.nz, were the only media to stake out the meeting. We interviewed ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton and RNZYS Commodore Aaron Young. Our report of this meeting . can be read by clicking here. Alan Sefton a former Executive Director of Team New Zealand, in the Blake era, and part of the senior management of New Zealand Challenge in the Fay era gives his take here.

An awful lot of hot air has been talked and continues to be emitted in the Auckland and international media, on the subject. It was surprising that so few media made it to the RNZYS to speak with members, as they exited the meeting and then talked with Grant Dalton and Aaron Young at the end, while the situation was still fresh.

Had the local media attended, they would have realised that the press release from ETNZ, on which they based most of their reports, came out at least 30 minutes before the end of the meeting - and should be seen in that light. There was no change in their position, which is a Board decision. We've also seen a Zoom recording of the whole meeting, and our reporting is consistent with what was said.

Anyone who was close to the action in the last America's Cup and its preliminaries - going back to the starting point of the win in Bermuda - could understand ETNZ's reluctance to defend in Auckland in the current economic and political environment.

On the last day of Parliament for the year, Minister of Sport and Finance, Grant Robertson - gave a throwaway line regarding a point on the Government blowing $51million on the design of the now-defunct $900million Skypath project. "It only represents 5/100 of 1% of Government spending", he said, trying to minimalise the wasted $51million. Maybe that puts into perspective the Government's offer of $31million for a Hosting Fee for the 37th America's Cup, which was made during their exclusive negotiation period. If the next America's Cup is not in Auckland, don't blame Emirates Team New Zealand.

Emirates Team New Zealand's numbers might be a bit hard to understand, but they do work, and they can be reconciled back to expenditure and revenue for the last Cup.

The 37th America's Cup entries opened on December 1, with three being received - whether that is additional to that of INEOS Britannia (who had already entered) remains to be seen. So far, two have outed themselves, with at least two more waiting in the wings. Maybe others are lurking outside of the media spotlight.

The bottom line is that there seems to be at least six teams in the next America's Cup (including the Defender) - which is back to where it was in Bermuda, except this time all the boats are independently owned. Once the venue is announced, there may well be more commercially funded teams coming through - particularly if AC37 is held in Europe.

All the teams that have entered to date are billionaire-backed and are not dependent on commercial funding. Being billionaire-backed, the commercial unattractiveness of Auckland is not an issue, and with several owning AC75 performance data from the Prada Cup and America's Cup, and they start with an advantage.

Any new teams will most likely be commercially backed. They have to know the venue, and how Diminished Returns clauses, could play out in that jurisdiction. Until the commercial teams have that issue sorted, they can't develop any serious sponsorship proposals. Auckland just having its borders slammed shut again, breaking earlier undertakings underlines the serious sponsorship issues if AC37 were to be held in Auckland.

Getting commercially backed teams back into the Cup is essential for the long-term health of the America's Cup. Looking back, the billionaire-backed teams only last a couple of cycles before their owners tire of having their deep pockets drained - unless they are mad passionate sailors, and funding an America's Cup is just rounding error on their fabulous fortunes.

Emirates Team New Zealand, in its current form, as a commercially dependent America's Cup team, has been around for 20 years. Under Peter Blake and Alan Sefton, it operated for eight years with the "Family of Five" sponsorship arrangement, from late 1992 to April 2000. Under the baton of Michael Fay, with he and business partner, David Richwhite, underwriting the commercially sponsored team, it ran for three cycles, including one Deed of Gift challenge.

Every rule has an exception, and this one's is Luna Rossa - which has had the generous backing of the Prada group for over 20 years - having challenged for seven America's Cups.

Larry Ellison challenged/defended on five occasions, before calling it a day.

The point is that billionaire backers are few on the ground and, America's Cup teams, like successful F1 teams, need to be on a broad commercial funding base to survive long-term.

The bottom line with all the current hoo-ha, is that there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge for the 37th America's Cup. What is happening now does not have a lot of influence later. The only caveat is that you must have a design exercise running, or are planning on buying a design package from the Defender.

