A perennial challenge for professional sailboat racing is striking a balance between boats that are exciting to sail, but aren’t so cutting edge (read expensive) that it becomes impossible to get enough teams to compete.
Fortunately for Cup fans, the Kiwi defenders for the 36th America’s Cup appear to have found a winner in their new full-foiling AC75 monohull. As this issue went to press, no fewer than six challengers had officially thrown their hats into the ring, including not one but two U.S. syndicates: the New York Yacht Club’s Team American Magic squad, and Stars & Stripes Team USA, flying the burgee of California’s Long Beach Yacht Club.
The other challengers include Challenger-of-Record, Luna Rossa, of Italy; a joint Dutch effort sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Yacht Club Muiden and the Royal Maas Yacht Club; INEOS Team UK led by British Olympic legend Sir Ben Ainslie; and the Malta Altus Challenge. As Emirates Team New Zealand gleefully notes in a press release, this represents the most teams to officially challenge since the 32nd America’s Cup in 2007 in Valencia, Spain.
Of course, how many teams actually arrive in Auckland for the start of the challenger series in early 2021 remains an open question. Even if the Dutch newcomers and the Malta Altus Challenge ultimately drop out, though, the other four challengers are all looking strong and fully committed, with a depth and expertise to their rosters showing they are clearly in it for the long haul. This includes the young, new Long Beach Yacht Club effort, led by professional sailors 36-year-old Mike Buckley and 29-year-old Taylor Canfield—the latter a past World Match Racing Champion and four-time winner of the Congressional Cup who has been ranked the #1 match racer in the world for three of the past five years.
According to Buckley, who emphasizes that theirs will be an exclusively American effort, “Our goal is to win the America’s Cup by building an inclusive and authentic, American team that reignites the passion for sailing in this country. Our name is a nod to those same Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes campaigns that defined all-American, America’s Cup racing for decades.”
“I think this will be a defining moment for American sailing,” Canfield says. “We have already begun assembling our sailing roster and will announce more details soon. It has been my professional goal to compete in the America’s Cup, and I am confident we will be very competitive in Auckland.”
Meanwhile, over in the other camps, as part of the ongoing development process that is part and parcel of a brand-new class of boat like the AC75, Prada, INEOS and American Magic all have in-water testing programs in place; with INEOS and the Americans having even launched a pair of scaled-down full-foiling models, dubbed T5 and “The Mule,” respectively.
The American Magic team sail-trials its “Mule” prototype last fall on Narragansett Bay
“The initial concept of the boat was to really give the sailors an opportunity to learn about what they were getting into... and as the project grew it was a way for the whole team to be involved in delivering a product to the water, because it really is a mini-AC75,” says team skipper and executive director Terry Hutchinson of the decision to create the full-foiling 38-footer.
Similarly, INEOS designer Grant Simmer says his team built its T5 both to “learn to sail a foiling monohull like this” and “to learn from the control systems, which will ultimately lead us on to the control systems on the race boat.”
As for the Kiwis, who knows? Tight-lipped as always and on the other side of the planet to boot, their ultimate approach to the new 75-footer they created on paper is anybody’s guess, though it will surely be fascinating to see what they come up with. For the latest on the 36th America’s Cup, visit americascup.com.