Please select your home edition
Sea Sure 2020 - LEADERBOARD

America's Cup: No more Spy versus Spy - the Recon Game is changing

by Magnus Wheatley, America's Cup Media 19 Jul 11:58 BST
Australia II was heavily skirted for the 1983 America's Cup to conceal her winged keel © Paul Darling Collection -

The America's Cup reconnaissance rules are changing for America's Cup 2024, to be sailed in Barcelona, Spain in September/October 2024.

Instead of individual reconnaissance teams working for the individual teams, the spies are now all working together to spy on each other.

America's Cup Media's Magnus Wheatley tries to explain:

In John Bertrand’s seminal tome ‘Born to Win’ that brilliantly documented Australia II’s dramatic win in Newport, Rhode Island in 1983 to end 132 years of Cup dominance by the USA, there’s a line about spying: “…there was an uproar down at our dock just as the crew was awakening. Our guards caught an underwater cameraman in a wetsuit photographing the keel of Australia II. Phil Judge, our tender skipper, jumped into the water fully clothed, dragged him out, and turned him over to Newport police. We dropped charges when the film was handed over and we had assurances that there was only one diver. But there were in fact two, and much later we found another film of our keel in the Canadian house.”

Spying in the America’s Cup has been far more than a recent phenomenon, documented even as far back to racing in the 19th Century, but for modern teams it has been a significant budget drag with ever more sophisticated technology being deployed to measure, capture and record everything from outright speed through to manoeuvres, sail plans, wing design, onboard control systems and aero packages. Drones, trackers, submersibles even, have been rumoured as syndicates vie to get crucial data that could mean the difference between winning and losing.

As Matteo Plazzi, a member of the Recon Management Panel for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli commented: “Recon has always played an important role in AC campaigns. You have an event every three or four years and during this period you design and develop your new boat; understanding and knowing in which direction your opponents are going is crucial. The more info you have, the more simulations you can run in-house and get a feeling of where you are compared with your competitors.”

At the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland, the situation on the water was, at times, bordering on dangerous with multiple team spy vessels following and tracking individual AC75s as they went about their training schedule. Incidents of near-misses were recorded and all the teams agreed that the situation was unsustainable and needed addressing.

So, for the 37th America’s Cup, buried deep in the Protocol Document (it is Rule 41 in Part F) is a new and highly significant rule aimed at curbing the expenditure, reducing the frustration that teams have traditionally experienced of being spied upon and opening up the event for spectators to get a consistent view of developments and techniques that all the syndicates will be honing, in this cycle.

The ‘Reconnaissance’ rule is both broad and comprehensive putting spectators right in the heart of the action with stills, video and analysis that will be available to view publicly on but equally forming a valuable, cost-saving service for all the teams.

Architect of the new initiative, Dan Bernasconi, from the all-conquering Emirates Team New Zealand, has been pining for change in this area for a while: “

We started thinking about a shared recon programme a good few years before the last Cup and really it was all about making it safer on the water by reducing the armada of chase boats but also, it’s about opening up the America’s Cup to its fanbase. We watched as a number of new technical websites and YouTubers sprung up to analyse Cup designs and it just felt that it was the right time to formalise an approach to open up the sport and give the media and fans direct access to recon data, analysis and commentary so they can track the developments as they happen. That’s a big part of the whole fascination with the America’s Cup and this time fans will be in the box-seat as the AC40’s start sailing before the AC75’s splash in 2024.

Dan Bernasconi, Chief Designer of Emirates Team New Zealand: "As we move towards training vessels being sailed alongside the much-anticipated launch of the AC40 fleet, the reconnaissance personnel, appointed by the teams but overseen by America’s Cup Events Limited, will be following each tack, gybe and daily runs both long and short of every on-the-water session. Data and imagery will be uploaded into the cloud for all teams to view and analyse as well as interviews with key helms, crews and designers on a daily basis to form a mass of engaging content. Crucially, this content will also be brought to fans and followers and will help to paint the picture of sailing’s pinnacle event – the 37th America’s Cup in Barcelona 2024.

Ben Cornish, the Reconnaissance Manager and appointed Recon Panel Member for the Challenger of Record, INEOS Britannia, is unequivocal on how the programme will benefit the event: “The biggest benefit of this program is the excitement it will create for the fanbase. Unlike previous campaigns, the public are going to be far more up to speed with what's going on with each team’s campaign. The content captured by teams would normally stay in-house, this time around the media and general public will be in the loop with team training and development.”

Ben Cornish, INEOS Britannia Reconnaissance Manager: "With all of the teams now well into their design programmes for their second generation AC75 – remember they are only allowed to build one AC75 for this America’s Cup – the reconnaissance may well focus on crewing technique as much as innovative design as INEOS Britannia’s Cornish explains: “From a team perspective, we had a strong recon presence during the last two campaigns. We observed all the teams when they were on the water. This was critical as the concept (AC75) had never been seen before and huge amounts could be learnt from observing other teams. Although people associate reconnaissance purely as a design requirement, it is actually a valuable tool for watching teams' techniques in manoeuvres and how their crew operate in various playbooks versus our own.”

But the design race is very real, as it always is in the America’s Cup, and with the world’s best designers fusing together with influence from the aerospace industry and Formula 1 worlds in this cycle, all eyes will be on the reconnaissance gained as boats start sailing again. Marginal gains all add up and every team will be looking for maximum advantage to not only get through the Challenger Selector Series but to challenge Emirates Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup in October 2024.

