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Cup Critiqued: One size doesn't fit all as teams look at their options for moving to Barcelona

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World 6 May 2022 02:06 PDT
INEOS Team UK will set up their winter base in Mallorca © Port Authority of the Balearics.

Third of a 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.

INEOS Britannia has elaborated on skipper/CEO Ben Ainslie's comment in the Daily Telegraph on Monday saying the team was setting up a base in Palma, Mallorca, as part of their preparations for 37th America’s Cup.

In a statement on the team's website, the Mallorca location is described as a "winter training base" - without any comment on where they will be training over the European Summer.

The team notes this will mark the team's return to the water following the AC36 Challenger Series in Auckland in March 2021. Under the Protocol for the 2024 America's Cup, none of the existing teams who competed in the 2021 America's Cup Regattas can sail an AC75 before September 17, 2022.

Skipper Ben Ainslie outlined the team's base plans in his occasional column where he updated on the America's Cup team and reflected on the weekend's SailGP Regatta in Bermuda.

Now that Barcelona has been named as the venue and the approximate dates for the 2024 America's Cup Regattas named, all teams have to devise a strategy around where their home base will be, when they will move to Barcelona and how long they will stay, AC75 raceboat launch dates and answer a swag of other questions around those issues and dates. As we saw in the last America's Cup, these decisions can have unintended consequences in an unstable geo-political situation and a hopefully receding pandemic.

Of the other teams, Luna Rossa have a well-established base in Cagliari, Sardinia. Emirates Team NZ have the use of their base in Auckland until after the next America's Cup. American Magic will initially be sailing out of Pensacola. And Alinghi have made no announcement about a base location, even though they are expected to be the first team to go sailing in the current America's Cup cycle.

The Brits have donated their second AC75 to the Classic Boat Museum at Cowes. It is a fair bet that they will be going straight to their (one design, multi-purpose, half-sized AC75) AC40 and start testing.

The Cup rules say the Defender gets the first AC40 out of the McConaghy yard in China. One of the perks of being Challenger of Record is that the Brits will get the second.

Emirates Team NZ's AC40 has already come out of the mould, and the British boat will be well underway if that hasn't been popped out already.

Emirates Team NZ will be getting their first AC40 in August and are expected to be sailing in mid-September this year.

The rest of the Challengers get their boats in order of entry, assuming that all three will get one AC40 before any get their second.

All teams are expected to relocate to Barcelona for four months, from June 1 to September 30, 2023. Whether they take AC75s or AC40s, or both, remains to be seen.

To be of any use, the AC75s raced in the 2021 America's Cup need to have their weight reduced by 1000kgs to reflect the new Version 2 weight limit. That change was made to enable foiling with small wings at lower wind speeds. It may well be that the pain of effecting weight reduction on a 2021 vintage AC75 is just not worth the gain.

The teams are restricted to only sailing AC75s or AC40s at the Cup venue in the June 1 - September 30, 2023 period. They can't stay home. If they want to go sailing it has to be in Barcelona.

There is an additional "no sail" period in Article 24.2(c)(ii) which requires each team to nominate a period of eight consecutive weeks when they are blocked from sailing only an AC75 yacht between March 1 and May 31 2023. Of course, if they are not going to sail an AC75, then there is no need to nominate a "no sail" period. This provision looks to be increasingly irrelevant as teams appear to be accepting that the AC40's are going to get some serious use.

The big advantage of sailing out of Barcelona is that a team can work outside the reconnaissance restrictions and can eyeball competing teams on the water, rather than being restricted to the pool of images and video.

Dates confirmed or adjusted?

The venue only sailing dates may shift now that Barcelona has been selected, and the Challenger trials and Match dates are set for September-October 2024.

A shift in "Venue Only" 2023 sailing dates to pair with the corresponding period in 2024 means that the teams would get to sail in Barcelona in the months that corresponded to the Challenger Selection Series

Article 24.2(b) of the Protocol requires that "The finalised dates for Non-Sailing Periods will be published within one month of the Match venue announcement under Article 8.1".

The same Article 8.1 required the venue and the approximate dates for the Match Racing Period to be announced on or before March 31, 2022.

That announcement was forced a couple of days earlier than intended, thanks to social media activity by Barcelona authorities, unable to contain their glee with being selected as the venue for the 2024 America's Cup.

Any changes to the Non-Sailing Periods in Article 24.2b were required to be "confirmed or adjusted" a month after the venue announcement - with the deadline set at the end of April.

From what we can see, this has not been done.

