The arrival and sailing of the first challenger at the venue is always a significant milestone of any America's Cup, and it's now game-on. But will three challengers become four?
By Richard Gladwell, target="_blank">Sail-world.com/nz
This weekend should have been the first days of racing at the 2020 Olympic Regatta in Enoshima.
Based on the race schedule, right now I should have been photographing New Zealand's Sam Meech as he sailed the opening races in the Men's Laser singlehander, trying to improve on his bronze medal in the same event in Rio.
Instead, on Thursday, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was standing in the shelter of a cave on North Head, shooting Team New Zealand as they sailed their test boat Te Kāhu in freezing rain squalls. Also present were the ubiquitous challenger reconnaissance teams and their long-lenses, often moving within a biscuit throw of the Kiwis.
The following day under sunny skies, it was over to the Viaduct Basin to catch the first America's Cup challenger to arrive in New Zealand.
New York Yacht Club's American Magic was at its berth, with the mast stepped and completing its recommissioning work. The dark blue-hulled AC75 is now expected to have its first sail on Monday in light conditions. The rest of the week, if they sail, should make for some spectacular action, with fresh NE winds forecast.
The arrival and sailing of the first challenger at the venue is always a significant milestone of any America's Cup. Prior to 1956, there was a requirement that a challenger had to sail to the Cup venue on its own bottom - which would have been quite a feat in the context of the contemporary Cup.
The first challenger's arrival is a signal that it is game on, and even more so when the other two arrive from the UK and Italy.
Whether the three Challengers become four will be the subject of an as-yet-unannounced interpretation sought from the Arbitration Panel.
The scheme is for the fourth challenger Stars + Stripes USA, who purchased a design package from the defender, Team New Zealand, to sail another AC75, in the Challenger Selection Series, or the Prada Cup, while their new AC75 to the TNZ design package is built.
The obvious stumbling block is a requirement the "Constructed in Country" rule which has its roots in the Deed of Gift, the 19th-century documents which governs the conduct of the America's Cup.
When the teams build their second AC75 and race boat, potentially there are four first-generation AC75's on the market.
The Deed requires the challenger and defender to be constructed in the country of their respective yacht clubs.
However, in the days of multinational manufacturing, the meaning of "constructed in country" has been given lip service in regard to the intention of the original donors of the America's Cup.
The current practice has been to define the term in the Protocol which governs each match. In the 2017 Cup, only the "exterior surface of the forward section of each Hull is laminated in the country of the yacht club represented by the Competitor."
In the 2021 Cup it is the "hull" which in the current context is defined as the canoe body, internal structures, and deck only. The parts can be loose and do not have to be assembled before they leave their country of origin.
S+S USA, from the Long Beach Yacht Club, had all its hull tooling constructed by a team which included top NZ composite builders, but stopped while new sponsors were sought. It is possible that those hull components could be built in the USA, and then flown to Auckland for assembly. The other major items - spars, keels, foils are not subject to the constructed-in country rule and have been made in NZ for most challengers.
Of course, for their second boat to the ETNZ supplied design package S+S USA, could use a lot of "hand-me-downs" from Te Aihe - and the construction time would be considerably reduced.
One view that is being advanced is that the Constructed in Country rule only applies to the America's Cup itself, and not the Prada Cup. That is the point the Arbitration Panel is being asked to decide.
In cases like this, as with the 1988 and 2010 New York Supreme Court decisions, it may be that the Arb Panel's response comes down to the meaning and context of a single word in the Deed of Gift.
Of course, there will be an outcry from some if not all of the challengers if Stars + Stripes were able to purchase Te Aihe, Team NZ's first AC75. Te Aihe is a very well tested and set up AC75 and would be a fox in the challenger hen-house.
The Kiwi AC75 would be an excellent benchmark for the Team New Zealand design and performance group. While the Protocol prohibits the teams from sailing against each other, there does not appear to be any rules against the passing of performance information to a team that has chartered or purchased an AC75 from another.
The Long Beach Team are said to have secured full sponsorship but must pay all outstanding entry fees, late entry frees and performance bonds before they can compete in the Prada Cup or Challenger Selection Series.
Of course, four challengers make for a much more balanced Prada Cup, which would see all four sail in the Round Robin series. All four would go through to Semi-Finals, with the top two progressing to the Prada Cup Final.
Under the current race schedule, is currently an awkward progression with three challengers sailing in the Round Robin, and the winner advancing directly to the final with the second and third-placed boats sailing a repechage to determine the second finalist.
Retrospective changes to the Protocol are possible but need the consent of the defender, Team New Zealand.
And of course, the entry of the young and fresh Stars + Stripes USA crew would be a big boost for the perception of the Cup - with the young Challengers being pitted against the three "Super" Teams.
And frankly if one of the "Super" teams can't put away Stars + Stripes - then what hope do they have in the Cup?
The Long Beach entry would only strengthen the Challengers chances in the Main Event, as well as being in the best interests of the America's Cup.