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North Sails 2021 Innovation - LEADERBOARD

Letter from the Antipodes: Cup venue, ETNZ hooks into SailGP, getting over COVID mandates

by Richard Gladwell/ 21 Mar 19:05 PDT 22 March 2022
New Zealand SailGP Team co-helmed by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke sail past the San Francisco skyline during a practice session ahead of San Francisco SailGP, Season 2 © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

Slowly but surely, New Zealand sailing seems to be emerging from the various Covid mandates that have had a significant impact on all sports at all levels for the last couple of years. Hopefully most will be dropped on Wednesday.

The NZSailGP team is working up in San Francisco ahead of the final round of Season 2 of the SailGP circuit. SailGP San Francisco has the biggest prize in sailing - USD$1million hanging on the Final Race outcome.

Emirates New Zealand has two skippers in the fleet - Peter Burling on the NZSailGP entry and Nathan Outteridge JapanSailGP. Phil Robertson (NZL) has been the skipper of SpainSailGP for Season 2.

Throughout the two year Covid saga Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have been the worst affected Kiwi sailors by the various mandates and multi-national rules, including Tokyo2020 being postponed for 12 months into 2021. That rammed their 49er campaign into the America's Cup Defence year, which was not ideal. All considered they did well to come out of it with a Cup win and a very near miss on the Olympic Gold medal.

The 2021 America's Cup was punctuated with Covid lockdowns and more so by international border restrictions. The Match itself was due to start on March 6, but the NZ Government did not reduce alert levels until four days later, delaying the start to March 10.

Burling and Tuke's buildup for the re-scheduled Tokyo2020 Olympic Regatta was also marred by Covid-shortened training sessions internationally. Like all competitors, they were not allowed to start sailing at Enoshima until July 14 - a couple of weeks before the start of racing. Covid also triggered the postponement of the final Pre-Olympic Regatta at Enoshima and then its cancellation. All athletes went into the Olympics underdone - a situation compounded by the weather being unexpectedly light - making for a challenging experience.

Pete and Blair's SailGP racing has been wedged in around various Covid mandates in New Zealand and overseas. The Final Round in San Francisco will be the first where they have had a close to normal build up into the event, and their performance will be watched with great interest.

It is too easy to take the taciturn view of "just working with what is in front of you" which has been the way for the past two years. Hopefully those days, along with the MIQ/re-entry requirements for international travel, are behind us.

In New Zealand, sailing has fared better than most sports that can't properly operate under the stricture of the Covid mandates - and many events have been cancelled. Some sailing regattas have been cancelled, but overall, NZ sailing's bounceback from Covid has been impressive, with big entries in the regattas that are being sailed and, in many cases, double the expected entry.

There's no diminution in numbers at Wakatere Boating Club on Auckland's North Shore, with large numbers of mostly junior sailors out mid-week training for their major regattas over Easter. It would be a surprise if that situation were not repeated be repeated at other clubs.

Traditionally Kiwi sailors have always done well when faced with adversity. It's great to see that trait coming out in the succeeding generations. The old sailing maxim "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" appears to once again summed up sailing's response to the pandemic and its mandates. Regatta organisers deserve a big pat on the back for their efforts. Running a regatta is difficult enough on a good day, but complying with the Covid rules and being subject to individual fines running into five figures is very worrying.

There have been some sea changes that probably wouldn't have happened but for the lockdowns.

Recreational or expedition sailing has come into vogue, with people beginning to understand that trailing a small boat to one of New Zealand's many lakes, and sailing surrounded by spectacular scenery is a great experience. The RS Quest has sold well into this market - providing a seaworthy sailing boat that performs well and with the room to take non-sailing friends, or young sailors getting their first experiences in the sport. Same song second verse, if you have a bach by the sea or lake and just want a boat that can be left rigged and go sailing in five minutes.

Homebuild construction of kit boats has also taken on a new life, with Cherubs and OK Dinghies being to the fore. A few basic tools are required, and with a bit of help from more experienced friends, the build process is quite enjoyable, and errors are usually easily fixed. The old maxim of "its not how well you build that counts, but how you fix your stuff ups" is something home builders should always bear in mind. For sure everyone wants to build the perfect boat, but provided it measures and is down to weight, there's not a lot that will go wrong that can't be fixed. With a kit boat it is quite hard to make a serious error, and there is a real sense of accomplishment in getting a framework set up that looks just right, ready for the plywood to be laid on.

Back on the circuits

As proof of a another step back to sailing as we used to know it, the European international regatta season is getting under way.