It may well be that the do nothing option is easiest if there is not unanimous agreement. That way teams are free to set their own schedule, and the conditions under which they entered have not changed, other than the window fro the America's cup Regattas has shifted from May/Jun 2024 to September/October 2024.

A shift in dates would not probably not work the way of the Defender, Emirates Team NZ, who have said they intend to stay in New Zealand for as long as possible.

With an October 2024 Match, the current Protocol dates work just fine for the Kiwis, setting them up for an Endless Summer.

It begins when they sail their AC40 (and maybe their AC75 Te Rehutai) in Auckland over the Down Under summer in almost four months, starting in September 2022.

At the end of the sailing season, the Kiwis fly north to Barcelona with an AC40 from the end of May to September 2023.

Then it's back to Auckland for another summer of AC40 sailing, maybe with two AC40's to brush up their match racing skills. We guess their new AC75 will likely be launched in Auckland in February/March 2024 and arrive in Barcelona in June/July/August 2024 to prepare for the Match in October 2024. Along with the Challengers, the Defender has to sail an AC75 in the Final of three Preliminary regattas.

A risky design approach

Increasingly it would seem that the teams that don't recommission their AC75's from the 2021 America's Cup are prepared to risk designing their new AC75s based on sailing data from the last Cup, plus what they learn from the half-scale AC40s and the performance simulators.

Based on what was seen in the last Cup, some would say that is a significant risk, then the teams were allowed to build two AC75s. The Brits got it completely wrong with their first design and had some tense moments, getting the bugs out of their second. Expecting to get it right first time in 2024 seems to be a big ask.

The six-month delay in venue selection, after Cork was so close to being anointed, looks to have caused some head-scratching within INEOS Britannia.

They vacated their base in Portsmouth when they came to Auckland for the 2021 America's Cup. It has since been taken over by BAR Technologies and is now being used for a variety of futuristic marine projects and technologies. BAR Technologies is headed up by one Martin Whitmarsh, a former key player in McLaren Racing. He left the F1 racing team in 2014 to enter the America's Cup scene as part of the Ben Ainslie Racing team, renamed Land Rover BAR, that challenged through the Royal Yacht Squadron Racing Ltd entity for the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda.

INEOS Britannia also has an empty base at Auckland's Wynyard Harbour, used in the 2021 Cup.

In their news item, the Brits confirm that "on-water testing will begin towards the end of the summer (September 2022) and continues until the team relocates full time to the 37th America's Cup venue in Barcelona for their final push in their challenge for the Auld Mug."

That statement implies that the Mallorca setup is only temporary until a permanent base is established in Barcelona.

That move, of course, involves negotiations with the port authorities. In Barcelona, the teams are scattered around various sites within the port on port owned/controlled land, implying that the spaces won't be rent-free (aside from Emirates Team NZ's).

With only two and a half years to run until the start of the Cup Regattas, it is likely that teams will run with flexible bases - similar to that which the teams used in Bermuda, and American Magic and Luna Rossa used in Auckland. The temporary nature pf the construction means they can skirt a lot of planning regulations and requirements, and are quick to erect.

The Brits and Swiss look like they will be the only teams who will not have a base in their own country. They are also the only teams with F1 connections (Red Bull/Alinghi and INEOS Britannia/Mercedes-AMG Petronas), and a point of interest will be how their respective design teams operate and interact with remote sailing teams.

"We looked at a number of venues around Europe and Palma was the clear winner," said Dave Endean, INEOS Britannia Chief Operating Officer, in their statement. "We had to select the location for our winter training a long time ago and before we had clarity on the final venue selection for the America's Cup.

"Palma ticked all boxes with great facilities, short travel time from the UK and weather data that gave predictable year-round weather conditions, all of which will enable us to have significant hours on the water.

He continued: "The team at Ports de Balears also played a huge part in the decision to choose Palma, they have pulled out all the stops to enable our smooth transition, and we look forward to showcasing Palma's word-class sailing facilities during our stay".

The team's winter HQ will be located in the Porto Pi area of the Palma marina district, allowing easy access to the renowned Bay of Palma, which is already used for world-class sailing regattas including the renowned Trofeo Princesa Sofía which annually hosts 1,000 Olympic class sailors from 62 nations.

As previously announced, the INEOS Britannia's design team will predominately be located alongside Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team in Brackley, "as part of the high-performance group that brings together the British America's Cup team and Mercedes-AMG F1 Applied Science."

The full news story from INEOS Britannia can be read by clicking here

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