By the time this article comes out I am sure the decision of the New York State Supreme Court will be known. We will either be on the fast track for 2009 or the back burner while BMW Oracle and Alinghi negotiate a new Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup. Or, worse yet, we may all sit on the sidelines and watch another catamaran race. Maybe you need one of those every 20 years!
In any case, this is a great example of what is wrong with the America’s Cup and why in its current structure… Deed of Gift, and so on… it is prone to problems in today’s world. All major sporting events need true independent management.
I have been in Valencia now for three weeks working with Desafío Español as the sports director (I love that title… it makes me feel like an athlete.) We have been operating under the presumption that the Cup will happen in 2009 and that it will take place in the new AC 90 class. This seems the only logical way to operate. If one tries to make a plan for all possible outcomes one goes nowhere.
In fact, Alinghi/ACM have maintained a very professional MO throughout all the uncertainty posed by the court case and issued the new AC90 rule on 31 October. This date was important as the Protocol says no race shall be run in the new class within 18 months of the issue of the class rule. The first race of AC 33 is scheduled for 2 May 2009.
What can be said about the new class is it will be bigger, faster and a lot of work. With an unlimited sail area for the spinnaker, a mast of 37m and a tack point 14m forward of the mast (on a bowsprit), you can be sure they will top out very close to 650m2 of sail area. Then add in the fact that the apparent wind will never go aft of 90 and you have some heavyweight cloth being used on these sails. Good luck getting them down and even more luck getting them repacked inside the boat!
The boat has a displacement of 23 tons, which is one ton less than the current ACC boats, but it will have a 6.5m draft rather than the current 4.1m, so there will be righting moment and there will be big loads!
This new boat will be relatively narrow but will carry its beam further aft as there is no more hull girth measurement. The current mainsails are about 220m2 and the new ones will be 375m2. So you don’t want to miss-time the start and have to do the big ease of the main with 10 seconds to go, so that you can bearaway down the line. The grinders (12 of them) won’t be at all happy with you.
Honestly, the new boat is the big attraction for me to get back into the Cup. I like development and I like speed. It looks like we will have plenty of both.
There is a document called the Competitor Regulations that contains the rules for both the Cup and the preceding Acts. And there are some new rules for the 33rd AC. Among them: no two-boat testing. So no team may have more than one AC 90 boat outside the harbour at any one time.
This means that ‘testing’ and ‘development’ will be done by racing against others. Seems simple enough, just like any other regatta: find a partner and organise a race or some training. Nope. ACM have to organise all training… So when you want to sail against someone else, you have to ring up and make an appointment and then find out who ACM assign you to train with.
Also, Alinghi will race in the Challenger Selection Series and will train with the challengers before hand. This is because, with no two-boat testing, Alinghi would be disadvantaged if, as Defender, they had no one to race against. This means Alinghi will be completely current with the challengers all the way through the Challenger Selection Series…
Of course these races don’t count for Alinghi as they are in the final anyway; so how do you know what you are getting when you race against them? Furthermore, if you lose to Alinghi, it is aloss. They will undoubtedly affect the outcome of the Challenger Selection Series. This is definitely something new…
The only other sailing team in residence here in Valencia is United Internet Team Germany. The Germans look to be on a goodpath. From Alinghi they acquired SUI 91,the first of the two new boats the Swiss built for 2007, and Jochen Schumann, sport director of Alinghi. They have chosen good crew from all teams and look to have a lean but competent design team with Jason Ker who designed Shosholoza for the last Cup. And now they have enough budget to be fully competitive in the marketplace for personnel. We are scheduling racing with them once a week or so from now on using the existing ACC boats.
We’ve also bought two Swedish Match 40s for match race training. The 40s were designed by my father-in-law, Pelle Petterson, a few years ago for the specific purpose of match racing. A number of events on the World Match Racing Tour now use the boats as well as a number of AC teams who bought them in the last cycle for live practice. BMW Oracle relaunched the two SM40s they own here in Valencia last week and they are regularly out sparring. They also have two of these boats in San Francisco where Larry Ellison trains on the wheel.
One new thing here in Valencia is that BMW Oracle Racing now have the US flag flying over their base. The US flag was noticeably absent from the base and the boat during the last campaign and I felt for Jane Eagleson, BMW Oracle PR director, dodging and deflecting questions about the missing flag.
Desafío Español will train here in Valencia through to mid-December, then we are off until early February at least. The base will get a bit of work done to improve it, based on what was learned last time and also what is necessary to accommodate the new AC 90 yachts. Our team will get a nice long Christmas break as the vacation at the end of 2008 will no doubt be very short…