Next week marks a couple of significant milestones in the 2021 America's Cup.
The first challenger, American Magic's AC75 Defiant, is due to arrive in Auckland on Monday, while after an absence of over four months, next week Team New Zealand's AC75, Te Aihe, is expected to be sailing again on the Waitemata.
It will take over from the design and development test boat, the 12-metre Te Kahu.
Since Te Aihe stopped sailing in mid-January to be shipped to Europe for two now-cancelled America's Cup World Series regattas, the design focus has been on the development of various wing designs.
The half-size test boat allowed the design and construction of half-size wings – a saving in cost, and construction time - permitting more options to be trialled, while skirting around restrictions on the numbers of wings and flaps allowed by the rules to be built for the AC75's.
All going to plan American Magic hope to be sailing by the third week in July, and that will be the first time New Zealand fans see two AC75's on the same stretch of water.
The other two Challengers, INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa are expected to be sailing in Auckland in early September and the third week in October respectively.
Rumours persist that America's Cup regatta dates and race schedule will be compressed and/or the entire program shifted into late January, February and further into March or beyond.
However, Team New Zealand's CEO Grant Dalton has twice made it very clear that the team will not sign off on any significant changes to the published race schedule.
The America's Cup is unique in that it is a Challenge trophy contested between two clubs and conducted under the provisions of a 19th century Deed of Gift registered in the Supreme Court of the state of New York. The Deed has successfully governed the conduct of the event for 160 years.
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Shortening up an America's Cup cycle, or making other convenient changes may have appeal to governmental panjandrums, but the changes have no standing unless both the Italian challenger and New Zealand defender agree.
The Covid pandemic forced the cancellation of the first two America's Cup World Series regattas in Cagliari and Portsmouth. As well as being a first hit-out for the teams to get a gauge on their first AC75s, the ACWS regattas were also a vital training, safety and race management test event.
In the original program, with a gap of six weeks between the two regattas, there was plenty of time for race management and teams to debrief, and for any umpiring changes to be implemented in Portsmouth in early June, tested and re-evaluated.
The Christmas Cup in Auckland in mid-December 2020 was intended to be a dress rehearsal for the Prada and America's Cups, starting almost a month later. Under the postpone/compress hypothesis, if the Christmas regatta were pushed back into late January, there would be only a single practice regatta just a few days before the start of the Prada Cup.
From a commercial perspective, there is no appetite from Team New Zealand to extend the regatta in any way.
In the current phase of the America's Cup, all teams are sprinting in a race against time. Their cash-burn rate is put at $2-3million per month, and extending/deferring the regatta in the post-Covid sponsorship market is not an option. Within Team NZ, and maybe the other teams, all the available funding is channelled into making the race boat go faster.
There is also the risk that boat damage suffered in a "Christmas Cup" sailed in mid-late January, would be unable to be repaired by the start of the Prada Cup.
For several compelling reasons, the postponement/schedule compression proposals are simply unworkable. It is a surprise that they keep resurfacing and receive the credibility they do.