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Sail-World NZ - March 24, 2021: The America's Cup is still New Zealand's Cup

by Richard Gladwell, 23 Mar 2021 22:33 GMT 23 March 2021
Emirates Team NZ crosses the finish line to defend the America's Cup - Day 7 - March 17, 2021 and starts the clock running on AC37 © Richard Gladwell /

Welcome to's New Zealand e-magazine for March 24, 2021

Few commentators, this one included, would have picked that the 36th America's Cup would have sat on a 3-3 scoreline after three days of racing.

However from that point the regatta turned inside out for the Challenger, Luna Rossa, as Emirates Team New Zealand went on to win the next four races over the next three days to successfully defend the America's Cup 7-3.

As the scoreline from the first three days will attest, the 36th match was very close. There were three break points in the last three races which determined the outcome.

The first was in Race 8, when the course axis was shifted between races by around 25 degrees in response to a change in wind direction, and the top left hand quadrant of the course had winds of just six kts - OK to sail through, but not tack. The Kiwis were the first to find it, dropping from 15 metres astern of Luna Rossa to over 2,400metres in just over four and a half minutes. Luna Rossa got stuck in the same flat spot, came off her foils just before rounding Mark 3, then sailed across the boundaries on both sides of the course, and could only wave farewell to ETNZ as they reeled in their four figure margin, and returned the favour with a 2,500 one, winning by 235 secs.

The second was in Race 9, when Luna Rossa, when leading on Course C, elected to protect the left towards the end of Leg 5, letting Emirates Team New Zealand away to the right hand side, getting the favourable shift that seems to live at North Head in a SW breeze, and going on to win by 30 seconds.

The third was at the start of the tenth and final race, when Luna Rossa won the start, but allowed Emirates Team New Zealand to tack on the startline and get to the always favoured right hand boundary. Luna Rossa let them go, choosing instead to keep left for just a minute, and handed the advantage of a 70 metre lead and starboard tack rights to Emirates Team NZ, despite the Kiwis doing two tacks to the Italians one.

It was a very close Match, much tighter than expected, and turned on three small errors by the Italians.

The racing was mostly held in winds of less than 12 kts, and for various reasons, with one exception, was held on Courses A (Rangitoto) and E (Tamaki Strait). Both are soldiers courses, and over 100 legs were raced before there was a change of lead around a mark.

The Stadium Course C, what was billed as the signature course of AC36, was used only once in the Match and provided the most exciting race - as it did on Day 4 of the Prada Cup, where there were nine changes of lead, and two changes of lead around a mark.

As Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finish line at 5.11pm on St Patrick's Day, March 17, the Labour Government issued a media release congratulating Emirates Team New Zealand on their win and offering the same $5million funding line as happened after the 2013 and 2017 America's Cup campaigns. Except this one had conditions attached, and will likely be politely declined.

In contrast to Bermuda, there was no winners Media Conference held with the team principals present, and able to lay out the direction of the 37th America's Cup.

It transpired, rather than being formally announced that the Royal Yacht Squadron's subsidiary, Royal Yacht Squadron Racing Ltd, would be the Challenger of Record.

The same commercial entity was the Challenging Club for the Ben Ainslie led Land Rover BAR team in Bermuda, and INEOS Team UK in Auckland. The state of the club does receive some scrutiny, as while it is of little consequence if it doesn't win the America's Cup, there are potential legal issues if the America's Cup was in fact won by a club that was not entitled, under the 19th century Deed of Gift which governs the conduct of the trophy, to be a Challenger.

At the end of an America's Cup there are three points that need to be announced as soon as possible to get traction for the next Match. They are - the class or type of yacht to be used; the venue; and the dates.

After Bermuda, the media and potential teams knew the date was likely to be 2021 and the venue would likely be Auckland. The Class was to be advised.

Almost four years on, the only certainty is that the AC75 will again be used, and that the class will not change as it has for each of four Cups sailed since 2007.

It would seem that Emirates Team New Zealand is at a commercial crossroads, and will be taking a new direction, choosing not to proceed up the path of taking early Government assistance offset by a later Event Fee for a Cup Defence, or a sponsorship for a Challenge in North America or Europe.

Now run as a company by a Board and Executive Officers, the team has to act like any other company to secure revenue streams; provide continuity for its employees, suppliers and contractors; protect and leverage its intellectual property, assets, brand and expertise.

