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Letter from the Antipodes: America's Cup Entries, Sail GP - the best yet, 2021 in review

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 13 Jan 01:56 PST 13 January 2022
50 years on - 1971 Sydney Hobart line honours winner Kialoa II 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Rolex / Andrea Francolini

The 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race marked the beginning of the resumption of major sailing events in the southern hemisphere.

That is not to say that the world as we knew it prior to March 2020, is open again - far from it. However congratulations to all competitors, officials and supporters for making the race happen, and serving notice that it is possible to conduct international sport, albeit it that in this event there were no international entries.

That lack of international teams does not mean that there is any lack of international interest - and like the Rolex Fastnet Race in August, the race - and races within the race, particularly the double handed division - attracted plenty of international fans.

The race was notable for being one of the slowest, and before the event got under way on Boxing Day, it was evident that the race record was never under serious threat from the three supermaxis competing.

That said the fans' attention turned to the contest for overall honours, which provided controversy by the bucketful.

The selective protest by the race committee against the provisional overall winner, Celestial, will have international ramifications long after the finish of the classic offshore race.

We have seen no reason as to why it was only Celestial who was protested by the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race Committee, for not responding to VHF radio calls for a period of 90 minutes, after a crew member accidentally set off a personal locator beacon (PLB).

Several other boats had extended periods of radio silence, but no action was taken against them. Why not? Several boats set off PLB's accidentally, but no action was taken. Why not? That is not to say that every slip-up deserves a penalty, but they should all be considered by the International Jury and a decision made - which in most cases would be no penalty.

Having their name on a Hearing schedule, for all to see, and having to plead their case in front of the Panel, is often punishment enough, and a salutary lesson to all.

If race committees are going to take action against competitors for breaking rules, and particularly safety rules, then they have to be consistent and lodge complaints against all who infringed and not single out one competitor - and particularly the one with the most to lose.

Making an example of one competitor is never sound practice. It is overly harsh on that competitor, and a year or two down the track, any "lesson" is soon forgotten. From a media perspective, it is not a good look for the sport.

Race committees have to be seen as being consistent and fair. What should have happened is that a the Race Committee files a report to the International Jury, of all safety regulation breaches, and left it to the men and women of the sailing judiciary to resolve.

Were this process adopted, Celestial may have wound up getting the same 40-minute penalty, however, justice would be seen to be done to all who broke a rule. This outcome just looks spiteful and detracts from what was otherwise an excellent race, despite the high withdrawal rate on the first night.

Ichi Ban has the perfect right to claim redress if she feels time was lost through assisting other boats, or being asked to undertake a safety activity in regard to other competitors - even though she might not have deviated from her course.

Ichi Ban is perfectly entitled to make that claim. It is the international Jury's place to make the decision on the merits of that claim. As it was Ichi Ban was awarded a very small amount of redress which acknowledges her deeds, but in itself was not sufficient to alter the outcome.

The Sydney Hobart Race has the highest safety standards of any similar race in the world, and the consequences of this incident (and the others) will be followed with great interest. We look forward to seeing the lessons learned, and how these are applied in other events. Any enquiry needs to extend beyond Celestial.

We hope you enjoyed Sail-World's coverage of the race, with special mention of the efforts of our Australian Editor, John Curnow, and Bow Caddy Media - Dale and Crosby Lorimer. They all provided an independent view of the racing - something that is increasingly becoming a rarity, in these PR massaged times, to ensure the "right" message gets through.

50th anniversary

The just-completed Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race marked 50th anniversary of the win by the three One-Tonners, which took first second and third overall and won the Southern Cross Cup for New Zealand. It was the first time an international team had achieved the feat - and probably the last.

In hindsight, the occasion was an important milestone in the development of New Zealand sailing, proving that there was both breadth and depth in the sport, and setting the scene for later Whitbread Round the World Race campaigns and wins, followed by several Admirals' Cup challenges, winning the unofficial world championship of offshore racing in 1987 - the same year as New Zealand's first America's Cup challenge.

2021 highlights

Looking back on 2021, the highlights were undoubtedly the America's Cup regattas in mid-December - mid-March, and the Olympics in July-August.

