America's Cup challenger Team The Netherlands are hopeful the Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa, will back their participation in the 2021 regatta in Auckland.
Simeon Tienpont, the highly experienced head of the Dutch team, is in Auckland visiting Emirates Team New Zealand — and cautiously stepped around questions involving the arbitration panel hearing which will adjudicate on their late entry (along with two other teams, thought to be Malta Altus and the US Stars & Stripes) to the 36th America's Cup.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is over the Dutch, whose team can be called "fledgling" at this stage, though it emanates from one of the world's greatest sailing nations and is likely to be backed by a consortium of sponsors, potentially from the strong Dutch maritime industry.
The arbitration panel has been called on to decide on matters needing an amendment to the protocol — the document which sets the rules for the design, construction, crewing and racing of the boats. Changes to the protocol need the approval of the Challenger of Record, Italy's Luna Rossa, and the panel is activated only when agreement can't be reached.
The joint challenge from the Royal Netherlands Yacht Club Muiden and Royal Maas Yacht Club needed a change in the protocol and a Herald article on December 22 stated: "The announcement of the Dutch challenge ... may be the first real test of the relationship between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa.
"While the defender has an obvious motivation for allowing another challenger entry, Luna Rossa (and other challengers, come to that) has an equally obvious incentive to decline.
"Why would a competitor spending mega-bucks on an America's Cup challenge open the door for someone who could potentially beat them to challenge the defender?"
It was originally thought the sticking point may be late payments by up to three teams. That is still likely the case but there may also be another issue — the entry being contingent on an America's Cup World Series regatta in the Netherlands.
The ACWS is a series of races — supposedly two in 2019 and three in 2020 — with overall results determining the seeding for the Challenger Selection Series, sailed to find the single challenger to face Team NZ for the Cup in 2021.
Hosting one of the ACWS regattas could be powerful leverage for teams yet to complete their fundraising — a description that probably applies to all the challenging teams (and ETNZ) except for Sir Ben Ainslie's massively funded Ineos Team UK.
While the first ACWS regatta has been set down for Sardinia in October, the rush of late entries for the America's Cup may have seen more than one syndicate request to host an ACWS event — and Dutch hopes may be contingent upon what else has been promised to Italian, Maltese, British and American interests.
Tienpont said: "Of course, we would like a [ACWS] regatta. It is a huge show and we think the defender [Emirates Team NZ] is really backing us up with that and we hope the Challenger of Record will, too — so both parties can agree.
"We do have a very strong wish about this, as we think we could make it one of the best events in the world."
Tienpont said the Dutch challenge had really only germinated in November. A double America's Cup winner, he said more than 100,000 people turned out to greet the Volvo Round The World yachts in the Netherlands.
Tienpont skippered Team AkzoNobel in the last Volvo, winning the leg into Auckland. Dutch Olympic-class sailors also won the second greatest number of medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the most at the last world championships.
"Water is in our DNA," he said, "and we have a huge history, especially when it comes to offshore sailing; Dutch sailors' participation in the America's Cup has been constant."
He said the Dutch would also likely take advantage of the ETNZ design package, reducing design risk for new teams and the possibility of building a complex boat that might not sail well.
"That is one of the reasons we flew to see Team New Zealand," he said.