America's Cup Diary - December 2006

The 32nd America's Cup is still some months away and yet thought and discussion is already turning towards the 33rd. The Challengers gathered round a table in the autumn to discuss possible scenarios beyond Valencia next summer. While it is hard to get agreement on many issues between the teams, there was almost unanimous support for a regatta to be held hot on the heels of the Cup, sometime early next autumn. The current Defender Alinghi sounds keen on staging an event in Newport, Rhode Island, while BMW Oracle Racing would like to take the roadshow to San Francisco, although logistically for most teams it would probably be a good deal easier to hold a regatta somewhere in Europe, in a similar vein to the travelling Louis Vuitton Acts of 2004/5.

Larry Ellison is certainly a keen proponent of the travelling roadshow. Commenting at the Allianz Cup match racing event in San Francisco recently, the head of BMW ORACLE Racing called for the Cup to follow Formula One's example. "We'd have a regatta in Cup boats in San Francisco every year, one in Newport, one in Germany, one in Italy; regattas that people and sponsors could count on, to have some regularity," he said.

Then there is the question of the timing for the next America's Cup Match after Valencia. The Swiss and American teams seem keen on holding the next one just two years after this one, Luna Rossa appeared to have given the matter very little thought while Emirates Team New Zealand are believed to want to host the 33rd Cup in Auckland as late as 2011. Quite why the Kiwis want such a gap between events is unclear. Admittedly, it will be four years' gap between the forthcoming Cup and the previous one in Auckland, so where's the difference? The difference is that since Auckland the America's Cup has developed a momentum that it has never enjoyed before, thanks to the introduction of the Louis Vuitton Acts. Of course the Acts or something similar will take place between Valencia 2007 and the next Cup, but four years is a long time to sustain people's interest.

Perhaps Grant Dalton and his team feel it's time to change the boats. If the ACC class were to be put out to grass, and another yacht to be developed in its place, that would certainly take time to implement. Many would applaud such a move, as the existing boats are slow and ponderous by modern standards, although Alinghi's design and management guru Grant Simmer says the boats will be here to stay should the Defenders successfully defend the Auld Mug.

Meanwhile, back to the present, and Alinghi helmsman, the former Match Racing World Champion Ed Baird, suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Emirates Team New Zealand's understudy Ben Ainslie in the finals of the Allianz Cup in San Francisco. When Ainslie was signed by Grant Dalton at the end of 2004 as the helmsman of the Kiwi tune-up boat, Dalton said the young Briton could go on to become the greatest America's Cup sailor of all time. Since then, Ainslie's presence in the team has been surprisingly low key, with very few appearances in the 12 Act regattas of the past three years, although he has spent a good deal of time in training and tuning sessions behind closed doors.

After some shaky moments in 2005, principal helmsman and skipper Dean Barker really stepped up to the plate for the 2006 season so there may be little need for Ainslie in next year's contest. Then again, three months of competition is a long time to shoulder the dual burden of helmsman and skipper, so perhaps Barker would welcome the occasional break from duties and allow Ainslie to steer a few races during the Louis Vuitton Cup series. It must be a huge relief to the New Zealanders that they do appear to have more than one viable option on the helm.






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