Grant Dalton's Team New Zealand has announced a very different America's Cup from the one developed by Russell Coutts with Oracle Team USA. Gone are the flying multi-hulls and the quick contests. Dalton yesterday confirmed the 2021 defence will return to 75-foot monohulls and the races will last around 40 minutes.
He announced a more tightly regulated competition with nationality and residential rules for crews and the lamination of hulls. At least three of the crew, or 20 per cent if that is higher, must be citizens of the competing yacht club's country. The rest of the crew must be residents of that country, defined as being physically present in the country for 380 days during the two years from September next year to August 2020. The challenger series is due to start in January, 2021, the defence will be in March.
At least one America's Cup veteran, Chris Dickson, believes this format will encourage more entries than there were at Bermuda this year or San Francisco four years ago. That suggests the boats will be cheaper to build than the high-tech catamarans Coutts conceived. A larger number of entries would improve the contest from a sporting point of view, and increase the number of visitors Auckland could expect. But will it attract as much wider interest as the foiling cats of the last two regattas?
They were obviously right on the edge of safety as well as sailing technology and skill. Team NZ's achievement in wining on that edge, with its own innovation of "cyclors" in place of grinders, was remarkable. It would be a pity if the return to AC75 monohulls is a step back from that edge by purists for whom sailing is not careering around a short course in crash helmets. That format certainly captivated a wider audience.
It must be hoped also that the new crewing and boat building regulations do not unduly restrict the participation of New Zealanders, who have been among the crews of most other entries, Our boat builders have profited from other entries too.
Oracle's defending hulls were built at Warkworth. It is hard to see a reason for these nationality rules except to give Team NZ some sort of advantage, which is the reason for many of the rules Cup holders write. But that sort of protection is not the way international competitors normally stay on top of their game.
Auckland, Dalton warned, is not yet the certain host city. Within a year he needs commitments on the location of syndicate bases and other infrastructure. If nothing is resolved by next September the event will go to Italy, home of Team NZ's challenger of record, Luna Rossa.
The Auckland Council needs to get busy, a cheap extension to an existing wharf might not be enough, especially if the design rules attract 10 or more entries. The event deserves a public "village" as impressive as those at Valencia, San Francisco, Bermuda and indeed the Viaduct when syndicates were based there.
The announcement of a definite schedule of dates for the next Cup and its preliminary events is the spur Auckland needs to get on with the upgrading of its waterfront. If it can hasten the removal of the tank farm, the western reclamation would seem the logical base for the next America's Cup. Team NZ has started the clock, the council needs to make some commitments now.