Several New Zealand teams will be competing. including the first major international Olympic class regatta, the Trofeo Princesa Sofía, sailed from the island of Mallorca, Spain.

New Zealand is also expected to have a team entered in the Youth Sailing World Championships scheduled for The Hague, in mid-July. New Zealand last competed three years ago in the 2019 Youth Worlds. World Sailing claim 450 sailors from 69 countries - which is a good turnout.

Last weekend, the JJ Giltinan 18ft skiff Worlds were sailed on Sydney harbour - and was won again by an Australian crew.

Due to Covid and being unable to get back into New Zealand, the three-time champion Dave McDiarmid, Matt Steven and Brad Collins could not defend their championship title for the second year in a row. They won their third JJ Giltinan in March 2020, and New Zealand was put into a lockdown a few days after the finish of the event.

Burling and Tuke look back on 49ers

In this edition, we have run an interview, courtesy of Yachting New Zealand, with Peter Burling and Blair Tuke as they look back on a three Olympiad career in the 49er class.

In that era, they have won an Olympic Gold medal, two Silvers, and six World championships. The focus of the interview is on their 49er sailing and how they got from where they started in 2009, with no experience in the class to winning a Silver medal three years later; then to win the Gold medal in Rio, and tie for the Gold in Enoshima seven or so months ago.

In between, Pete and Blair won two America's Cups, competed in a Volvo Ocean Race, launched their SailGP campaign and their Live Ocean marine conservation foundation, which has five employees and has several projects under way.

That's quite an impressive list of achievements.

There's not a lot in the YNZ interview on the America's Cup. However, we have plenty of that in this edition.

Last Thursday, March 17 marked the anniversary of Royal NZ Yacht Squadron/Emirates Team NZ's successful Defence of the America's Cup. It was the club's fourth America's Cup win, and the second time it has conducted a successful Defence. Outside the New York Yacht Club, RNZYS is the only club to have twice Defended the most prestigious trophy in sailing. In this edition we look back at that final day of the 2021 America's Cup, and Emirates Team NZ provide their look at the project and achievement in the 12 months since the win.

On the day of the win anniversary, Peter Montgomery was interviewed by Radio New Zealand mostly on the first America's Cup win in 1995, and how that set up subsequent wins in 2000, 2017 and 2021. The 28 minute long interview is a great review of NZ's Cup history.

Method in ETNZ's "madness"

There are several updates on Emirates Team New Zealand's various projects - the AC40, the Wind Powered Land Speed project, and the hydrogen-fueled foiling chase boat. Many don't understand how these projects work together - so late last week, we looked at all the component projects.

It's quite apparent when all the components are spread out as to why the team has taken the direction it has, and how they can test a lot of new ideas in full scale, without infringing the rules around the use of Surrogate boats (which can't be longer than 12metres or 39ft, or any other sailing yacht longer than 6 metres "capable of producing design or performance information for the use either directly or indirectly for use in the design, construction or sailing of an AC75 yacht").

Emirates Team New Zealand's projects sit just outside those restrictions, and are an alternate path to a formal hookup with a F1 design team in the style of INEOS Britannia and Alinghi. Based on what we saw overnight with the performance of some of the new F1 car designs from the previously top performing teams, took a bit of the gloss off the merits of having an F1 partnership with an America's Cup team. But it is early days.

There's been plenty of speculation around ETNZ's sailing crew and whether there was some issue with Blair Tuke and Peter Burling. There was - in that they couldn't do everything they had on their plate - and had to decide between the 2024 America's Cup and Paris2024 and trying for a fourth medal. It's a decision that hasn't had to be made before by any current America's Cup champion - and arises largely through the two events being held within 4-6 weeks of each other.

The Finn sailors, Andy Maloney and Josh Junior, who are in the ETNZ sailing crew, don't have the Pete and Blair's dilemma as the Finn has been dropped for Paris2024. Their Paris2024 decision has effectively been made for them.

Nathan Outteridge sailed with his sister for Australia in the Nacra 17 - but was not selected for Tokyo2020. He could have continued with another Olympic campaign but for the date clash with the America's Cup and Paris2024.

In its buildup to the 2024 AC, ETNZ is in a pretty good place, with five of its six sailing team competing on the SailGP circuit and coming up against several of their competitors in the 2024 America's Cup. Whether that remains the case for Season 3 is yet to be seen, but the NZSailGP F50 will definitely be competing.

