Dana Johannsen on sport

Dana Johannsen is a Herald sport writer

Dana Johannsen: Few clues to how America's Cup contenders rate

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The time for boat development is fast running out. There will be minor tweaks and modifications in the coming months, but essentially what they have is what they've got. File photo / Supplied
The time for boat development is fast running out. There will be minor tweaks and modifications in the coming months, but essentially what they have is what they've got. File photo / Supplied

This week marked a curious milestone in the lead-up to the 34th America's Cup.

For the first time in the current Cup cycle, all four teams competing in San Francisco have a boat in the water.

The fact there is just five months to go before the start of the Louis Vuitton Challenger series and only now do we have four boats afloat reflects the complexities of the new AC72 class.

Yet with the exception of Emirates Team New Zealand, we've heard little from the competing teams about the pressures and challenges they have faced over the past 12 months.

Team New Zealand are the most advanced with their AC72 programme. They are the only team to have got through their 30 allowable sail days before the end of January, and the only team to have built a second boat.

Yet they remain "incredibly nervous" with where they sit.

The anxiety levels seem to have increased several notches this week at the launch of the second boat, as the July 4 start date looms. The time for boat development is fast running out. There will be minor tweaks and modifications in the coming months, but essentially what they have is what they've got - there is no turning back now.

Given the eye-watering budgets involved, the America's Cup is a tough, high-pressure game at the best of times, but this year's event will likely be Team New Zealand's last roll of the dice for the America's Cup. Their association with the event over a quarter of a century hinges on the reliability of their high-tech catamaran. But the team have been refreshingly open with their campaign, allowing media inside their hangar during the delivery of both boats as well as providing regular progress reports.

There have been video updates and blogs after every sailing day. At times you can look on the America's Cup website and all the top stories will be content derived from Team New Zealand. Their candour about the high stress involved is at odds with the bravado from the Oracle camp.

Despite having a boat that has hardly touched the water and very little in the way of real world data to help the progression of a second boat, Sir Russell Coutts said he wouldn't trade positions with any other team at this point.

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill has remained his typical chipper self about the situation his team found itself in after the October capsize. Even after four months of being stuck on shore, Spithill feels his team are right on track for their Cup defence.

Swedish team Artemis have been even less visible with multiple setbacks, and it is difficult to get any sort of gauge of where they sit.

Perhaps the two different approaches are a reflection of the fact that Team New Zealand are the only syndicate that aren't being bankrolled by a billionaire.

You have to do things differently when you have commercial sponsors to answer to, not to mention the taxpayer.

Yet the America's Cup is in a position where it desperately needs to build its fanbase - as was the stated aim of Coutts when he made the move to multihulls.

One would have thought better engagement from the teams would be a good way to achieve this.

Most contemporary sports maintain a high profile and connect with their fans by letting them inside their camp, and speaking candidly about the lows as well as the highs.

It's an approach the teams in this year's America's Cup should take on board.

- NZ Herald

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