Racing

What's Up with the Cup?

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Would-be America's Cup teams around the world are eyeing City Hall, San Francisco as Cup-in-SF proponents prepare to make their case before the Budget and Finance Subcommittee of the city's Board of Supervisors. That hearing will take place on Wednesday. Negotiations have been going on for months, and it's crunch time.

On the opposite side of the globe, meanwhile, fabricators are working overtime at Core Builders, in Warkworth, New Zealand, to complete the first example of a fleet of 45-foot, one design catamarans intended to launch the new America's Cup World Series tour in 2011.

From any point of view, the pace is feverish. The 45-foot one design cats, like the custom 72-footers that individual teams are designing—and soon will be building—will be powered by hard wing sails that need to be more manageable and more durable than any seen before. Figure 350 components per wing, and the engineering challenges are huge.

Everything is hurry-up, no matter which side of the equation you're on. San Francisco city officials are feeling over-pressed, because events in this realm just don't move quickly. Meanwhile, would-be challengers, or, in the USA, would-be defense candidates, are twisting their knickers in knots because they're choked for time—they needed solid answers months ago, so they could launch sponsorship proposals with a real chance to seal the deal. As one of them (name withheld) said, "If you don't have a billionaire in your pocket, what do you do?"

The more time that goes by, the harder it is to put boats on the line.

The fewer the boats on the line, the harder it is to make it "an event."

Already, three years have passed since the last proper Cup match—Alinghi over Emirates Team New Zealand, 5-2—and it will be a six-year gap by the time we get to the 34th match, in 2013.

THE VENUE

Larry Ellison, the software magnate who owns the BMW Oracle Racing Team that captured the Cup last February, in the name of Golden Gate Yacht Club, said at the time that he wants to defend the Cup in San Francisco Bay, "if we can." There remain believers and doubters on both sides of that "if."

The Commissioners of the Port last week unanimously approved a proposal that endorses two competing versions of an America's Cup village on the San Francisco Embarcadero. With that vote, they gave the city's negotiating team the maximum in flexibility. The two plans differ in location, the amount of construction, and total cost. One is more favorable to the city. One is more favorable to the team. Oh, to be a fly on that wall. In the city-favored Northern Waterfront Alternative, the America's Cup might contribute to building what will eventually be a new cruise ship terminal within walking distance of Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39. Ambitious readers can find all of the city's documents here

Ellison has promised a venue announcement no later than December 30. If there is a favorable vote at the December 14th meeting of the full Board of Supervisors, the city will then have a formal bid to be placed before Golden Gate YC and the team. However that plays, America's Cup Race Management has announced its intent to sail as many as five World Series events in 2011, beginning late June or early July. These events, in the 45-footers, will be a learning experience for competitors and race managers alike as they experiment with new course formats and new broadcast technologies. It seems certain the first event will be in Europe.

THE BOATS

The original target for 45-foot catamaran number one was to have it in the water before Christmas. Now, January is the call. The tooling has already been replicated, and Cookson is already in-build with the second set of hulls. The hull sandwich consists of two carbon skins less than 1mm thick laminated over an ultra-light honeycomb core, all baked under vacuum pressure in a giant oven for eight hours at 80C.

Tim Smyth and Mark Turner, the project leaders, played the same role in the construction of Ellison's giant trimaran, the Cup winner last February in Valencia, Spain.

Eventually, Core Builders will work on wings only while Cookson produces hulls. Meanwhile, entered teams will have the opportunity to sea-trial hull number one in New Zealand. Those sailing slots will be offered in the order of received challenges, which is also the plan for how the 45-footers themselves (the teams are required to buy these boats) will be delivered.

Come 2012, the main action moves to the first generation of AC72 cats as the World Series tour continues. The hurry-up does not end, and the fat lady does not sing.

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