“There are still areas of these boats where significant gains can be found,” added Dan Bernasconi, “the larger span of the foils creates a lot of avenues for the design teams to run through and things like the mainsail control system, the opening up of the hydraulics rule and the lighter weight of the boats makes for some interesting structural decisions to be made. There will be a lot to track in the recon programme. It’ll be exciting for the fans to see.”

Matteo Plazzi from Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli added: “In this period the RMP group is detailing formats of the information that the recon units will provide to all the teams and media groups; once this info is available, I’m sure that each team will have its own internal group to analyse the info and start a daily communication process with the recon units to better investigate the specific details of the observed team.”

Ben Cornish is clear on the merits of effective reconnaissance: “Of course, you're always looking to see what direction other teams are heading with their design package and control systems. For AC37, as a refinement of the previous edition we can expect naturally the teams to become closer in boat performance and therefore the details and smaller margins may be what we end up looking for by the time racing happens.”

With AC40’s starting to roll off the production line at McConaghy’s in China, it won’t be long before teams start using them as effective design mules, testing out componentry and ideas that are currently sat on the design boards of the world’s greatest naval architects and engineers.

And the great news is that every development will be brought to you, the fans of the America’s Cup, in hi-definition with analysis and commentary. “There will be no more grainy images shot from miles away,” commented Dan Bernasconi, “this will be the most accessible America’s Cup for fans around the world and the development picture that will be painted will be compelling, relevant and fascinating.

The race for the Cup is well underway.”

The Spy Masters (officially known as the "Recon Management Panel")

  • Emirates Team New Zealand: Ray Davies
  • INEOS Britannia: Ben Cornish
  • Alinghi Red Bull Racing: Rodney Ardern
  • Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: Matteo Plazzi
  • NYYC American Magic: Brit Ward

Related Articles

AC40 for Brits is on its way
A second AC40 has exited the McConaghy Boats build facility destined for INEOS Britannia A second AC40 has exited the McConaghy Boats build facility in China, destined for the America's Cup Challenger of Record, INEOS Britannia. Posted on 2 Oct
Cup Spy: Swiss hit cross-swell conditions
Alinghi RBR continued to work up their first generation AC75, off Barcelona on Friday As we are now in the month of the 2024 America's Cup Match, the weather conditions and how they are handled by the AC75, are as much of interest as the performance of the Swiss team, who are the only team sailing out of the 2024 America's Cup venue. Posted on 30 Sep
Cup Spy: AC40 blasting at 45kts - Day 5
Emirates Team NZ's America's Cup crew pushed the limits on the AC40 on a murky Auckland day. Emirates Team New Zealand's champion America's Cup crew found the limits of the AC40, the hard way, triggering the first serious capsize, as well as setting a new top speed mark of 45kts. Posted on 30 Sep
Notice of Race issued for Womens/Youth AC
America's Cup Events has released the Notice of Race for the Youth and Womens America's Cups The Notice of Race for the 2024 Women's America's Cup and Youth America's Cup has been posted and firm plans can now be laid by prospective teams from around the world to compete in the glorious surrounds of Barcelona in 2024. Posted on 29 Sep
America's Cup: Recon Diary - Pretty Epic
Burling and Tuke stepped aboard ETNZ's AC40 for a blustery first taste of the AC40 Returning to New Zealand from the European summer circuits, Pete Burling and Blair Tuke wasted no time in re-joining the extensive Kiwi testing programme, stepping aboard ETNZ's AC40 for a blustery first taste of the most sensational boat of 2022. Posted on 28 Sep
Cup Spy: Tuke impressed with AC40
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke put the AC40 through its paces today in a fresh seabreeze. Fresh off the plane from the Sail GP regatta in Cadiz, Spain, Emirates Team New Zealand's Peter Burling and Blair Tuke put the AC40 through its paces on the Inner Hauraki Gulf today in a fresh seabreeze. Posted on 28 Sep
America's Cup: Recon Diary - Sept 27 - Alinghi RBR
BoatZero and achieved good stints at speeds that were recorded at around 28 knots. It was late in the afternoon when the autumnal Barcelona wind Gods played ball, allowing Alinghi Red Bull Racing to unleash the massive power of BoatZero and achieve good stints at speeds that were recorded at around 28 knots. Posted on 28 Sep
Cup Critiqued: A significant week for AC2024
It has been one of the more significant weeks in the now 18-month-old America's Cup 2024cycle. It has been one of the more significant weeks in the now 18-month-old America's Cup 2024 cycle. Sail-World NZ's Editor, Richard Gladwell looks What's happening with the teams in Auckland, Barcelona, China and Cadiz. Posted on 27 Sep
America's Cup: Recon Diary - Sept 22 - Alinghi RBR
Dean Barker was on board Alinghi Red Bull Racing 's AC75, Boat Zero, last Thursday, with the Swiss. Recon Report September 22, 2022: Dean Barker was on board Alinghi Red Bull Racing 's AC75, Boat Zero, last Thursday, with the Swiss. On their third AC75 sailing day BoatZero foiled more consistently than on their previous session. See two videos. Posted on 24 Sep
America's Cup: Alinghi RBR get foiling
Alinghi Red Bull Racing has her first sail off Barcelona following her capsize and gets foil-borne After a first sail Tuesday in Barcelona, testing every aspect of the boat, the team experienced foiling for the first time on the AC75 Wednesday. Posted on 23 Sep