On that latter basis, $60million for a first-time challenger is feasible, while the super teams run double that budget.

Much has been made of the entry/return of Alinghi after sitting out the last three Cups. Their integration with the Red Bull F1 team follows a similar path to INEOS Britannia, who are working out of the Mercedes AMG facility in Brackley, 70 miles northwest of London.

Many seem to believe that having an F1 team on board is essential - it's not unless you have to play catch-up in the design stakes.

Teams like ETNZ and Luna Rossa, and yet to enter American Magic, already have an established set of design tools and performance data, along with simulators calibrated to AC75 performance. In their instances, an association with an F1 team is less imperative.

Comments that Luna Rossa is hooking up with Ferrari are speculation only. ETNZ, through their Chief Designer Dan Bernasconi, already have an informal connection to McLaren Racing, and ETNZ have a 30 strong design team, who served them well last time.

In previous cycles, various teams connections to companies in the aerospace industry, have been played up. But looking back, the boats didn't seem to be any quicker, and as ETNZ found out in 2003, it is easy to be blinded by science. The interface between the real and virtual AC worlds is vital. It is not insignificant that ETNZ has retained the services of top French naval architect Guillaume Verdier. Alinghi have covered that base, too.

Astute Olympic Funding

On Friday, High-Performance Sport NZ announced their funding for the next Olympic cycle - which thanks to the postponed Tokyo2020, is just three years duration. Given all that has gone on, HPSNZ seems to have taken a more balanced view than previously, which is heartening - given all that has gone on.

Yachting NZ came out of it rather well. While the medal return from Tokyo2020 might not have been on target. The reality is that we placed in the top five in three events out of six events contested and scored a tenth in the Men's Laser. Last month, Tom Saunders' win in the Laser Worlds was a welcome boost to that scorecard.

The good news is that HPSNZ has managed to see past the immediate record of the NZ Olympic sailing team. With the announced funding level increased to $4.8million per year for the next three years, it allows the Olympic side of the sport to be re-shaped without being financially penalised for its past.

With the way the professional side of the sport is developing, for many, the Olympics are no longer the pinnacle of the sport but are an entry point to what can be a 35-40 year or more professional sailing career. The way the sport is structured at present, for would-be professional sailors, there is a clear pathway from the Optimist through to the America's Cup via the Olympics - provided you make some well-considered choices along the way.

Next week we hope to publish an interview with Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, looking back on their careers and giving some advice for those who look to follow in their footsteps.

SailGP blast

SailGP Sydney concluded, with the first three races being sailed on Friday, in lighter winds, and three (including the final) on Saturday in a fresh seabreeze that gusted to 25kts.

Sunday was the first SailGP event that got us on the edge of our seats. The teams were definitely sailing at the edge, with plenty of power, and not a lot of control, with the skill of the teams very obvious. The fact that on Saturday there was no capsizes, or pitchpoles is a testament to the crews and the event. The combination of small rigs and high-speed foils was the correct configuration for the day, and when the other two rig options are used in their proper range, the event can only improve. The irritating commentary has improved slightly, but still they won't back off and leave the pictures to do the talking.

It was not been a good series for either "New Zealand" crew.

The Peter Burling and Blair Tuke led NZ SailGP had a better day on Saturday, with fast, in control power. But on Day 1 on Friday, they paid a heavy penalty for their mistakes, without the ability to recover placings that other teams have displayed in similar situations.

As Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have mentioned in interviews they have done with Sail-World - and the same applies to Josh Junior, Andy Maloney and Erica Dawson - the rescheduling of Tokyo2020 from 2020 to 2021 made a tight schedule even tighter - putting the mix of America's Cup, SailGP, the Olympics and Live Ocean all in competition for their scarce time. Unlike others, they have also had to work within the constraints of COVID, including stints in MIQ and having training regattas cancelled.

In that mix, something to be compromised. Burling and Tuke, don't have the luxury of the single focus that most of the other teams have had in the Olympics, America's Cup and SailGP. Anyone on the water at the Enoshima could see that Burling and Tuke were not recovering from a tight spot in the way they have done in the past. And it is now the same for SailGP. They did much better on Day 2, but the damage had already been done.

