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America's Cup: Multiple changes made to Protocol - Dates, Surrogates, and Chase Boats

by Richard Gladwell/ 5 Aug 13:29 BST 6 August 2022
Barcelona - Venue for the 2024 America's Cup - Sept-Oct 2024 © Maria Muina

Several changes have been made to the Protocol and other documents governing the conduct of the 2024 America's Cup.

Some of the changes relate to the announcement of Barcelona as the Host Venue, others close loopholes that could have been exploited, and there is a substantial section on Hydrogen-Powered Support vessels.

Changes to the calendar for staging the America's Cup and other supporting regattas were expected. The two-month racing period initially set down for May - June 2024 is now expanded to three months and is now pushed back to August - October 2024.

The reasons for the change are to avoid a clash with the Paris 2024 Olympics - held from late July to mid-August and to get into more temperate weather and a reliable breeze.

Within those three months, two America's Cup Preliminary Regattas will be sailed between the Challenger/Defender teams sailing in AC40s - the one design, approximately half size AC75 America's Cup Class, sailed by four crew.

A third preliminary regatta will be contested between the Challenger/Defender teams using the AC75s to be sailed in the 2024 America's Cup.

The Preliminary regattas are each anticipated to be spread over ten days, including two weekends. The publication of dates is required to take place a year before the first race of the America's Cup.

The Women's America's Cup and Youth America's Cup will also be sailed in this same three-month AC2024 Regatta period, using the team AC40s. Details of the race programme are not yet to hand.

The time frame in which practice sailing is permitted has also been changed following the announcement of Barcelona as the Host Venue for America's Cup 2024.

America's Cup teams are still not allowed to begin sailing until the middle of September 2022.

The exception is Alinghi Red Bull Racing, along with any new and as yet unannounced Challengers. The so-called New Teams were permitted to start sailing a first-generation AC75 for a period of 17 days between June 17 and September 17, 2022.

Currently, there is only one New Team - twice winner of the America's Cup Alinghi Red Bull Racing, who may be sailing their AC75, the former Te Aihe, acquired from Emirates Team New Zealand, over the next five weeks.

They are understood to have a base in Barcelona and will be based at the AC2024 venue.

Voluntary stand down dropped

The requirement has been dropped for the teams to nominate an eight-week "no sailing period" between March 1, 2023, and May 31, 2023. Presumably, the other changes in dates made the requirement impractical.

The reason for the voluntary "no sail" period was never clarified. Its purpose is presumed to allow teams to transition to the venue ahead of the old "Venue Only" sailing period from June 1, 2023, to September 30, 2023.

In a further change, the Venue Only sailing period remains at four months duration but has been shifted by a month to start on July 1, 2023, and run to October 31, 2023. If the teams want to sail during those four months, they can only do so in Barcelona. They can still race just a single AC75 (except in the case of Alinghi Red Bull Racing - who, as a New Team, is allowed two AC75s - one a first generation boat and the other Race Boat, as are any other New Competitors.

The purpose of the Barcelona only sailing period in 2023 is to get as many/all the teams together at the Cup venue a year out from the Cup. The logistics of this laudable intention are quite different for the European domiciled teams compared to the Cup Defender who faces a 50day sea voyage to get an AC40 to Barcelona. It is not known if the team will recommission their only AC75 Te Rehutai, the 2021 America's Cup champion. At some point the team, as do all others, needs to have a match racing program contested between two crews in the AC40's - which can't be done with one in Barcelona and the other in Auckland. American Magic faces similar issues but with much less travel time between their base in Pensacola and Barcelona.

In Barcelona, the teams still are not allowed to conduct reconnaissance outside that already undertaken by the Joint Recon Program against other teams. That program is expected to get underway in September, or when Alinghi Red Bull Racing being sailing. It will cover AC40's as well as any AC75's that are sailed by the teams.

But the teams are permitted to eyeball their opponents from a distance. Binoculars are presumably allowed, however cameras and other digital recording equipment/instrumentation is banned. In previous Cups under somewhat similar no-compete when training restrictions, the teams have inadvertently got close enough to their competitors to gauge relative performance. They will also be able to see first-hand, during launching in Barcelona, the foil wings and rudders being used by other teams on their AC40s or AC75s.

SailGP/F50's now legal

There has been a change in the rules regarding the use of Surrogate Boats being used as AC75 development platforms. As in the last America's Cup, teams are prohibited from sailing yachts longer than 12metres overall capable of "producing design or performance information".

Teams are also prohibited from doing the same using any other sailing yacht (or platform towed or now "motorised" to simulate a sailing yacht) that was longer than 6 metres (19.69ft).

The rules have been eased, prohibiting the use of class racing yachts which sit outside the 12-metre yacht or 6-metre platform maximum length restrictions.

The rules that previously only mentioned TP52 as a legal class over the 12metre (39.37ft) length limit, now also specifically allow F50s/SailGP and yachts only used for racing, which held valid IRC or ORC certificates as of the winning of the 2021 America's Cup, which marks the start of the new Cup cycle.

Hydrogen Chase Boat requirement changed

Other changes to the Protocol pivot around changes to the rules covering Foiling Chase Boats.

The first version of the Protocol contained a provision that "COR/D [Challenger of Record/Defender] is considering a requirement that each Competitor will be required to employ a minimum of two hydrogen-powered support vessels ("HSV) at the Match Venue to support its own race operations".

The "consideration" for two HSVs per team has now been confirmed as at least one per team.

The Protocol now mandates that reach competitor shall have one HSV in the race area and a maximum of four "non-hydrogen powered support vessels operating in the Racing Area".

The reduction to one HSV per team is said to be a response to global issues affecting supply chains and fuel cell availability. It is set against the backdrop of a big increase in demand for alternative energy systems and finite production capabilities for producing the systems.

It is anticipated that even with just one HSV per team, the limit on fossil-fueled chase boats will be sufficient to impact the water and for the event to be a positive example of hydrogen technology in the marine sector.

Competitors can purchase HSVs from America's Cup Event Ltd, the regatta organiser - or its nominated manufacturer, or build their own, provided they meet the performance requirements in the Protocol.

A string of rules has been introduced covering what are now classified as Generation 1 or 2 Foiling Chase Boats. These changes relate to foil area, and the new rules cover chase boats if they have a foil size greater than 0.3sq metres. These apply to foiling support boats regardless of whether they are HSVs or conventionally powered. Presumably, it prevents teams from using the chase boats as a test boat for foil design, which is consistent with other Protocol changes to the use of Surrogate Yachts, however there is no explanation as yet for what are quite a complex set of rules supervised by the powerful Measurement Committee.

The move to bring chase boats under the purview of the Measurement Committee is a first in Cup history. Some clue as to their necessity lies deep in the rules where there are references to the use of "wing flaps" and "hydrodynamic surface" geometry, which cannot be changed after being declared to the Measurement Committee. "Hydrodynamic Surface" is a defined term in the AC Technical Regulations - and it would seem the new regulations are a means of blocking teams for testing wings, outside the limitations on wings and flap numbers contained in the rules covering foiling yachts in the America's Cup context.

The Defender, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, has yet to declare whether it had received any new Challenges almost a week after the entry period close. Currently numbers stand at four Challengers, one more than contested the 2021 America's Cup, but Late entries remain open until May 2023. Late Entries will attract an additional fee of $100,000 per month after August 1, 2022. The régime partially the chances of a flood of Late Entries on the final closing date.

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