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America’s Cup: Lost in translation

Published on June 26th, 2019

Being the Challenger of Record in the America’s was once a position of strength, ensuring the boats and dates for the competition would provide for a fair competition. The role was given to the first team to challenge, but the balance of power got skewed when Cup winners would secure friendly teams for the position.

This trend gave power back to the Defender, and for the Larry Ellison era, that proved to be too much power. The clubs that had taken on the role as Challenger of Record in 2013 (Italy’s Club Nautico di Roma) and 2017 (Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club) both quit over disputes.

Now for the 2021 America’s Cup, the Challenger of Record (Italy’s Circolo della Vela Sicilia) is having buyer’s remorse. In this op-ed by Damian Christie (Melbourne, Australia), he wonders if the New Zealand defender has already won the match.

It’s ironic that challenge chairman Patrizio Bertelli is bemoaning just how extreme the new AC75 is for America’s Cup XXXVI. As Challenger of Record, he’s long had the power, in sailing parlance, to “dial back” Team New Zealand’s enthusiasm for the foiling monohull concept.

Certainly, when the Kiwis won the Cup in Bermuda two years ago, the fear was Bertelli would run the show more than the defender! Clearly, he doesn’t have a very good negotiating team – or something was lost in translation in negotiations on the regatta protocol – for this “boat” to have defied expectations and sailed past his watchful gaze.

Bertelli’s doubts about the AC75 bode well for the defender – it’s almost an admission that he and the other challengers don’t really have a handle on the concept and aren’t confident of victory. Perhaps the Kiwis have been more clever than their critics back in June 2017 anticipated.

The defender can now watch their rivals expend massive resources and make loads of mistakes with their test boats and Version 1.0 vessels, and even save on R&D expenses by monitoring the performance of the design packages they sold to the late entries of the USA and Dutch.

The Kiwis can consume all this information and then make the required improvements in designing and building their own boats. Indeed, the defender’s boats could be up to a generation ahead of the challenger fleet by the conclusion of AC36 – effectively the Mark II and Mark III of the AC75 class over the challengers’ Mark I and Mark II vessels.

No wonder the Kiwis don’t (at the moment, at least) seem perturbed by the big budgets of their main rivals (Luna Rossa, American Magic, and INEOS). They know this race will be won by the team that can best grapple with the AC75 concept and make the least mistakes – which is par for the course in the Cup over its long history. At this time, I’d be backing the Kiwis to show the rest of the field the way.

Perhaps that’s why Bertelli is frustrated at the boat – he realizes he’s probably already been snookered in the design contest long before he’s even made the start line!

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