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America's Cup U-turn, 16ft Skiffs shine

by Mark Jardine 10 Jan 20:00 GMT
American Magic's Patriot - Waitemata Harbour - January 15 - Prada Cup Day 1 - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

America's Cup land never fails to deliver on drama, and the past week saw plenty of it as American Magic confirmed their intention to compete in the 37th America's Cup (AC37), representing the New York Yacht Club (NYYC).

On the face of it, and without knowing the backstory, this would seem like simple continuity; the team represented NYYC in the 36th America's Cup, but nothing is ever quite that simple when it comes to the Auld Mug.

Back in July it was announced that Stars+Stripes would represent the New York Yacht Club in AC37, with then NYYC Commodore Christopher J. Culver saying, "Our challenge for the 37th America's Cup will incorporate the experience gained during the previous edition with American Magic into the foundation of an enduring syndicate. Our syndicate will showcase American talent and ingenuity, seek significant corporate support and create a leadership brand that can lift American sailing back to the top of the sport for generations to come."

The New York Yacht Club had turned their back on American Magic, which came as a huge surprise to many, as the team had performed exceptionally well until their dramatic capsize and near sinking when in the lead against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in the Prada Cup last year.

So, the next twist was when NYYC 'paused' their participation in the 37th America's Cup in October, severing their ties with Stars+Stripes, with Culver stating, "There are few private clubs that enjoy a stronger bond with a single competition than the New York Yacht Club does with the America's Cup, which we founded and held for 132 years. However, we ultimately have a responsibility to act in the best interests of our membership. Given the continued uncertainty regarding the 37th America's Cup, we have decided to pause our challenge for this edition."

This came as a surprise to both the Stars+Stripes and the American Magic management teams. Sail-World.com's New Zealand editor Richard Gladwell was (as always) right on top of the story, speaking off the record with them both. With so much rumour flying around, it's great to have Richard who talks to the people in the know and deals in what is really happening.

Cue the New Year, and with it the New York Yacht Club had a new Commodore. Richard once again broke the story, with the news that NYYC had re-partnered with American Magic for the 37th America's Cup.

New Commodore Paul M. Zabetakis, M.D. said, "We are extremely excited to continue our quest to regain the America's Cup with American Magic. Upon receiving the Protocol for the 37th Match, we were pleased to find that it contains elements advocated for by the Club last spring. In addition, the Executive Committee recently received a new proposal from Doug DeVos and Hap Fauth, American Magic principals and Club members, that warranted reconsidering our earlier decision to pause our pursuit of AC37."

A simple statement this week has a huge backstory, and clearly a lot of angst within the hallowed halls of the club. It would seem American Magic has lost one of its principals, with both Doug DeVos and Hap Fauth mentioned in the article, but Roger Penske has reportedly "had enough".

Uncertainty always comes with a cost, and it is understood that lead designer, Marcelino Botin, has been head-hunted by Swiss challenger Alinghi, and has been replaced by Scott Ferguson, a two-time America's Cup winner with Oracle Racing.

March 2022 will see the venue announced for the event, with Cork in Ireland one of the front-runners. Personally, I think this would make a great venue for the America's Cup and I really hope the backers and the Irish Government can strike a deal with Emirates Team New Zealand to host the event.

No Bloody Mary, again

Saturday should have seen the Bloody Mary take place in the UK at Queen Mary reservoir near London. This is the second year in a row that the event hasn't taken place and it is a great shame. The race sees up to 300 boats taking part and is one of those events which everyone wants to add to their sailing CV.

Take a look at the list of previous winners and you'll see names such as Jo Richards, Mike McNamara, John Merricks, Ian Walker, Chips Howarth (both as helm and crew), Rob Greenhalgh (twice) and a host of other stars of the dinghy sailing world, competing in a wide range of classes. This leaves the young team of Dylan McPherson & Jack Lewis as champions for another year, having won in 2020.

While Covid restrictions would have allowed the event to go ahead, organising club Queen Mary SC had to consider the hundred or so volunteers who ensure the smooth running of the race, and the high cases, particularly in London, which have led to many being unavailable due to isolation. Let's hope that the event returns to full force in 2023.

Doublehanders impress in the Sydney Hobart

The Boxing Day start for the Rolex Sydney Hobart was a very welcome sight after the hiatus in 2020, and having a worldwide team at Sail-World.com came to the fore again, with Australian editor John Curnow leading the coverage of the great race.

It was a brutal test for yachts, and John rightly championed the herculean efforts of the two-handers, competing in their own division for the first time. John has written much on the doublehanded offshore scene and was deeply impressed with those who took part.

Jules Hall & Jan Scholten on the J/99 Disko Trooper won the division and their corrected time under ORCi was the fastest out of anyone by around three hours. You can talk all you want about the rights and wrongs of autohelms in racing, and whether they give an advantage over the fully-crewed teams, but handling a yacht shorthanded in the kind of seas seen in this edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is nothing short of incredible. Huge congratulations to all the teams who took part.

16ft Skiff draws the big names

All eyes around the world were drawn to Belmont Bay on Lake Macquarie, 100 km north of Sydney, for the 16ft Skiff Australian Championship. It was a star-studded event, with 2008 470 Olympic gold medallists Nathan Wilmot & Malcolm Page teaming up with Brett Davis to take the win.

In fifth place was the team of Nathan Outteridge, Tom Slingsby & Iain Jenson, with Slingsby taking part in his first-ever skiff event. They may be rivals in the SailGP, but they've been firm friends for many a year and jumped at the chance to sail together when they realised they all had space in their busy schedules and the opportunity arose.

It's always great to see sailing stars mixing it up in other classes and a look down the results table shows many other top names - such as 2016 Laser gold medallist Tom Burton - taking part, crossing tacks with youth teams and fellow Olympians alike. This is what will inspire the next generation on to greater things.

The America's Cup could take a tip from the top sailors in our sport who we're so lucky to have and think about the image that is portrayed in the off-season between cups. Yes, the event grabs the headlines when it's under way, but the dealings which go on in the build-up often aren't as eye-catching as the footage of the flying machines battling it out on the water.

The die-hard fans will follow every twist and turn, which often seems like a soap opera, but the majority will just switch off and wait to see what comes out in the wash.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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