Adopting wing-sailed catamarans, inventing a new tour called the America’s Cup World Series, launching a 45-foot one-design class as a training fleet: none of this could ever have been free of controversy. The 45s went from concept—a trainer for AC sailors and race committee alike—to reality in five months, with the first “batch” of four promised for delivery to challenging teams by April 1. Miraculously, the prototype sailed as intended from the moment it hit the water. Former skeptics were soon observing that it tacked as quickly as a monohull and, thanks to the wing, accelerated out of tacks like nothing they had ever seen before.
Top speed so far: a claimed 29.9 knots in a breeze in the high 20s.
With that introduction, one could hope that maybe, just maybe, the huge gamble taken on reinventing the America’s Cup will pay off, that what will come out of this is the viable international circuit that pro sailors have been thirsting for, and which I would argue that the sport has needed for years. Given a few events in AC45s on the World Series tour, the teams should be up the learning curve when the game moves to custom 72-footers on San Francisco Bay in late 2012.
So who will we see this year in the AC45s? Oracle Racing, as the America’s Cup defender, will surely be competitive (though these events do not accrue points toward the 2013 America’s Cup). And given all the hype about a 500 million euro bankroll bidding for a Cup match in Italy, it’s ironic that the Italian challenger of record, Vincenzo Onorato’s Mascalzone Latino, went into 2011 strapped for funds, still seeking sponsorship. So much for the heady days of 2007, when Italy sent three teams to Valencia.
Multihull-crazed France has two teams this time out, headquartered a short distance apart in Paris, on the tony Avenue Foch. The Yacht Club of France, founded in 1867, has carried such celebrated names as Jules Verne and Eric Tabarly on its roster. Lock and Bruno Peyron will head “Energy Challenge,” with AC72s to be built at the Multiplast yard, source of the last two round-the-world record multihulls. Team Aleph, backed by the French Sailing Federation under the direction of Bertrand Pac, formed Aleph Yacht Club for the express purpose of underpinning a challenge. Aleph then rushed down to Bregancon, on the Med, to hold its first “annual regatta on the sea” on a whitecapped day in late November 2010. Don’t worry, they crossed their T’s and dotted their I’s. This one won’t be dragged into court.
Sweden’s Artemis is a known entity from TP52 racing, with Americans Paul Cayard and Terry Hutchinson in charge. And with core Team New Zealand sailors granted access to the prototype 45, do we doubt that the Kiwis are coming out to play? And then there’s that plan for the French-flavored China team to return. San Francisco being the “gateway to the Orient,” with a Chinese-American mayor, doesn’t it almost have to happen?