Early trends for the 36th America’s Cup
Published on January 17th, 2021
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
While much has been made of there being only three challengers in the America’s Cup, there is a positive spin to it. Yes, more teams creates more interest, which translates to more commerce, but the America’s Cup is a competition, so let’s stay there for the moment.
With only three teams, and three highly qualified, sufficiently funded teams, the format of the Prada Cup Challenger Selection Series provides due process. Each team gets a fair chance to prove themselves, to highlight their three years of preparation.
After racing began January 15, the first team will be eliminated by February 2, the second team by February 22. From the opening of entries on January 1, 2018, the all-encompassing task to pursue the America’s Cup will end for all but one team within a six week period.
Each challenger has now completed four races, and while it is hopeful to say these are still early days of the process, this is where trends begin. Nobody knew anything about an AC75 when the concept was released November 30, 2017, but vital decisions had to be made early…here’s what we’ve seen so far:
AC75s can match race
Maneuverability is critical to competition, and the AC75 can turn with speed. That allows boat-on-boat tactics and reduces the absolute emphasis on drag racing. However, at these speeds, a bad tack translates to a couple hundred meters.
AC75s need wind
As remarkable it is to see boats fly on foils, watching them not foil is painful and pathetic. When they set the lower wind at 6.5 knots, it was to keep the schedule intact while having enough wind for good racing. However, it’s not enough, with teams struggling to stay up, and when they splash down, it’s a crime scene.
Roles on the boat
When the America’s Cup shifted from the AC72 in 2013 to the AC50 in 2017, the role of tactician got assumed by the helm. Going from 11 crew to 6 crew, along with the fast pace of action and a heightened need for the crew to generate power, the helm made decisions. But now the AC75 is back to 11 crew and each challenger has fitted a tactician onto their boat differently, and some solutions might be better.
New York struggles
When New York Yacht Club lost the Cup in 1983, their challenge in 1987 began strongly but finished poorly. They’ve sat on the sidelines until now, but there is hope in Newport that history is not repeating. As the early favorite, bad starts, questionable decisions, and light wind slows had them winless, but they looked good in the better winds of day three before their catastrophic capsize. As tactician Terry Hutchinson is also a grinder, observers are wondering about the work load.
First challenging in 2000, this is the sixth attempt for Luna Rossa to win, and their boat design had been widely admired in advance of the racing. Additionally, they added 2-time winner Jimmy Spithill to their stable, and uniquely devised a steering scheme where Spithill is on the starboard wheel and Francesco Bruni is on the port wheel. One drives, one controls flight, they switch roles when they tack, and both converse on tactics. The scheme eliminates the helm running across the boat, but there are questions whether being dedicated to a role produces better results than sharing the role.
Perhaps in the history of sport has no team made bookmakers look so bad than INEOS Team UK. Appearing fully out of sorts prior to racing, they’ve done nothing less than completely out-sail their opponents. Not short of speed in light or heavy winds, they’ve been praised for their boat handling skills but also how skipper/helm Ben Ainslie and tactician Giles Scott are operating. These former Finn rivals are in sync, with Scott as the only tactician without other onboard roles.
The intent of the America’s Cup World Series was to help build interest in the America’s Cup, but also provide the teams with an opportunity to test their skills in battle. However, when logistics cancelled the 2019 events and COVID-19 cancelled all but the final 2020 event, INEOS Team UK may have been the benefactor. Of the Challengers, Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott are the only helm-tactician duo to now be in their second Cup campaign, and thus far it is hard to find fault in how they are getting around the course.
Prada Cup Scoreboard (wins-losses)
American Magic (USA): 0-4
INEOS Team UK (GBR): 4-0
Luna Rossa (ITA): 2-2
The PRADA Cup is a series of four round robins (Jan. 15-17 and Jan. 22-24), with the winner of the series qualifying for the PRADA Cup Final and the remaining two Challengers going into a Semi-Final Series (Jan. 29-Feb. 2) for the right to join the Round Robin winner in the Final (Feb. 13–22). The winner of the PRADA Cup will then face the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, in the America’s Cup Match beginning March 6.
Source: Prada Cup