AC35—Will it be Foiling or Foiled?

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It’s ironic that foiling America’s Cup catamarans fly above surface chop, as the waters surrounding the 35th America’s Cup are anything but calm. As SAIL reported in February, AC35 will be held in Bermuda—much to the disappointment of many sailors—but the storm has intensified, with two of the world’s most respected professional sailing teams, Luna Rossa Challenge and Emirates Team New Zealand, either withdrawing or requesting arbitration, and the plans for the AC62 class yachts being usurped by largely one design foiling catamarans that are believed to be 48ft LOA.

Here, the careful Cup student queries: “But isn’t Luna Rossa Challenge the Challenger of Record for AC35?” Gold stars awarded: Luna Rossa’s withdrawal stems from a majority-rule vote—called by the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) and supported by the Defender, Oracle Team USA—to change the already-agreed-upon protocol, which was ratified in July 2014, rather than a unanimous vote from all challengers and the Defender. For its part, Luna Rossa Challenge has already made a considerable good-faith design investment into the AC62 rule—work that the team feels is now lost, and which it also claims contradicts the impetus for the rules change, namely cost containment.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to make decisions that are painful, but must be clear cut, as only these can make everybody aware of the drifts of the system and therefore set the basis for the future: respect of legality and sportsmanship,” said Patrizio Bertelli, Luna Rossa Challenge’s Team Principal.
Luna Rossa now joins the ranks of Team Australia, AC35’s original Challenger of Record, which withdrew in July of 2014 citing spiraling costs.

Also bundled into the protocol change was a decision to relocate the qualifier series from Auckland, New Zealand, to Bermuda—a move that saves most teams money, but which is devastating to Emirates Team New Zealand, which is widely believed to be the strongest challenger afloat. “ETNZ [has] filed an application to the America’s Cup Arbitration Panel in the belief that ACEA has breached their signed agreement and protocol obligations by discarding Auckland,” said Grant Dalton, ETNZ’s CEO.
As of this writing, ETNZ’s participation in AC35 is in jeopardy.

Has the “independent” ACEA gone too far? That answer depends entirely on one’s perspective. Ben Ainslie Racing, Artemis Racing, Team France (which is receiving design assistance from Oracle) and Oracle Team USA have all publicly supported these changes, and the newly announced Softbank Team Japan (which, like France, is also expected to receive design help from the Defender and will even likely draw upon former Oracle Team USA sailors for crew) announced its campaign following the protocol change.

Still, one can only ponder what we can expect from AC35 if two, or possibly even three, of its strongest competitors have foiled-off in frustration, leaving a soft field for Oracle Team USA.

July 2015

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