From the ambitious starting point for the 34th America’s Cup, it’s becoming clearer that this event is reverting to its roots of a private regatta staged between privately wealthy individuals. That’s the way the Cup has always been through its 160-year history, up until very recent times, that is.
For the 34th America’s Cup, Russell Coutts wanted to implement a root-and-branch revolution of this regatta, which he felt was hampered by its own traditions. Some of Coutts’s vision will stick - not least the use of high-speed, wing-masted catamarans and short-course racing aimed at spectator entertainment.
But there is only one of the four teams remaining that can remotely consider itself a sponsor-driven campaign, Emirates Team New Zealand. For all the fact that the other three may bear corporate branding, Oracle Team USA, Luna Rossa and Artemis Racing are privately run campaigns bankrolled by billionaires.
Meanwhile, the America’s Cup World Series has more or less died, save one final event in Naples this April. That’s a terrible shame, and one can only hope that whoever wins the Cup this summer will see fit to bring the AC45s back into action. Given a few more years, the AC45s could prove themselves as the platform for aspiring Cup teams to attract commercial backing.
So, with the absence of much in the way of warm-up regattas, and with only one of the four teams under any kind of commercial imperative to keep us informed of what’s going on in Cup world, we are relying on scraps of information as we enter the ‘phoney war’ phase of the Cup cycle.
For example, in early February we saw the launch of the second and final Kiwi boat in Auckland, while on the other side of the Pacific in San Francisco, the Defender was relaunching the repaired and reconfigured Oracle AC72, four months after its calamitous pitchpole and destructive capsize. There have been some beautiful photos of Oracle two-boating alongside Artemis Racing’s red-hulled 72-footer, but precious little in the way of news from either team.
What we do know - and can observe from the photos - is that Artemis has pursued a non-hydrofoiling philosophy with its prototype boat, whereas Oracle has followed the hydrofoiling route already successfully implemented by the Kiwis and Italians training together in Auckland.
Once clear of the water, there is no doubt that the ‘foiling’ boat is faster, but on a short course with all the manoeuvring required, top speed may not be the deciding factor. At least, that’s what the Artemis designers must be hoping. The most revealing comment we have yet seen is from Oracle bowman Brad Webb, who posted this on Twitter on 12 February: “Pretty happy after lining up against Artemis. Flew through to leeward last test of the day. They might be rethinking no-fly strategy.”
Indeed it will be interesting to see what the Swedes come up with for their second boat. With the unexplained departure of Terry Hutchinson, and the elevation of British and Aussie Olympic Champions as sailing boss and helmsman - respectively Iain Percy and Nathan Outteridge - Torbjorn Tornqvist’s team is not averse to big changes.
Right now, most neutral observers would have to pick the Kiwis, with their successful completion of the maximum 30 days of permitted testing time in 2012, as the frontrunners. But Russell Coutts - and let’s not forget Sir Russell himself is a Kiwi - sees it differently. "We haven't yet seen the second boat of Artemis and I wouldn't write Artemis off right now,” he told a Spanish sailing website. “I, certainly, am not thinking we will be facing Team New Zealand.” But aside from being a great sailor, Sir Russell is a master of the phoney war. So what to believe from these observations? Very little, I would suggest. Let’s just enjoy the phoney war for what it is. The traditions of the America’s Cup are alive and well!
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