Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Yachting: Deal keeps Team NZ in Cup hunt

Team New Zealand's SL33 catamarans, prototypes of the cup boat they are developing. Photo / Natalie Slade
Team New Zealand's SL33 catamarans, prototypes of the cup boat they are developing. Photo / Natalie Slade

A deal struck with Luna Rossa will help Team New Zealand compete against the eye-watering budgets of the billionaire-funded America's Cup teams.

The Italian team's arrival in Auckland this week marks the beginning of the first formal collaboration between two teams in 160 years of the America's Cup.

Emirates Team New Zealand last year sold the Italian team the design to their AC72 - the new class of catamaran that will be sailed in next year's America's Cup.

Over the next 12 months the two teams will work closely together, first sailing in SL33 prototypes, which ETNZ unveiled this week, and post-July in their newly launched AC72.

At the end of this year the two teams will split off and build a second AC72, which will be worked up based on performance information they have gathered from race training.

While on the surface it would appear the Kiwi syndicate are selling secrets to the enemy, Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said the agreement was mutually beneficial.

The deal effectively allows two-boat testing, although it is layered with restrictions imposed by the protocol governing the next America's Cup.

In the covert world of America's Cup sailing, the sharing of design information and budgets seems to go against the nature of the sport.

Dalton, however, said he was enjoying the close working relationship with Luna Rossa.

"It doesn't feel strange for me, because I can see we were doing it for the right reasons, but for the yachties they were initially like 'hang on a minute, we're selling kiwifruit to the Chinese here'," he said.

"And my argument to that is that, one, it's highly beneficial to us financially in an incredibly hard time. And two, I back our guys to beat [Luna Rossa]."

While such collaborations are allowed for under the protocol, Oracle and Artemis appear uncomfortable with the arrangement.

Both the defender and challenger of record went to the international jury seeking clarification on the rules they signed off on.

The wrinkle in the protocol uncovered by ETNZ and Luna Rossa was that while the teams would have been allowed to build two new boats, by working together in a particular way they could get more out of that provision of the protocol than was contemplated.

The jury ruled over Christmas that the collaboration was legal, but imposed a few more limitations on the rule.

"The only variation that came out of that when the international jury ruled was telemetry switching - having both boats wired together. We're allowed to race train against each other," said Dalton.

ETNZ had another victory in the jury room over Christmas in regards to voting rights after Dalton protested over the ability for teams that have not paid their entry to the 2013 event to get a vote on matters affecting the 34th match.

"Because all these little teams are beholden to the defender because of the deals that have been done for their boats, we're always going to be out-voted, so Oracle could push through changes that we didn't see benefited the overall cup.

"We questioned whether it was right that a team that hadn't paid their entry should be able to influence bigger issues further down the road, and the international jury agreed with us."

It was an important victory as there are nine teams listed on the America's Cup website as "challengers", but only three of those - ETNZ, Luna Rossa and Artemis - have paid the entry fee to the main event.

While the world series, sailed in identical AC45 catamarans, has attracted several new teams, these teams have not been able to secure the funding to mount a challenge for the America's Cup proper next year.

Dalton said that Oracle helmsman Sir Russell Coutts' promises to cut the costs of competing in the cup were nothing more than "empty promises from a team funded by a billionaire".

"The 45s to a point have masked that because a lot of teams have signed up for that because you can be in a 45 for bugger all, and you need a lot to be in the cup."

- NZ Herald

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