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Cup Critiqued: Dateline Barcelona.. Spy games .. Alinghi OK to sail.. Brits' museum piece

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World 15 May 20:25 PDT 16 May 2022
Too early for Britannia II to become a museum piece after less than 20 races? © Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com / nz

First of a new series taking an off-piste view of what isn't said in the media releases from the teams, Cup organisers, other Cup related parties and anything that isn't being done to death elsewhere.

Media releases are notable for raising more questions than answers.

Last week's release from American Magic telling of their return to Pensacola confirmed what had already been leaked by local media a few days previously.

This week's missive from the Classic Boat Museum base in Cowes had plenty to read between the lines too, but more of that later.

The Pensacola move raised questions about what American Magic would do with their Bristol base and build facility - used to build four boats in the buildup to the 36th America's Cup in Auckland.

In the official release a couple of days later, American Magic, as well as confirming the Pensacola move, also advised that they would be relocating to Barcelona after training all winter "until relocating to Barcelona for the final push into AC37".

Those familiar with the 2024 America's Cup Protocol will know there are some key sailing times rules that control what a team may and may not do.

In late March, after announcing the venue for the 37th Match and its preliminaries, America's Cup Event CEO Grant Dalton said that such was the state of preparation of Barcelona, teams could move in the next day. With the rider that the team first had to sort a ground lease with the Port company.

The latest Cup Protocol is more prescriptive than its predecessors regarding where and when teams can sail.

From June 1 to September 30 next year, teams will not be allowed to sail in their home waters and will only be able to sail for those four months in Barcelona.

One of the comments from American Magic after their post AC36 review was that they felt they spent too much time in transition between bases and venues. That point prompted our question to American Magic as to when, in the cause of venue efficiency, they would be exiting Pensacola and relocating to Spain permanently?

Their response was quick and curt.

"At the moment, we are not going to discuss any of our operational plans. We are still waiting for the Defender to tell us the dates for AC 37 and the associated planning of potential world series events."

On Discovery's Newshub AM Breakfast show today in NZ, a live hookup with American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson was called off minutes ahead of going to air for "technical reasons". That interview probably with host Melissa Chan-Green, who reported for TV3 from Bermuda in the 2017 America's Cup, was billed as covering the Pensacola move - so maybe we'd have learned more.

After receiving the somewhat nebulous reply from American Magic, we asked the Defender/America's Cup Event if they could elaborate on expectations as to when teams would be setting up in Barcelona. That question, maybe not unexpectedly, elicited another brief response.

"We have no idea of other teams' plans, and as you say, dates are in the Protocol. Obviously, we are still only a few weeks from the AC venue being announced so plenty of work going on," was the official line.

Will the AC leopard change its spots?

Nebulous responses are to be expected at this stage of a normal America's Cup cycle, where the media releases tell you precisely what the PR people want you to hear, and no more.

Unlike its 36 predecessors, the 2024 America's Cup will be an "open book" Cup - where the reconnaissance will only be done by a pool of Cup spies. Everything from the recon teams, fed to the Cup teams, is out in the open - which includes full AC media access. We remain somewhat skeptical that this will happen.

Many of the current players, spread across all the teams, have been in the Cup game for decades. Secrecy and subterfuge are a standard part of the game.

It is hard to believe this 170yr old America's Cup leopard will change its spots.

Those who follow F1 can only drool at the access the media and camera crews get to the pit areas, teams, drivers and team bosses.

We are told that the 2024 Cup will follow a similar model, with media getting access to the same content as shot by the independent event spies rather than team controlled reconnaissance teams.

According to the Protocol, no other reconnaissance "outside the joint Recon Programme" is permitted. The Recon Rules are extensive and detailed, taking six pages of the Technical Regulations. They apply to all instances of AC75 sailing and AC40s in development mode.

Even in Barcelona, the teams are permitted only to eyeball their competitors - no recording media is allowed.

But if you aren't sailing in Barcelona, you can't see what a competitor is doing for yourself. The days of having a chase boat on the water but no yacht are gone. Teams can request images/video from the official recon teams of any items of intrigue, but they have to be there to see it in the first instance.

Our contacts tell us that there is a big black market for F1 photos. Whether the same exists for the Cup remains to be seen. Penalties for infringements of the recon rules range from fines to points deductions.

The rules don't prohibit team use of binoculars. On the water, a pair of high powered, electronically stabilised Fujinon 14x1440 binoculars, or similar, can be very revealing. Their equivalence is similar to a 1200mm camera lens, and the clarity is outstanding.

