COMMENT By Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz
After an absence of almost three months, the America's Cup spy boats have returned to the Waitemata.
Two boats were out on Friday, believed to be working for Luna Rossa and American Magic.
While the America's Cup defenders lost a vital five weeks during the alert Level 4 lockdown, the silver lining of the Covid-19 cloud meant that the Kiwis enjoyed over six weeks of unaccompanied test sailing since April 30.
What have the long lenses of the reconnaissance teams missed?
Externally the spies would have seen a plethora of wing shapes created by Team New Zealand's designers who kept working from home during the lockdowns.
Making the spy's life even more confusing is the practice of testing the new design on one side, and the benchmark foil on the other. Working out which of the two is new is not obvious, and complicated by older wings being able to be fitted with new flaps – like an aircraft.
Cup insiders believe that the 2021 America's Cup will be decided by the bottom metre and a half of the foil arm and its attached wing. As an onshore observer of many of the Team NZ test sessions the variation in wing concepts has been impressive - underlining the contribution that the introduction of the 12-metre Te Kahu, the team's test boat, has brought to the Kiwis program.
The spies can't see changes below decks, on the test boat - which is said to be an Aladdin's Cave of sailing technology.
On Friday, they might also have noticed that Te Kahu splashdowns were much less frequent. Is that a result of the boat flying under computer control? Or have the Kiwis developed a new flight control system that complies with the AC75 class rules?
The questions are many, the answers more difficult.
The recon teams have lost their reference point on the Kiwis test program - and we could have seen the winning or losing of the Cup over the last six weeks.
The Government's announcement to allow America's Cup crews into New Zealand was belatedly announced on Friday afternoon.
It is a situation that should never have arisen. The government's lack of communication with teams resulted in several TV and radio interviews with anguished team principals, pleading for New Zealand's immigration requirements to be announced so the teams could at least plan with some certainty for the next eight months.
It fell to the opposition's Judith Collins and Stuart Smith to keep the issue in the public spotlight, exposing the time pressures on the teams, and also the urgency to clarify the situation for superyachts intending to visit New Zealand for $100 million of refit work.
The situation had become so desperate that one of the Cup teams had an application to the Arbitration Panel drafted and ready for filing probably early this week.
Adding to the team's frustrations was the news that the 50-plus members of the Avatar crew had come into New Zealand from Los Angeles at the end of May. The group included partners and family members of the film crew, under what was being portrayed as a very tight set of restrictions with every case being considered on an individual basis, with the Prime Minister ruling out a "carte blanche" entry for any teams or groups wanting to enter.
Part of the benefit for New Zealand workers will come with the construction of the team bases. Both American Magic's and Luna Rossa's are yet to be erected. They will not be the grandiose building project of INEOS Team UK, but similar in style to Team New Zealand's base in Bermuda, with shipping container walls and a flexible roof.
For Luna Rossa, it will be their third attempt at a base, after the initial plan to have a spectacular design by the noted Italian architect and octogenarian Renzo Piano was shelved. An Auckland firm created a second design, but the time lost in the Covid-19 lockdown forced that option to be abandoned, and the Italians' base will now consist of a marquee and container structure which will be removed after the conclusion of the 36th America's Cup.