America's Cup - April 2011

By the 31 March deadline, 14 teams had put down $25,000 to confirm their intention to challenge Oracle Racing for the 34th America's Cup two years from now in San Francisco.

This is a very healthy number indeed, with entries from Sweden, New Zealand, France, Italy, China, Australia and for the first time, Korea. How many of these 14 blossom into full-blown challengers is another matter altogether, however. There are various other financial hoops to jump through during the course of the year, and by the end of 2011 teams will have had to spend a few million just to stay in the game, before even starting to think about the cost of any sailing or design work they want to do.

With the America's Cup itself scheduled for August 2013, time is in even shorter supply than money, and many teams will want to take advantage of a $1.8m design program put together by a design group formed by America's Cup Race Management (ACRM). ACRM chief executive Iain Murray estimates this package will save teams 8-10 months of design work.

The design package is comprised of a catamaran platform drawn up by high-performance multihull design group VPLP of France and a wing and sail package designed by the North Technology Group. "This solution is being offered to close the gap on the front-runners, and provide all teams, large and small, the opportunity to be competitive within the time remaining before racing starts in the new AC72 catamarans next year," Murray said. "Technology is a critical piece of a Cup-winning program and we want to ensure teams have access to the right people and the latest tools to design a fast boat while still managing their costs.

"The concept still allows for creative input from competitors, preserving the basic principles inherent in the Cup allowing for competition in both the technology arena as well as sailing skill," Murray said. "It simply short-cuts the time needed on the front-end design work, provides some of the world's best thinking on this new Cup design challenge, and reduces the investment needed to develop a yacht capable of winning the 34th America's Cup."

As for experience sailing wing-masted catamarans, the America's Cup World Series will provide a good grounding for all the teams. With five AC45s already built (the 45-foot mini-version of the 72-foot multihulls that will contest the Cup itself), the first regatta takes place in early August in Cascais, Portugal. This was the European venue that Russell Coutts had always favoured for the 32nd America's Cup in 2007, before the Kiwi fell out with Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli and departed Alinghi on such acrimonious terms.

Next regatta takes place in Plymouth, the famous English naval port, in mid-September, with San Diego due to host the third event some time around November. These regattas will serve as a great prelude to the main event, with the AC45 already having provided some spectacular footage. Following Artemis's capsize during training a few weeks ago, the Oracle Racing sailors have been pushing the 45-footer very hard in strong winds, with some stomach-churning nose dives at high speed, without actually pitchpoling the catamaran (although that will come!).

It will be interesting to see which sailors are signed up the recently-announced teams, including the four that have yet to reveal their identities. Nice to see that the Venezia Challenge, from Italy, has not yet announced a skipper, but that at it does at least have the Art Director, Alfonso Granieri, in place. Perhaps the Venezian strategy is not so much to outsail Oracle Racing as to paint them into a corner...



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