Last week Grant Dalton, Team New Zealand’s CEO,announced that their primary America’s Cup team will bypass most of the lead-up events to the main event; the America’s Cup, to be held in the summer of 2013 in San Francisco.
The upcoming edition of the 34th defense of the America’s Cup – now held by Larry Ellison’s Oracle team – has been divided into two divisions. The first division, called the America’s Cup World Series, is being held at various venues around the world, and sailed in smaller versions – called AC45s – of the huge AC72 catamarans that will be used in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger elimination races and in the actual America’s Cup finals.
The design concept for the unique AC45 and AC72 catamaran sailboats, which feature hard wing sails, and the plan to split the event into two categories, originated with Team Oracle CEO Sir Russell Coutts and team principal Larry Ellison.
According to statements from both Coutts and Ellison, the plan was to use the smaller AC45 boats to acquaint all the teams with the dual-hulled catamarans, and with the unique hard-wing sails. While catamaran racing is not new, hard-wing sails, especially on boats as large and complex as the AC72, is uncharted territory, even for the professional sailors involved in the event.
The original plan was for each team, both the Cup challengers and the defender, to race the smaller AC45 boats in the first rounds of the America’s Cup World Series while the much larger AC72s were being built. Once they were built, the teams would switch to the larger boats for the remaining ACWS events.
When it became clear that most of the dozen or so teams who had expressed interest and who were involved in the early AC45 rounds of the ACWS could not meet the various “put up or drop out” deadlines for entry fees and/or committing to build their AC72s, the plan was changed to use the smaller AC45s for all the preliminary ACWS rounds, and switching to the larger boats later in the series.
This change in plans resulted in a new problem. Each team now had to run one race program for the AC45 boats they had entered in the ongoing ACWS events – with some teams racing two AC45s under the team flag – while simultaneously designing, building and testing their new AC72 boats, using basically the same crew members for both programs.
And it is this problem that, according to Grant Dalton, drove Team New Zealand to opt-out of any of the upcoming racing events that might be a “distraction” from the real task at hand – winning the right to be the official challenger for the America’s Cup.
While the America’s Cup rules state that any team vying for that honor must also race in the preliminery AC45 events, the rules don’t specify that the same crew members must compete in both divisions. It is this loophole that Dalton is hoping to exploit, sending instead their youth team, led by Olympic silver medal winner, Peter Burling.
Since there will also be a separate AC45 Youth division during the events in San Francisco in the Summer of 2013, it’s assumed that Burling and his crew will be very busy, racing in all the AC45 events from now until then.
“The AC45s are not the main event any more, so it’s a bit of a pain trying to juggle the two boats.” said Dalton, speaking in New Zealand.
“There’s two (ACWS AC45 events) towards the end of May, which is absolutely a distraction and although under the protocol we can’t sail our 72 while the event is on, there’s little chance that Dean (Barker) and crew will do those regattas…the boat will be there – it has to – but we will likely send a youth team up there.”
While it could be said that having the Team New Zealand youth team racing head-to-head against the seasoned professionals on the other teams will add an extra layer of drama to the upcoming ACWS races, it remains to be seen how the news will be received by Coutts and Ellison. Stay tuned.