In the current version of the Cup Protocol, there is also an eight week "no sail period", which must be team-nominated and taken between March 1 and May 31 next year. That is followed by a four-month period from the beginning of June to the end of September next year - when the teams are only permitted to sail only in Barcelona.

The bottom line is that the teams have a significant incentive to set up early in Barcelona, particularly those who don't currently have a base.

It would seem that the teams will be at the America's Cup venue for well over two years - a lot longer than the six months or so for the 2021 event.

Maybe that is something that the panjandrums in the Auckland Council and NZ Govt should have taken into account when calculating the tax and spending by America's Cup teams in the 37th America's Cup. Barcelona stands to do very well from an extended Cup.

Test boat or museum piece?

Overnight the Classic Boat Museum base in Cowes announced that INEOS Brittania had donated to become an exhibit, their AC75 Britannia II, "which performed exceptionally well in the early rounds of the Prada Cup in February 2021."

The obvious question arises: What will the Brits sail until their 2024AC raceboat is launched?

There are five pages of rules in the Technical Regulations covering what teams can do to their Legacy AC75s. The only significant item that cannot be modified is the "lower surface" (underwater surface) of the hull. The deck may be changed, but only 12.5% of the surface area.

While defeated in the Prada Cup Final, Britannia II was the first Challenger yacht to qualify for the Final, and it is hard to believe that now is its time for re-purposing as a museum piece.

That being the case, the Brits would seem to be taking a giant leap of faith in relying on AC40 training and simulator sailing ahead of their race boat launch.

There might be a ton of talent available at Brackley, but not having a test AC75 is high risk. With the venue shift to Barcelona, and the Match date moving from June 2024 to sometime in late October 2024, the design teams have been handed an extra three months of vital time. How they spend that time will be intriguing.

Another possibility is for Britannia II to become a "working exhibit" and be test sailed from Cowes.

Of course, to cover all of the possibilities, one could also speculate that the Brits have acquired Luna Rossa's first AC75, which would be known intimately to their now lead designer Martin Fischer, who joined the Brits from Luna Rossa in March 2021.

The critical task for the Brits with their 2021 race boat would surely be to solve its light air foiling issues by modifying the existing wing and foil stock.

The task for Luna Rossa and INEOS Britannia's design teams will be to get their AC75's foiling in light winds with small wing foils rather than the wider versions used in Auckland. American Magic and Emirates Team NZ used minimal foils. The Kiwis won the Cup, and the USA recorded the highest speed. Small foils will be used by all teams at the next Cup, and some of the issues with light air foiling will be resolved now the 2024 version of the AC75 is over 1000kg lighter than the 2021 version.

Alinghi takes pole position

On paper, Alinghi is the first team allowed to sail in the current America's Cup cycle.

In one of several astute calls to date, but after a protracted negotiation, the Swiss team purchased Emirates Team NZ's first AC75, Te Aihe.

If approved by AC Event, Alinghi could start on June 17, but more likely sometime in mid-July.

Despite being twice winners of America's Cup, the Swiss fit the criteria for being a "New Competitor"- because they did not compete in the 2021 America's Cup.

Alinghi has received the approval of the America's Cup Event organiser (ACE) as a New Competitor.

That came after ACE consulted, as required by the Protocol, with the Challenger and Defender, INEOS Britannia and Emirates Team NZ. Under the Protocol, ACE must "consider the extent to which the yacht club and/or its representative team and /or any of its key personnel (sailors or otherwise) participated in any capacity with a team in AC36."

To date, Alinghi has not published a team list. However, from snippets that have emerged from other teams, it would seem that Alinghi has recruited well, persuading several former members of the American Magic and INEOS Team UK groups to jump the Swiss team's fence. That's in addition to the relationship Alinghi has Red Bull F1 team to draw on its designers, engineers and facilities.

American Magic appears to making a swift recovery from their "pause" called in October last year. This week, Terry Hutchinson told Shirley Robertson's podcast that they had a team of 35 designers working on a boat to the new AC75 rule and are apparently back up to full strength.

This week's announcement that Australia's Tom Slingsby would be joining the US team, is a big boost. The 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist in the Laser class, should form a good combination with Brit Paul Goodison his predecessor as Olympic Champion in the same class at the 2008 Olympiad.

That was one media release that didn't have much to read between the lines.

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