Yachting: New Zealand on Am Cup map

By Paul Lewis

America's Cup events may be held annually in the countries of the competing teams

The Team NZ America's Cup boat may get to race on home waters. Photo / Chris Cameron
The Team NZ America's Cup boat may get to race on home waters. Photo / Chris Cameron

The America's Cup could be coming to New Zealand after all, if early speculation regarding the shape of the next regatta comes to pass.

One possibility mooted ahead of the next Cup is that all entrants to the next regatta will stage a leg of the America's Cup. An international series will be held before a semifinal and final in San Francisco, if that is the venue for the next Cup chosen by holders, Oracle Team USA.

Sources in the US, New Zealand and Australia have confirmed there is much talk in Cup circles of hosting "home" America's Cup events in the countries of competing teams. The idea is to have more frequent Cup action - good for sponsors and TV rights - and to focus on the Cup more than once every four years or so.

It must be emphasised that these are extremely early days and the Cup community is waiting to see what OTUSA decide in terms of the protocol for the 35th America's Cup - the guiding rules which cover the timing, location, format, type of boat and other elements. Without that, potential challengers cannot assess their ability to compete and, most importantly, the cost of doing so.

But, with Australia's challenger of record, Hamilton Island Yacht Club, signed up and the likelihood of challenges from Britain, Italy's Luna Rossa, Sweden's Artemis and Emirates Team New Zealand, OTUSA is looking for new ways to do what everyone agrees on - reduce the costs.

That is especially so given the dearth of challengers in San Francisco this year and the high costs attached to the previous Oracle-owned-and-operated America's Cup World Series in the AC45 45-foot catamarans, run over the past two years. It is understood Oracle wanted Auckland City to stump up 4 million-5 million (up to $8 million) for hosting such an event in Auckland the last time. The council is said to have offered 2m (over $3m) but the gap proved too large and ACWS events were instead held in Portugal, the US, the UK and Italy.

The theory now is that all entrants will get to stage an America's Cup event in their own back yard in 2014, 2015 and 2016 - with the local team arranging the event and "owning" the financial structure. Then the top four teams over the international series would head to San Francisco (or wherever the finals venue is) for semifinals and the Cup match against the holder in 2017.

Team NZ boss Grant Dalton, asked if he had heard the talk of home events, said: "We have heard something like that. But no one has talked to us about it and I have no detail. There is no way of knowing whether it will happen."

Asked whether New Zealand would be able to stage such an event, he said: "Absolutely. We did something like that with the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series - and I reckon we could stage something for a fraction of the costs [that have subsequently applied in the America's Cup]."

The LVPS was held in Auckland in January and February 2009 when then holders Alinghi and BMW Oracle, as OTUSA were then, were locked in a legal dispute (Oracle won, forced a deed of gift challenge and took the Cup off Alinghi in 2010) which took the Cup off the water and into the courtroom for years.

The LVPS was staged to retain public interest and to remind them that the Cup was not simply the property of warring billionaires.

The concept of annual, "global" America's Cup events was also raised during the last Cup regatta. The 2013 America's Cup advisory committee - assembled by Oracle supremo Larry Ellison and containing heavy hitters in US sports, marketing, media and commerce - had plans to launch a World Series in 2014.

The original principle was to establish 10-20 franchises around the world, each to race an AC45 or similar catamarans in various venues. The franchises would be established not only in the US, Britain, Europe, Australia and New Zealand but also Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Then, in 2017, the challengers would race off for the right to become the challenger in the America's Cup match.

The AC45s might have had their day. Not only were they compromised in the ACWS cheating scandal which saw OTUSA team members banned from the Cup regatta, they possess little of the aura, danger and foiling abilities of the AC72s which contested the 34th Cup. In addition, the costs of transporting two classes of boat around the world is prohibitive.

So, with information pieced together from round the international yachting community (a request to interview OTUSA CEO Sir Russell Coutts was declined), a possible shape for the next America's Cup may be as follows:

Sixty-five-foot foiling catamarans - smaller than the AC72s but still big and fast enough to provide what Coutts called the "grandeur" of the Cup. They might also have identical hulls and wingsails but have a design component in the foils, for example. That would reduce team and design costs, allow closer racing but not shut the door on all technological advances.

All entrants to hold "home" regattas in these boats, with results counting to finding America's Cup semifinalists.

The top four challengers to take part in the Louis Vuitton regatta to find the challenger to take on OTUSA in the Cup match in 2017.

There are still some unanswered questions, like how teams can afford to transport boats and crew round the world in an international series. It will be interesting to see how much of this is contained in OTUSA's protocol when it is released next year.

- Herald on Sunday

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