The other teams in the 36th America's Cup were quite different from ETNZ, which had been in existence for 35 years. The Challengers were effectively start up teams. Luna Rossa has been around the Cup scene since 2000, but only in 2021 did it work in the same way it had in the 2000, 2003 and 2007 America's Cups. INEOS Team UK rose out of the ashes of Ben Ainslie's Land Rover BAR, and Team Origin before that. American Magic was the first entry by New York Yacht Club since 2003.

Emirates Team New Zealand has been operating as a stand-alone team for ten America's Cups winning four, representing two clubs, and has developed as a marketable brand either as a Challenger or Defender.

Clearly it is time that ETNZ moves to be like any other professional sports team of that maturity.

It's immediate asset is that as Defender determines the shape of the next America's Cup. For some time it has been known that ETNZ was "shopping the venue" and issued a request for information for venues to host the 37th Americas' Cup in the event that Team New Zealand was successful in its Defence task last week.

There will be considered in parallel with its agreement to conduct negotiations in good faith with the New Zealand Government for three months or the end of June.

The government's offer of a payment of $5million along with conditions including a requirement to defend at a New Zealand venue doesn't appear to be consistent with the Venue Selection Process Hosting Guide issued on behalf of Emirates Team New Zealand prior to the 36th Match. The guide sought "to secure the interest of Host Venues/Cities to host the 37th edition of the Cup, scheduled to take place in 2023/24."

The Kiwi Government's $5million and its conditions sought to effectively bring to an end any discussions with other venues. It would probably have been a better move to lockstep with the Venue Selection Process.

As one of the few existing venues, Valencia and Bermuda being the other two, Auckland gets more than a few quick ticks. However clearly the boot has to be on the other foot given the antics of the over the three and a half years leading up to the 36th Match.

The hosting document calls for a decision to be made, and contract negotiated on the venue by August 2021 - with a Match being sailed in the Northern Hemisphere in September 2023. It has to be that year to avoid a clash with the 2024 Olympics in Paris. For a southern hemisphere regatta the 37th Match needs to be completed six month later.

If the time-lines in the bid document are being followed, then the short-listed venues and organizations will have already been determined and were in Auckland for the 36th Match.

The suggestion of a single Challenger Defence against INEOS Team UK to be sailed in Southern England got some airplay in the latter stages of the 36th Match. For it happen it would seem there would need to be an agreement between the two teams that the 38th Match would have to be sailed in Auckland, as there seems to be little point in running a short-cycled match when there would normally be a four year cycle. Of course there is the prospect that if the Brits pulled off a fairytale win, that the Kiwis would be a Challenger back in the return Match - which would certainly ignite local interest.

Quite how the Luna Rossa and American Magic teams feel about being excluded from the INEOS/ETNZ tryst is not clear. Similarly with any new teams looking to come into what they thought was going to be the 37th America's Cup on finding their targets should now be focussed on the 38th instead. If it Union Jack Match is going to take place, then it needs to happen in this coming summer (2021) so existing teams and new know where they stand for 2023/24.

Seemingly forgotten in the Kiwi Government media release, is the fact that for a Defence in Auckland, there is no infrastructure cost. The point was often made by the Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, in meetings around the development of Cup infrastructure, that the proposed $200million infrastructure spend by the City and Government was a one-off, and a second Defence was "free".

The test is whether Auckland and New Zealand can meet the market, given that much of the hardware/infrastructure is already in place - however given the current media and political environment in New Zealand it is the governmental level panjandrums that will be the real challenge for the next America's Cup.

As well as covering the 36th America's Cup Regattas for Sail-World I have been working with leading NZ publisher Upstart Press, who published my last book, Lone Wolf, to produce a souvenir record of the three regattas - America's Cup World Series, Prada Cup and America's Cup. It is expected to be on sale, Thursday March 25 at all the major booksellers, and independents.

Gulf Wars has a report of each day's racing from all three regattas, plus several images of each day, and the mark rounding margins. There's also an overview of each challenger, a history of Team New Zealand, and the key points of the AC75 class. Looking back, a lot happened across the 17 days of racing, and we've captured it all in this publication which will be on sale just over a week after racing concluded. Like Lone Wolf, Gulf Wars is an unauthorised publication - which gives us editorial independence. We're planning on having as second book out later in the year which will be a sequel to Lone Wolf, and will cover all the twists and turns of the years since the win in Bermuda, and concluding with the successful America's Cup defence in Auckland.

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Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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