Racing

AC World Series: High Stakes Game in Cascais

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Beyond aerodynamic efficiency, wings bring one special, not so obvious quality to multihull sailing — flotation. The forward element and each of three flaps in the aft element on an AC 45 are airtight and buoyant. As long as the wing stays in place, the boat will not turn turtle.

I'm figuring the rest of America's Cup 34 floats, too, but that's not for lack of doomsayers on the sidelines.

Fair to say, there is a collective holding of breath as we approach the August 6 opener of the new-look America's Cup: seven days of fleet racing, match racing and speed trials in Cascais, Portugal in one-design AC45 catamarans. The inaugural event of the World Series tour is sure to set a tone.


WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT?

Competition begins in an atmosphere rife with speculation over the future of teams that are betting on the come. One of them, Venezia Challenge, was recently scrubbed for failing to pay the necessary deposits and pony up the $1.1 million or so to pay for an AC45, making it two-for-two down from Italy. The billionaire-in-the-pocket teams—Oracle Racing and Artemis—we take for granted will be on the line with custom AC72s in 2013. The commercial teams, the ones that actually fit the espoused model of a professionalized circuit, are not to this point rolling in sponsorship dollars. Nor is the World Series tour. Nor is the Event Authority. Cascais needs to be, not just a good show, but a great show.

We are well beyond the honeymoon phase with the new architecture, if there ever was a honeymoon phase, and Event Authority bashing is gaining a life of its own. Despite the best efforts of a few players who do not fit the ACEA employment profile of widely-scattered and San Francisco-blind, there is no warm-and-fuzzy, so-glad-you've-come-to-town aura around America's Cup Event Authority. As to the future, much depends upon results on the water. I'm figuring that ACRM, America's Cup Race Management, has done its work to give the Event Authority and the commercial teams something to sell. The sailing in Cascais should prove that pudding or not. Then it depends upon results in the boardroom.

We'll be looking to the salesmen for results, won't we?

And it's early, of course, to expect things to all come together, just so.

Among those who keep a nose pressed close to the glass, I observe considerable grumbling about the Event Authority's grasp for control of media and distribution, and I am reminded of Valencia 2007, when the Defender, Alinghi, informed one Bob Fisher that he could not include the words "America's Cup" in the title of his definitive history, An Absorbing Interest.

The result?

One resounding, Hah!

And I hear that Fish is working on an updated edition of:

An Absorbing Interest, The America's Cup, A History, 1851-2007

Well, every sport is entitled to its silly season, and no Cup goes unfustigated, and no Defender goes un-assailed. Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison have gone to the wall to reinvent everything with America's Cup 34. It's still early in the ride. And the AC45s are a helluva ride. We expect no less of the AC72s that will be the vehicles of Cup competition.

The two French challengers, Energy and Aleph, have been testing and training in Lisbon along with Team Korea in more wind than they'd like for the getting-to-know-you phase of sailing an AC45 with a wing. Energy's veteran multihull skipper Lock Peyron said of the experience, "What we have here is a classic aerodynamic question, as with any sail, except this one is rigid. A bit more powerful, with a lot less drag, which is really the revelation. In fact, this boat never stops. It’s strange, but even heading straight into the wind, we continue to make headway, as the giant wing sail generates much less drag than a normal sail and so we never stop. On the first day, we sailed with just the wing, and we tacked without any problem in spite of the absence of a headsail. That would be nigh on impossible on the sort of multihull we’re used to."

To the question of readiness, this master of every other form of multihull sailing remarked, "We’re bound to be three months behind, but we’re making huge progress each day. We’re one of the smallest teams in terms of the number of people involved and the means available. It’s going to be OK—for a first attempt."

China Team has been setting up in Cascais, where it was rumored last week that the team was packing up and leaving. On that note, I queried their VP of Sales & Marketing, Noelle Gahan-Smulders, who replied: "I heard that rumor as well. We had a small delay to get our sailors on the water, but we are full on and will be starting to sail shortly. The rumors were probably caused by the delay to our planned start-sailing date."

Reportedly, China Team will be out on the waters of Cascais this first week of August, along with Oracle Racing, Artemis Racing, and Emirates Team New Zealand.

Not that China Team is looking very Chinese at the moment. For Mitch—"I'm the helmsman, which is probably the only thing I'm capable of doing on these boats"—Booth and his handpicked team, the assigned task is to learn how to race an AC45, bring in and train Chinese teammates, and work themselves—or as many of themselves as possible—out of a job. Booth, a two-time Olympic medalist with 10 world championship titles in multihulls, is an international who has gone from being Australian to Dutch to, now, semi-Chinese.

DOUBLING UP

There is no sense that Oracle Racing or ACEA care to nourish the Extreme 40 catamaran circuit (Ernesto Bertarelli, Alinghi, has an investment there), but the other two of the "big three" in the AC lineup are sending teams to England to race in the Extreme Sailing Series that begins (coincidence?) on August 6 at Cowes.

Quoting from the Artemis Racing, Challenger of Record web site regarding the Extreme 40 event:

The fleet of 48 top professional sailors have amongst them competed at 30 Olympic Games. In addition there are 82 World Championship titles amongst the fleet, 57 Records Broken or Held making it the strongest ever line-up seen in the five year history of the circuit. "

Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand will be present despite also racing in the first America's Cup World Series event in Cascais. Artemis Racing will bring back their skipper from Act 2, double Olympic bronze medalist, Santiago Lange from Argentina. No-one expects these teams to be any less competitive than in Boston and Istanbul not where it came down to the final race.

From the Facebook page of ETNZ, which doesn't cotton to the Event Authority's requirement of hosting the ETNZ web site at americascup.com and so leaves it pretty much vacant (as in, the last update was the June 30 announcement that New Zealand is officially challenging). ETNZ gets out the word through social networking:

Glenn Ashby, Ray Davies, Winston Macfarlane and Dean Barker will represent New Zealand at Cascais, racing the team’s AC45 catamaran against nine other yachts.

At Cowes, Adam Beashel will race with Chris Ward, Richard Meacham and Andy McLean in the Extreme 40 catamaran.

The Defender, Oracle Racing will double up in their own way, fielding two AC45s to race in Cascais. Russell Coutts skippers AC45 5 and Jimmy Spithill skippers AC45 4. These are the boats we saw testing and training in June on San Francisco Bay.

Coutts dragged down heavy publicity for auguring-in before the cameras in the Alcatraz Channel in June, but the Extreme 40s were the darlings of the internet during a pitchpole fest at their windy regatta in Qingdao in April. I'm under the impression that Coutts et al considered Extreme 40s for the World Series but rejected them because they can't stand up to the wide range of wind conditions in-demand for World Series racing.

But they're bell ringers on the crash-and-burn factor.

And so, it will be a duel for column inches and broadcast minutes.

In case you've lost it, the Qingdao thingie looked like this on Day 3:


And the first installment of America's Cup Uncovered looks, more professionally, like this.

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