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Letter from the Antipodes: Kiwi's COVID time-out ends OK..Cup base shift.. Youth and Womens AC

by Richard Gladwell/ 7 Jul 2022 21:07 PDT 8 July 2022
This is what happy winners look like: George Lee Rush (right) and Sebastian Menzies stayed ahead in the 29er Euro Cup at Kieler Woche © Sascha Klahn / Kieler Woche

The effect of a nearly three-year exclusion from the international racing scene has been answered over the past few days, with strong performances by Kiwi sailors, in several World and European championships underway or just completed in Europe.

The Live Ocean Racing entry in the ETF26 regatta circuit finished second over the weekend at Foiling Week, Lake Garda competing against an eight-boat fleet of 26ft foiling catamarans.

After three days of racing in the European Championships in the Nacra 17, 49er, and 49erFX Olympic classes at Aarhus, Denmark, Kiwi crews are all in the medal hunt, with two 49er crews lying 5th and 6th; a 49erFX crew in seventh, and the Nacra 17 crew lying second overall.

On Wednesday, Seb Menzies and George Lee Rush won the Open European 29er championship being sailed at Rungsted, Denmark. Going into the final day, they held onto their overnight lead but only were confirmed to have won the Open title after the provisional winner was found to have infringed a starting rule and had a points nasty loaded into their championship score. For a full report click here.

"We had a solid event and are happy with our performance, even though our last day wasn't the best," the official report quoted the winning Kiwi crew. "Huge respect for the young French team [who finished second]. They sailed really well here and would have been worthy winners too".

The official results put much greater prominence on the outcome of the European sailors' performance for the strict European championship, which goes against the usual practice of giving prominence to the Open European Championship - open to all comers.

Whatever, the most significant title will be that of World Youth Champion, which gets underway on July 8 in The Hague, Netherlands, where the French/Kiwi rivalry will resume. NZL Sailing Foundation Youth team will compete again in the prestigious regatta for the first time in three years.

The New Zealand Optimist team came up against it in the Optimist Worlds just concluded in Bodrum, Turkey. Again it was another absence after three years for the New Zealand sailors. They were reported by coaches as having good speed but lacked the big fleet experience that their European counterparts, with fewer travel restrictions, have been able to enjoy for several months.

The principle objective for these sailors and all other Optie sailors in New Zealand is to have participated and got the cycle of international regattas underway post COVID.

Like any sailor, the first international sailing experiences are very important, even just from the perspective of having to sail outside your comfort zone and learning self-reliance. Plus, you make some tremendous international friendships that stay with you for the rest of your life.

More on the Womens and Youth America's Cups

The America's Cup has also fired up with the announcement/ confirmation of the event formats for the Women's and Youth America's Cups in the AC40 class.

Like the last Youth event held in Bermuda in 2017, these will be slotted before and during the America's Cup Match itself - when the sailing media and fans travelling to the America's Cup are at the venue, giving the two events the prominence they deserve.

The Youth America's Cup has been held previously in San Francisco and Bermuda. Sailed in the gap between the Challenger Selection Series and the 34th Match for the America's Cup, Kiwi crews finished first and second overall, sailing AC45 wingsailed catamarans re-badged for the occasion in the Red Bull livery.

The Bermuda event was sailed in a similar timeslot to that proposed for Barcelona and was won by the British crew, with the Kiwis second and Swiss third overall. The Kiwis won three races on the final day but were snookered on the last mark rounding of the final race, letting the Brits seize the opportunity and take the series with a couple of points to spare.

With 19 entries from 13 nations confirmed, the 2021 Youth America's Cup was set to be a huge event for New Zealand, complementing the Prada Cup challenger series and America's Cup match superbly. It was estimated to generate more than 10 million dollars into the New Zealand economy, create jobs for New Zealanders and promote New Zealand internationally. Many international teams had indicated they would be arriving to train for the regatta months in advance.

However, like so much else surrounding the 2021 America's Cup, the COVID restrictions put in place by the Government of New Zealand made the Youth AC impossible to stage. Indeed, the international interest in the event was huge - with many fans wanting to come to NZ for the Youth America's Cup and then stay on for the other event, which had just four countries represented.

Quite what the interest in the 2024 event will be like remains to be seen. Only the Kiwis seem to have a training/racing program in place for the Women's event - with several top female sailors getting experience under the auspices of Live Ocean Racing in the ETF26 circuit.

Others may be able to put together something from their female sailors involved in the SailGP program. However, the learning curve is steep. And getting half a dozen male sailors under the age of 25yrs up to speed in foiling monohulls won't be a simple or quick task either.

But in both situations, simulator time should give helpful experience in the basics of foiling monohulls.

