Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

America's Cup: Hungry like a lone wolf

The Team New Zealand base in Bermuda is set apart from the other syndicates. Photo / Hamish Hooper
The Team New Zealand base in Bermuda is set apart from the other syndicates. Photo / Hamish Hooper

The Royal Naval Dockyard, perched on the western tip of Bermuda, is home to "pit row" for the America's Cup teams.

The gleaming headquarters of Oracle Team USA take pride of place at the northern end of the South Basin, just down from where the super yachts will be parked up for this year's event.

Next to Oracle are Softbank Team Japan - Dean Barker's new syndicate, who have been working closely with the Cup defenders in this cycle. Further down are British team Ben Ainslie Racing, and at the end of the row sits French team Groupama.

Across the water on the nine acres of reclaimed land at Cross Island, Emirates Team New Zealand sit out on their own - albeit closer to the heart of the action in the event village.

The lay-out of the America's Cup village could be seen as a metaphor for the Kiwi team's standing in the event.

In many more ways, Team New Zealand are a team apart in this America's Cup.

They have found themselves on the other side of the divide from their fellow competitors on most of the key issues facing the event from the boat design, regatta format and scheduling, and late protocol changes that allowed for organised practice racing to take place in the lead-up to this month's event.

The split came in April 2015, when event bosses made sweeping changes to the design rules - reducing the size of the catamaran from 62ft to a shade under 50ft - and event format in the name of cutting costs. The "amendments" were voted through by four of the six teams.

The changes came at a huge cost for Team NZ. They lost key ally Luna Rossa, with the Italian team withdrawing in protest over the "surreptitious use of procedures to modify the protocol in order to overturn the class rule".

More significantly, Team NZ also lost the hosting rights for the America's Cup qualifiers, with the other syndicates voting to shift the entire regatta to Bermuda, where the 35th Cup match was taking place.

The loss of the qualifiers ended any chance of Team NZ securing Government funding for this Cup campaign, leading the Kiwi syndicate to challenge the ruling with the Arbitration Panel.

While the bitter and top secret dispute plays out behind closed doors, Team NZ have refused to play happy families with the rest of the syndicates, creating an unprecedented dynamic for this America's Cup.

In January, in a major break with tradition, Oracle and challengers Artemis, BAR, Team Japan and Groupama announced a framework agreement for the next two America's Cup cycles. Team NZ refused to sign the agreement, which many rules advisers believe would not stand up to legal appeal anyway.

That means this year's event in Bermuda will not only be a duel between sailing teams but an ideological battle over the Cup's future.

Until now, their isolationist approach simply meant Team NZ didn't have any support at the bargaining table during competitors' meetings. But as the event draws near, there are concerns, though not necessarily founded, it may have far more serious repercussions for the team.

Team NZ boss Grant Dalton suggested to the New York Times earlier this year he worries one of their rivals may go to extreme lengths to sink the Kiwi campaign.

"The danger of being a lone wolf, of course, is that there's a lot of people, not just Oracle, that don't want us to win this time," Dalton said. "One would hope we don't get sent to the bottom of the ocean by a boat - 'Oh, that was a mistake; sorry about that' - one day with no form of redress in the rules. And that's a very big concern for us. There are five teams that want us dead now, not one."

The sailors themselves seem largely insulated from the drama.

Team NZ helmsman Peter Burling reckons he hasn't noticed any hostility from rival crews.

His skipper, Glenn Ashby, says there is a camaraderie that naturally exists between sailors, no matter what team colours you're wearing.

"Before getting here, I think you could definitely say that [we were the lone wolves] as we were effectively out on our own.

"We were the only team not here in Bermuda, so we did sort of adopt that stance whether we liked it or not," said Ashby

"Now that we are at the venue, it feels like we have blended into the countryside, so to speak.

"We see the other teams out on the water each day and they are no different to us - we are all part of something pretty special."

- Herald on Sunday

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