The Covid-19 pandemic has been absolutely devastating with respect to international racing, with the 2020 Olympic regatta, currently postponed until 2021, the most prominent example. The 36th America’s Cup, however, continues to forge ahead, albeit in an abbreviated and, in many ways, more frenetic form. Never fear, though. Despite the compressed schedule, there has still been plenty of time for the kind of madcap controversy that is as much a part of Cup competition as the racing itself.
Gratuitous footage of the four campaign’s AC75 in action. Can’t wait to see these boats finally go head-to-head!
First, the current state of the 36th Cup. With the spread of the coronavirus this past spring, the first major blow came in the form of a pair of cancellations. In its original conception, the current Cup cycle included a pair of America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) events in Cagliari, Sardinia, and Portsmouth, England, in April and June. These, however, were quickly called off as countries around the globe began locking down their populations and closing their borders.
Unfortunately, in addition to depriving Cup fans a chance at seeing the new AC75 full-foiling monohulls in action, it also deprived the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, and its three main challengers—Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli; the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic; and Britain’s Ineos Team UK—an opportunity to see how their initial boat designs stacked up again each other in the real world. (Although still listed as a challenger, the other U.S. campaign, Stars and Stripes Team USA, has been radio silent for months now and is essentially dead in the water.)
This, in turn, has resulted in the four campaigns having to fly blind, as it were, forced to gauge the success of their four very different AC75s by observing the competition from afar—a situation made all the worse by the fact that for a number of weeks they couldn’t take their boats out sailing anymore either, especially ETNZ, whose Te Aihe, was already aboard a freighter bound for Sardinia when the coronavirus hit. Ultimately, the boat and 16 containers worth of everything from spare parts to chase boats, spent the better part of four months globe-hopping to 15 different ports aboard four different ships before finally returning to Auckland, New Zealand, in mid-May.
“We have had some new components and systems that were ready for the ACWS racing, so the guys are chomping at the bit to get back out testing the new setups and...obviously making up for lost time,” said ETNZ logistic manager Andy Nottage, in what has got to be one of the greatest understatements of the year.
As for the three challengers, even with their boats safely home, they’ve been having travel woes as well. New Zealand’s early success at battling the coronavirus, in particular, has made the government more than a little wary of outsiders, so it took a while to nail down the exact quarantine protocols they’d have to follow. To fill their spare hours, the sailors have been hitting the gym harder than ever—grinding power once again being a major limiting factor in terms of making these boats work (no bikes allowed!)—and reportedly employing various “virtual” sailing devices (think something along the lines of a flight simulator) to stay sharp. At the same time, the four teams’ design and build crews have undoubtedly been putting in massive hours honing their second-generation AC75s, none of which had yet launched by press time.
As for the racing itself, it remains as originally scheduled. Kicking things off will be the last (now first) ACWS regatta in Auckland on December 17-20, followed by a “Christmas Race.” The two events will take place on the same courses in Auckland’s Waitemata Harbor to be used for the America’s Cup finals, making this a must-win—or at least a must-be-competitive—for any team with serious hopes of ultimate victory. The fact that ETNZ is also going to be part of the mix will only make things that much more interesting.
After that comes the Prada Cup challenger series January 15 through February 22 to determine who will actually compete for the America’s Cup, followed by the Cup regatta itself, which begins March 6—first to seven wins, with a pair of starts scheduled for each race day. Best case scenario, i.e. a competitive regatta going a full 13 races, would see racing end March 15.
As for the latest Cup controversy, at press time details remained murky, and given the Kiwis’ penchant for secrecy, little if anything beyond some basic press statements could be expected. Nonetheless, what was made public was pretty juicy to say the least.
It all started with an announcement in late June that ETNZ and America’s Cup Event Ltd. (ACE—the group running the regatta) had uncovered a number of “informants” hell-bent, apparently, on making “highly defamatory and inaccurate allegations regarding financial and structural matters against ACE, ETNZ and its personnel.”
In the wake of their discovery, the unnamed perpetrators were all promptly fired by ETNZ and/or ACE. Even as ETNZ was maintaining its innocence, though, New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) was also stepping in to try and make sense of, among other things, an alleged mishandling of around $2 million.
“Peeling back all of the layers of what is going on here, it is a textbook case of ‘Intentional reputational damage 101,’” ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton said. “It is a deliberate, sinister and highly orchestrated attack, which includes anonymous tipoffs, recordings and document leaks, [and] ‘informants’ orchestrating unfair accusations, bypassing normal processes, and going straight to external authorities.”
Adding yet another layer of intrigue were tales of an e-mail scam that had apparently succeeded in diverting over $650,000 to some kind of fraudulent bank account in Hungary. Curiouser and curiouser.
The people of New Zealand, nonsailors included, are certainly curious, given that tens of millions of Kiwi tax dollars have already gone to both ETNZ and the regatta, with tens of millions more in the pipeline. Not surprisingly, all government funding had been frozen at press time, pending completion of the MBIE’s investigation—providing yet more headaches for the Kiwis in what is already proving to be a historically complicated Cup. For the latest on ETNZ’s spy imbroglio, visit emirates-team-new-zealand.americascup.com.