The America's Cup now seems a long time ago. While many consider it was a great event, it was well short of what it could have been - without the presence and official reactions to Covid.

For sure it was a great TV spectacle, and Kiwi fans got the outcome they wanted. Emirates Team New Zealand proved to be several rungs higher on the development ladder than the other teams - maintaining the development jump they established in Bermuda.

In critiquing the 37th America's Cup, most pundits seem to be unable to comprehend that those AC36 sponsorship contracts were negotiated in pre-Covid times, and the sponsors had to bite the bullet on their diminished investment returns due to lockdowns and severe immigration restrictions.

The situation for the 37th America's Cup is not a straight roll-over of commercial arrangements from AC36. Far from it.

Sponsors and their teams of lawyers are now much warier about entering into long-term sponsorship contracts, against a very uncertain Covid backdrop.

While there is not a lot coming out about the venue options for the 37th America's Cup, our gut feel is that only Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, or a similar Middle Eastern monarchy, are able to match Emirates Team NZ's financial requirements. However, as a sailing venue for what is effectively a 6-12 month event, Jeddah is not as attractive to the teams and organisers from a sponsorship and fans' perspective.

Five-ring reality show

Tokyo2020 took place after a 12-month, Covid induced, postponement. Like the America's Cup, the event fell well short of what is expected of a Sailing Olympics. That was due largely to the compressed build-up time - which affected some competitors more than others, for the simple reason of geography and their government's restrictions on travel - which in turn impacted team preparations and individual sailor performances.

The disturbing aspect of the Olympic sailing regatta is that increasingly it is moving into the realm of being a TV reality show, where sailors are expected to compete in the pinnacle event of the quadrennium on a designated piece of water regardless of the conditions.

The days of looking at the Olympics as a fair test of sailing to determine the best of the best, are gone. As far as sailing is concerned, the Olympic regatta is one that is made for TV. For Tokyo2020, courses and class allocations were designated well in advance, in the belief that good competitors will win through whatever the conditions.

At Enoshima, there were numerous examples of top competitors, posting discard performances on the first, and early days of the regatta - not through poor sailing, but because courses were set in badly affected locations where a toss of the coin was as good a way of determining the favoured side of the beat as any.

That situation then drops the Olympic sailor into a decision-point, where they have to seriously think about whether it is worth their while in devoting three or four years of their lives to what appears on the water to be a crap-shoot. You don't see that layer on the live TV coverage.

Or, are there are better options in the form of SailGP, America's Cup, The Ocean Race, or being involved in professional inshore and offshore circuits which are more compatible with developing a professional sailing career?

SailGP

Pro-sailing's rising star of the past year has to be SailGP - for its determination to keep racing in the face of an adverse Covid situation. The circuit, which lost all but one regatta of its original second season, was determined not to lose another in the re-badged Season 2 - and in the end only dropped the inaugural SailGP New Zealand event due to have been held in Lyttelton in a couple of weeks.

Competition within SailGP is on the improve, with many of the America's Cup sailors moving across to compete in both events. As both evolve, the cross-code competition will become an intriguing part of the Cup build-up, as well as providing a stage for the rock-stars of the sport to demonstrate their talents.

It still remains to be seen if the multiplicity of F50 rigs and foils can deliver enthralling racing across a range of conditions. Certainly, the final two fleet races in Sydney were edge of the seat stuff. Will the final round of Season 2 in San Francisco deliver more of the same - or even go up a level?

Cherub Kudos

On the domestic scene, there was not a lot of sailing, but the star turn has to belong to the revitalised Cherub class - with aficionados using the four-month Auckland lockdown to start new kit builds, or rejuvenate older hulls.

The Cherub revival is quite amazing for what is now a 70yr old class, and one that has developed some of New Zealand's and Australia's top designers, builders and sailors. While the restricted classes are eschewed by many, in favour of the single manufacturer one designs, the Cherub, along with the OK Dinghy and many others of a similar ilk in UK and elsewhere - are all growing their numbers from lock-down projects.

Whether this trend stays alive, post-pandemic remains to be seen.

Good sailing!

RG

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