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America's Cup: 37th America's Cup begins with Protocol and Class Rule announcement

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-world.com 16 Nov 18:01 GMT
Te Rehutai, Emirates Team NZ vs INEOS Team UK - December, 2020 - Waitemata Harbour - America's Cup World Series © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

The Protocol and revised class rule for the 37th America's Cup have been released.

The details of the provisions that will govern the conduct of the 37th America's Cup Regattas and the preliminary process were revealed at 0700hrs NZDT in a joint presentation by the Royal Yacht Squadron and Royal New Zealand yacht Squadron.

Some of the changes in the Protocol have already been signalled, and are more a refinement of what has gone before than a new direction. Several of the changes made will not be new to America's Cup fans and are similar conceptually to features of the 35th America's Cup sailed in Bermuda in June 2017.

There are significant changes in the AC75 Class rule - chief of which is that the AC75 becomes the AC67.5, with the removal of the bowsprit - which has had the effect of shortening the boat and reducing weight.

The rulemakers have decided to stay with the previous sailplan - except that the Code Zero is gone. Mast height stays the same - and the mainsail cross have been reduced slightly with the head girth being narrowed - so the sail area hasn't been increased. Jib cross measurements stay the same as for the AC75 V1.

AC75 Version 2 will be about 1000kg lighter than the Version 1 boats used in the 36th America's Cup. That reduction comes through lighter wings - with about 100kg reduction per side, and a reduction of three crew from 11crew to eight. The average permitted crew weight drops by 2.5kg.

The overall effect is that a lighter boat will be quicker to lift off and foil in the lower end of the wind limit which has been set at 6.5kts. The upper wind limit has been set at 21kts.

In the America's Cup Regatta itself the big change is that the Defenders, like Oracle Racing in the 35th America's Cup, will race in the Round Robin stage of the Challenger Selection Series. The New Zealand team will not be able to score points in the series, nor will wins by the Challengers against the Kiwis be counted for their points.

That of course begs the question as to whether the Challengers will band together and elect to "sandbag" against the Defender - to deprive them of any benchmark performance information or provide a contested start.

Cup will be in a packed 2024 sailing calendar

The new AC40 class will only be used in two of the America's Cup Worlds Series Preliminary events. The final event will be sailed at the America's Cup venue in the AC75 class.

The dates for the America's Cup will be announced with the Match venue announcement which will be made on or before March 31, 2022. However the tentative date for the Cup has been set between January and September 2024 - which allows for a southern or northern hemisphere venue.

That being the case, the America's Cup will be likely to be sailed in Europe in June/July 2024, followed by Paris2024 Olympic Regatta in Marseille in late July/August 2024. The 2024 edition of the Vendee Globe singlehanded round the world race will start on November 10, 2024.

The Ocean Race, the former Volvo Ocean Race is expected to start in January 2023, on a shortened duration race - expected to finish in the third quarter of 2023.

All America's Cup event timings will be confirmed once the contractual discussions with the new venue have concluded. However 2023/2024 looks like being a very busy sailing period in Europe.

Entries open in just two weeks on December 1, 2021 and will close eight months later at the end of July 2022, with late entries accepted until May 31, 2023.

No sailing for any team is permitted until September 2022, except for a challenger which buys an existing V1 AC75 shall be entitled to sail that yacht for a maximum of 20 sailing days between 17 June and 17 September 2022.

Tough nationality rule

Generally, all sailing crew will be required to be nationals of the country of the challenging or defending club or been resident in that country at the time of the finish of the 36th America's Cup - March 17, 2021.

The only exception will be for "Emerging Nations" or new teams which are defined as a country which has never previously been the holder of the America's Cup. That eliminates Switzerland, Australia, USA and of course New Zealand.

However, a lot more countries are caught by the second criteria, which precludes challengers from a country who has not submitted a challenge since the final race of the 30th America's Cup or the 2000 event sailed in Auckland. That catches Italy, France, Sweden, Japan and Great Britain.

However in both situations, those countries which qualify under the "Emerging Nation" ie have never been an America's Cup winner, or have never challenged for the America's Cup in the last six Cups are still allowed to participate however they are not permitted to have sailing crew who are not nationals of the country of the challenging club. The catch all aspect is that it applies to countries, not teams or clubs.

The rule 30.3 requires compliance with two criteria - that "the country of the yacht club will be considered as an Emerging Nation" and that approval is given for a "specific number of approved non-nationals to compete as crew...". Permission must be obtained from COR/D - Challenger Of Record/ Defence - meaning INEOS Britannia and Emirates Team New Zealand. The key point being that the rule relates to numbers of sailors and not specific individuals - which neatly skirts around any EU or Court of Arbitration for Sport decisions relating to preventing a professional competitor from practicing their profession. A big part of the rule is to contain salary costs and prevent an open market/bidding war/head-hunting exercise being conducted for star talent.

Of course all such rules have unintended consequences - which will no doubt cause some angst in the days to come, Japan being a case in point who have traditionally used a very multi-national crew.

The obvious workaround for a team like Swiss team Alinghi is to hang their nationality on the hook for one America's Cup cycle, find a small and compliant Australian Club - challenge through that entity - and tap into the Luck Country's rich seam of Australian America's Cup talent.

The expensive process of conducting reconnaissance on other teams has been addressed by establishing a "spy pool" which will operate from a suitable boat provided by the challenger/defender and operating in their waters, which will have team independent photographers providing images to a common pool able to be drawn upon by all teams.

In a subsequent comment Emirates Team NZ's Grant Dalton confirmed that the "recon pool" will be the only source of on the water surveillance permitted.

Whether that procedure will preclude teams from taking their own spy-shots remains to be seen. The key difficulty is that the pool is not as efficient as the current practice. An Italian-based design team can be viewing images shot live in Auckland - and directing that more be taken that are of particular interest.

A similar setup will operate to produce documentary videos of the teams in a similar manner to go behind the scenes and into pitlane to capture footage similar to that used in the F1 series the highly popular Drive to Survive.

A third facility will provide images for sailing media and produce reports on design directions and features seen on the teams - all independent of the teams. Again quite how that works in practice remains to be seen - given that some media are working in real-time, others are daily, weekly and monthly deadline productions.

One unintended consequence of the new reconnaissance rules is likely to be the creation of a Black Market, as happens in F1, for intimate design shots taken outside the official Recon Pool.

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