America's Cup - August 2010

BMW Oracle has been carrying out some extensive TV trials of monohulls and multihulls in Valencia. The aim, says the Defender, is to work out which kind of boat is going to offer the biggest bang for buck in Russell Coutts’s vision of a more media-friendly and commercially-attractive America’s Cup.

Using two RC44s, the 44-foot fast keelboat co-designed by the BMW Oracle CEO himself (the RC stands for Russell Coutts), and two Extreme 40 catamarans, Coutts and team skipper James Spithill along with other members of the American defender team carried out some extensive trials at the end of July. They also invited some guest helmsman such as double Olympic Tornado Champion Roman Hagara to help race the boats.

“We are testing many different concepts,” said Coutts at the beginning of the four-day evaluation trials. “Would making the first leg downwind instead of upwind be better? Can you have exciting boat-on-boat action with multihulls? Are there alternative race course formats which might provide more overtaking opportunities?”

Various types of technology went through the test as well, including the latest High Definition (HD) cameras. One camera angle that got people’s attention was at the top of the mast looking down on the yacht. In HD format, the picture jumped off the screen with clarity and crispness. Those angles - combined with the surround sound format - contributed to a very engaging experience, said the TV experts in Valencia.

BMW Oracle Racing
© BMW Oracle Racing

From being a team that was vehemently opposed to continuing with multihulls beyond the 33rd America’s Cup last February, BMW Oracle Racing looks increasingly comfortable with the idea of making multihulls a long-term part of the Cup’s future. Russell Coutts admits he was shocked and pleasantly surprised by the spectacle provided by the giant multis in the last Cup, and wants to explore the concept further.

However, some of the leading challenger teams suspect other motives, and have been saying as much in recent press announcements. Dean Barker, skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand, voiced his concerns to the New Zealand Herald. "If they go down the multihulls road, they are giving themselves a massive head start. They are experienced in multihulls now and with things like hard wing sails. It is a lot of ground to make up - they could put themselves in a position where they could be almost unbeatable.

He continued: “The good thing that most people bought into with Oracle was that they sounded committed to a multi-challenger event which suggested an even playing field. But if they go for a multihull, it will put other teams in a position where it will be very, very hard to combat them. It's the prerogative of the defenders to set the rules, of course, but you hope, from a PR point of view, that speculation regarding multihulls isn't right."

The boss of Team Origin, Sir Keith Mills, has voiced similar concerns about the lack of a level playing field.  "No one is going to spend ten of millions if they don't have a chance of winning,” he said. "We would prefer to have a monohull, and six or seven of the other teams would also prefer that.”

The Challenger of Record is meant to speak for the interests of the challengers, but newly-signed CEO of Team Origin Grant Simmer said Mascalzone Latino have been worryingly quiet. Already the same concerns with Alinghi - of acting unilaterally and without reference to the challengers - are beginning to be levelled at BMW Oracle. On the other hand, the Defender’s interest in multihulls could really be for the greater good of the event, as Russell Coutts claims, rather than some nefarious plot to put all the challengers at a disadvantage. If BMW Oracle do take the more controversial option of a multihull, we’ll probably never know whether it was for selfish interests or for the greater good. Probably a large dollop of both.

Whatever the Americans’ motives, Sir Keith Mills’ decision to snap up Simmer so soon after Alinghi was disbanded is beginning to look like a very good one. Already there are strong signs of Team Origin becoming Alinghified, with a number of the key members of the sailing team making an appearance on board the Team Origin boat at the 1851 Cup in Cowes at the beginning of August. Taking the navigating role was Juan Vila, on mainsheet was Warwick Fleury backed up Will McCarthy on mainsheet grinder, with Simon Daubney on upwind trim, and Rodney Ardern working the pit.

On the design front, Simmer has sacked Juan Kouyoumdjian and is looking to bring in a full-time, in-house design team in place of the Argentinean. The moment Simmer had arrived, Juan K had predicted he wouldn’t be long for holding on to his job. While no replacement has yet been announced, Simmer will doubtless be making a strong play for bringing back the key players from Alinghi’s mighty design office, not least chief designer Rolf Vrolijk and maestro of engineering, Dirk Kramers.

Whichever way BMW Oracle goes with the choice of boats, Team Origin’s process of Alinghification is a good insurance policy. If the Defender opts for monohull, then Vrolijk is thought to be just about the best in the business. If the choice is multihull, then at least Simmer, Vrolijk, Kramers and the former sailing team members have more experience of big multis than any of the other challengers.

Meanwhile, outside of the political jousting with the Defender, Team Origin has also been taking on BMW Oracle head to head in the 1851 Cup, a five-day exhibition regatta which saw the two crews complete four days of match racing on the Solent. The high point was a race around the Isle of Wight in a recreation of the famous race from 1851 that gave rise to the America’s Cup. BMW ORACLE Racing won the 53-nautical-mile race by 1 minute and 22 seconds. However Team Origin won the series of match racing by a convincing margin, although it’s hard to know how much you can read into the results of an exhibition match.

More than the result itself, what will have been of greater interest to Origin is what sort of contribution the new ‘old boys’ from Alinghi made to the team’s performance. The Brits were guilty of some schoolboy errors in the last Louis Vuitton Trophy at La Maddalena, and the hope will be that Alinghi’s veterans ensure that Origin makes headlines of a more positive kind at the next Louis Vuitton Trophy in Dubai this November.



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