The first AC40, to be used by the teams for testing and racing in their own America's Cup preliminary events, is expected to be in Auckland next month and on the water in late September. The schedule for the Women's and Youth events provides for private entries from yacht clubs to be made as well as for the America's Cup teams. It will be interesting to see if the events pull the almost 20 teams that were signed up for Auckland in 2021.

The news that Emirates Team New Zealand will move its base from the former Viaduct Events Centre to the former INEOS Team UK base on Wynyard Point is generally good news.

The America's Cup champions have cut a deal with Panuku (the semi-independent development arm of Auckland City Council) to take over the British base for an annual rental of $550,000 per year, starting from the beginning of October 2021 and running through to the end of June 2028. That is three and a half years after the conclusion of the 2024 America's Cup. The team's previous lease arrangement was rent-free and was believed to be through to the end of the 2024 America's Cup cycle.

Auckland's outgoing Mayor had been posturing, as is his wont, to get what he believed was a "commercial rent" of $4.5million p.a. for the former Viaduct Events Centre - a move that met with strong resistance from ETNZ. (That figure was derived from the total rental received from the facility in the last year of its use, prior to its takeover by ETNZ.)

The "free" rental was part of Auckland City's value-in-kind offering for hosting the last America's Cup under the Host Venue Agreement signed between the Council, team and Government of New Zealand. It was a small percentage of the $70million "value in kind" offered by the Government of NZ and Auckland Council for the 2024 America's cup hosting.

What happens next in the Wynyard Point area should be watched very carefully.

The ETNZ move to the INEOS Team UK base helps cement an America's Cup presence in that location.

At the time of the 2018 Environment Court Hearings into infrastructure for the 2021 America's Cup, the hope was that Luna Rossa would be able to get a permanent base set up on Hobson Wharf extension and that Emirates Team New Zealand would have taken over that facility, as a permanent home. The Hobson Wharf extension was the hardest location to get over the line in the Mediation Hearing.

That would have concentrated several elements of NZ's 35-year America's Cup history into a prominent waterfront corner. ETNZ would have had an operational base alongside the various America's Cup exhibitions in the National Maritime Museum, the Big Boat challenger for the 1988 America's Cup and the two America's Cup charter boats, which are a familiar sight and experience on the Waitemata Harbour.

While the City leaders talk a big game for getting the Viaduct Events Centre back into play and rejuvenating the downtown Auckland area, but it will be competing with the Sky City Conference Centre, due to be open in late 2023, early 2024. That will be a contest akin to the Mis-Match of the 1988 America's Cup.

The $4.5million talked about as annual rental was the amount generated at the time of the deal with ETNZ being relocated and before the Sky City Conference Centre caught fire, just months before its opening and requiring a near-complete rebuild.

At the time of the offer of relocation of ETNZ into the then Viaduct Events Centre, there were only a handful of bookings requiring redeployment.

The future of Wynyard Point is also in question. The Auckland Council was financially assisted with the redevelopment of Wynyard Point by the Government of New Zealand. That makes it slightly awkward if attempts are made to sell off the area for office blocks and apartments, as has been done with the rest of the Viaduct Harbour and Wynyard Quarter.

The point was well made at the Environment Court Hearings, justifying the investment in the tank farm remediation and infrastructure build, that the Auckland public had no direct access to the water in the 3.5nm strip of harbourside from the Westhaven boat ramps to Royal Akarana Yacht Club. One way or another, the whole area is Council owned, which in turn is owned by the ratepayers of Auckland.

The point was made by the Crown representatives at the Environment Court Hearings that having saved the Council from its sins of selling off the waterfront land surrounding the Viaduct Harbour after the 2000-03 America's Cups, that it would not be possible to do so again if the same were done to restored land at Wynyard Point.

For several years before the 2017 Cup win, there was strong opposition to more encroachment into the harbour for port or other facilities, and the battle lines have been drawn. One idea floated was for the area to be designated as a National Marine Park where the public could access a unique vantage point and 180-degree views of the harbour. The newly created and semi-enclosed Wynyard marina provides a sheltered water marine stadium, able to be surrounded on three sides by spectators.

Rather than continuing to rip itself apart over the loss of hosting the 2024 America's Cup, Auckland Council and others should be learning the lessons of Barcelona's win, and working out how to host the next Cup - given the facilities in Auckland, like Barcelona, are already in place.

It is stated by the President of the Barcelona Port authority that they have no priority for hosting the 38th America's Cup.

The holder of the next Cup will be decided in just 30 months. It is serious about the 2027/28 hosting, then Auckland's bid foundations need to be in place well before that time - given that there will be a new Mayor, Council and possibly new Government a year out from the next Match.

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