For sure, some of the SailGP set - Giles Scott (GBR) for one - did all three events - winning six of the ten races in the Finn at Tokyo2020. The Brits were eliminated in the Final of the Prada Cup and have been out of also form in SailGP. Jimmy Spithill did two - the America's Cup (Luna Rossa) and now SailGP. By his own admission, the Sydneysider, was out of form on Friday in his home waters - but got his act together on Day 2.

The other "kiwi" crew Japan SailGP, helmed by newly signed ETNZ sailor Nathan Outteridge, sailed well in the first couple of races but got in the way of "Crash" Ainslie, who repeated his feat of the opening day of the 2017 Louis Vuitton Trophy in Bermuda. Apparently not keeping a lookout to leeward, Ainslie says they didn't see the Japanese boat and cut across their course. At the last minute, the Brits took some avoiding action, but their leeward foil angle was wrong, lifting the leeward hull high above the windward hull of JapanSailGP before his daggerboard struck their bow, slicing it off.

A slow-speed replay of the collision shows that the Brits only altered their helm 2 secs before the collision, and then returned it to central, avoiding the hull swinging against the two crew in the forward cockpit. One of the Japanese was able to leap clear, the other stayed/was unable to move. Ainslie's later claim that he didn't see the other boat, seems to be a common problem - as AC75 skippers have also spoken of having areas of blocked vision. In this situation it would seem essential for the F50's to have a spotter/tactician sitting behind the helmsman, with an awareness of the other boats and able to call tactics.

Nina Curtis, a former Olympic Match racer, effectively won the final for AustraliaSailGP with her call of the overlap being broken over the USsailGP team approaching the first mark. Her call alerting skipper Tom Slingsby to the opportunity, allowed him to execute a daring high speed bear-away, snatch the lead at the mark which he retained for the rest of the race.

The star-turn of SailGP on Friday, was another Kiwi, Phil Robertson, with the former world match racing champion, putting the rest of the fleet to the sword in Sydney. Hopefully, he has been a secret signing for ETNZ.

From an America's Cup perspective, there is a lot of Kiwi talent in SailGP - and the problem with ETNZ's sailing squad will be who to leave out rather than who to put in. In 2024, for probably the first time ever, there will be real competition for places in the back-end of the Kiwi boat - and that can only be for the betterment of the team and enabling out of form sailors to be subbed off - as in other sports. The other edge, if Burling, Robertson and Outteridge are in the mix, is that the Kiwis will have the ability to be able to change their starting style from race to race. That will put an end to rival coaches' ability to develop a playbook of their competitor - so that a predictable pattern is tracked and counters developed - as Oracle did to devastating effect in the starts of the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco. Plus, with two or three helmsmen, ETNZ they can test the effectiveness of the Italian option of running a helmsman on either side of the boat.

Great deals for Christmas

Next week is the last week before Christmas, and we have some excellent advertiser deals for our readers. Altex Coatings are offering the opportunity to win back the cost of their anti-fouling paint. Altex is running some excellent advice in the often confusing world of anti-fouling paint and which is best for you and your boat.

A new advertiser, Fujinon, is offering . $300 off a select range of Fujinon Binoculars Again, there is an excellent explanation of how image-stabilised binoculars work. This feature enables Fujinon to provide double the power/magnification over the standard 7x power, which has been about as much as can be handled in a marine situation.

We've been promoting some great deals that are available from NZ Sailcraft, who are importing several containers of boats which will be available for pre-Christmas purchase. Hayden Whitburn and his team have RS Feva's available as a two-person dinghy, the RS Aero as a single-person dinghy, and the RS Quest for groups of up to four sailors of varying ages. NZ Sailcraft has just advised they have a couple of RS CAT 14's coming in as well. All these boats are great off the beach boats.

With international travel looking further away than ever, why not raid your travel fund, and pick a new dinghy for you and your family for the Christmas/New Year break?

Have a great Christmas and a better New Year.

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