America's Cup - October 2013

There is never much time to celebrate victory - or mourn defeat - after an America’s Cup. The roadshow moves on with unseemly haste towards speculation and machination over the next Cup.

A month after Oracle Team USA’s extraordinary comeback from the dead, to snatch the 34th America’s Cup from a seemingly unbreakable Kiwi grip on the Auld Mug, we don’t know much about the 35th America’s Cup.

But we do know that the Challenger of Record is a new kid on the block, Hamilton Island Yacht Club, the unfeasibly beautiful club situated in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands off the southern tip of The Great Barrier Reef. Headed up by two mad-keen yacht racers, father and son wine magnates Bob and Sandy Oatley, this will be Australia’s first foray into the Cup since Auckland 2000. But more of the Oatleys next issue.

Sandy Oatley speculates that the next Cup might be three years away. Who knows what type of boat might have been discussed if the final in San Francisco had been as dull and one-sided as the appallingly boring Louis Vuitton Cup earlier in the summer. The most successful America’s Cup skipper, Russell Coutts, was being talked about as a dead-man-walking, his Facebook-not-Flintstones revision of his beloved event lying in tatters.

But not after what we saw in those nailbiting 19 matches between Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA. Those two AC72s produced some of the tightest battles we have ever seen in any America’s Cup. High-speed foiling at 40 knots can make for exciting match racing after all. Russell Coutts was right all along, although even he had started to sound like he was doubting his own vision.

Not only is Oracle’s stunning comeback from eight match points being talked about as one of the greatest turnarounds in Cup history, it is being talked about as one of the greatest turnarounds in sport, period. The charismatic skipper Jimmy Spithill had no time to rest on his laurels or even return to his adopted home town of San Diego. Instead the 34-year-old Australian did a gruelling chat show tour that even saw him spraying champagne over Jay Leno. No doubt a visit to the White House beckons at some point in the coming months.

Despite their heartbreaking defeat, Dean Barker, Grant Dalton and the rest of Emirates Team New Zealand returned home to a heroes’ welcome. The Kiwis don’t often do a line in ‘honourable defeat’, but it seems this nation of 4 million sports fans really did take the team to its heart. The question is, though, do the Kiwi people love ETNZ sufficiently to want to pay across another US$35m of funding for Barker and Co to have another crack at the Cup? With Emirates set to terminate its sponsorship contract and Dalton rumoured to be hanging up his hat after a decade as team boss, these are tough times for the future of the longest-standing team in modern Cup history.

Barker told the New Zealand government that they would need reassurance of funding within two weeks of the Cup, or the Kiwi professionals would have to start accepting offers from foreign teams. Dalton commented: "The poachers are out hard, probably harder than normal actually because we have this design team, and a sailing team, but the design team particularly.”

Meanwhile Sir Ben Ainslie’s mobile phone has been running hot since stepping on to the back of the Oracle AC72 and contributing to that incredible turnaround in the American team’s fortunes. Surely even Ainslie - with his five Olympic medals and sense of destiny - couldn’t have foreseen that he would be an America’s Cup winner in 2013.

“What an incredible journey it has been,” wrote Sir Ben in his Daily Telegraph column. “Winning the America’s Cup has been a goal of mine since I was a boy. I am a bit of an anorak about these things so to finally get my hands on the Auld Mug, more than 100 years after the last Briton, Charlie Barr, managed to do so, felt amazing.”

It has now put him in a very strong position to secure his lifelong dream of mounting a British challenge for the America’s Cup.

Of course, that all looked to be going well three years ago with the launch of Sir Keith Mills’ Team Origin campaign - until Oracle’s unexpected choice of wing-masted multihulls made Sir Keith change his mind. Perhaps a new version of Team Origin might re-emerge, although if Sir Keith and Sir Ben were to join forces again, it would have to be without two other key players from 2010 - Bart Simpson and Iain Percy, the Star Olympic gold medallists and two of Sir Ben’s closest friends and allies.

Bart is no longer with us, and Percy is now head of Artemis Racing. If Ainslie fails to secure his own campaign, then the Knight’s desk will be piled high with offers. Oracle Team USA would love to have him back, of course, and Percy would love to get his old mate on board the Artemis wagon. We also know that Luna Rossa is to return to the fray.

So much hinges on the new Challengers of Record being able to nail down an agreement with Oracle to create a more affordable basis for a Cup campaign. Everyone is look to the Oatleys for strong leadership. By affordable, by the way, we mean a US$50m campaign. Not exactly small change, but more affordable than the US$100m that was believed to have been the minimum for any kind of campaign for 2013, with Oracle rumoured to have spent almost three times that figure. While the 34th America’s Cup will be fondly remembered for the high drama, the challenge for the 35th edition will be to bring down the astronomically high costs.




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