That direction was confirmed with the confirmation that long-time ETNZ sailing team member and coach, Ray Davies will run a dual role as coach for the SailGP team and the America's Cup team. The appointment points to one of the America's Cup teams strategies to bolster the performance of its sailing team, and provide an ongoing series to keep a sharp edge on the racing team.

Davies appointment will also help an indifferent NZSailGP performance in their first season, which has not seen Peter Burling and friends put their stamp on the SailGP event in the way that they have in the America's Cup and Olympics.

While the SailGP fleet racing format will not help Emirates Team New Zealand to build its capability in Match Racing, Davies involvement across the two events will keep the communication channels open within the sailing team. It should also give ETNZ an edge over the other America's Cup teams, only INEOS Britannia is also competing on the SailGP circuit, but their America's Cup tactician Giles Scott is missing from the SailGP lineup, and the INEOS Britannia have not formally announced a core sailing crew list, and don't appear to have the same degree of crew overlap as do the Kiwi teams.

Nationality restrictions apply in both events. While there will be a Swiss entry in SailGP in Season 3, however again in the information that has been released on team crew lists there would appear to be little overlap between the America's Cup and SailGP teams. The SailGP does include three of the four helmsmen who contested the 2021 America's Cup. Tom Slingsby winner of Season and hot favorite to win Season 2 for AustraliaSailGP has set the pace in the foiling F50's. Also prominent are Nathan Outteridge now part of ETNZ, but skippering for JapanSailGP, and former world match racing champion Phil Robertson (NZL), currently sailing with Spain SailGP, but moving across to the new Canada SailGP for Season 3.

Ten days to venue announcement?

We also have a look at the venue situation in this edition - not that Emirates Team NZ are saying anything about the venues, or process. As we have noted previously ETNZ are notorious for doing the unexpected - and any commentary on their venue decision next Thursday week, must be seen in this light.

Ostensibly the options are well known - as of mid-February, being Malaga and Barcelona in Spain and Cork in Ireland. Auckland has always been in the mix. But the last time we heard, ETNZ put odds on Auckland as an option, rating it at about a 3% chance. However the world has moved on since then.

In our earshot, ETNZ hasn't mentioned Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for a few months. There have been a few indicators pointing to Jeddah being excluded. It is interesting to note that F1 is still planning to hold an event in Jeddah next weekend. However an F! event being in town for a couple of weeks, is quite a different situation from being the 2024 AC venue. The way the America's Cup Protocol is worded, teams are effectively required to be at the venue for almost 12 months. That is a long time, with security issues in Jeddah being a concern for some teams. Others weren't that concerned.

It remains to be seen how the war between Russia and Ukraine affects the America's Cup and other sports events in Europe. The events of the past 24 days dominate the news in Europe, and it is hard to see how a very commercial yacht race can be run on the European continent against that backdrop. This conflict has been festering since 2014 or earlier. No one can predict how it will end or how long that will take.

However, the America's Cup is not alone. The Paris Olympics are also due to take place in 2024, and it is hard to see that event taking place if the hostilities remain at their current level.

The difference between the two events is that the venue for the 2024 Olympics is already determined, and as with the Covid pandemic in the run-up to Tokyo2020, it is a matter of waiting to see how the military situation pans out.

The America's Cup teams, and the event, need venue certainty for commercial, logistics and sailing reasons.

ETNZ's CEO Grant Dalton left for Europe as soon as the NZ Government started opening up the international border and is seeing the venues for himself, and how those could work, and meeting the people behind the various bids.

It is up to those venue bid backers as to whether, in the current circumstances, they will sign on the dotted line and commit to putting up the money and starting the infrastructure build process - and can guarantee the completion deadline.

Given that the Protocol says that the teams are only allowed to sail at the Venue from June 1 to September 30, 2023, that means the team base facilities must be ready by March 2023 - which gives 12 months from now, to get the necessary construction consents in place and for the team base construction area to be completed. If one of the venues already had the infrastructure in place, the decision would be a lot easier. But that is not the case, from what we've been able to determine.

In the circumstances, there needs to be some consultation with the teams - which is another advantage of Dalts being in Europe, and in the same time zone. The venue decision should not be made by ETNZ/RNZYS alone - as happened in 2007 and 2017 when the America's Cup was not sailed on the waters of the Defender. But the venue decision won't be by democratic vote - more a decision by a benign dictator.

For a variety of reasons, it would seem that ETNZ will do what they did for the 36th Match - name a preferred venue and deadlines along with a backup that already has the infrastructure - which is probably Auckland - even if a few dead rats have to be swallowed to make it happen.

A decision is due in about ten days - stay tuned.

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