37th America’s Cup has a protocol but no venue yet

Sports

Teams that will compete in the 37th America’s Cup now know the rules and conditions that will govern the regatta, as well as some tweaks to the high-tech boats that will fly across the tops of waves.

But they still don’t know where sailing’s marquee regatta will be held in 2024, and probably won’t for another 4 1/2 months.

Defending champion Emirates Team New Zealand is considering moving the next regatta offshore after it failed to reach agreement with national and local governments on funding for a defense in Auckland.

The protocol released by the Kiwis and Challenger of Record INEOS Team UK on Wednesday New Zealand time makes provisions for racing to be held either in Auckland or, most likely, Europe or the Middle East.

The Kiwis have already delayed the venue announcement in order to further consider bids from Cork, Ireland, Valencia, Spain, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and to determine if there’s any chance the regatta can remain in Auckland.

The protocol gives ETNZ until March 31 to pick a venue. It also sets the challenger selection series and the America’s Cup match between January and September 2024, which will allow for a defense in either the Northern or Southern hemispheres. The Deed of Gift, the 19th century document that sets the framework for competition, calls for specific racing dates for each hemisphere.

Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton said trying to pick a venue by September ”was too ambitious. Having never dealt with a venue before, probably that was because I didn’t understand. What it has done though is sort of focused the mind a little bit.”

Sir Ben Ainslie, team principal and skipper of INEOS Team UK, said he’s confident the Kiwis will meet the deadline.

”To be fair to Grant, he’s been very open with us about the discussions he’s having, and when and where that might be, and I think we have to trust him and Team New Zealand to be open with the other competitors, and I think they will be,” Ainslie said during a video conference call with Dalton. ”Obviously, they have to think about their own team, but also trying to do the right thing for the event.”

Highlights of the protocol include cost-containing provisions such as limiting each team to building just one new foiling race boat, the introduction of a 40-foot boat for testing and to sail women’s and youth regattas, and various changes to increase the performance of the AC75 racing boat, including reducing crew size from 11 to eight.

There could also be a return to the use of cyclors, the innovate use of bicycle power to run the hydraulic systems used to trim the sails and raise and lower the foils. Team New Zealand swapped arm power for leg power by replacing traditional grinding pedestals with four stationary bikes on its 50-foot catamaran in the 2017 America’s Cup. It was one of the many tech breakthroughs the Kiwis used in their upset of American-based powerhouse Oracle Team USA.

Teams will have the choice between using grinders or cyclors, which were banned from the last America’s Cup.

Dalton and Ainslie both called it a ”progressive” protocol. Dalton said the relationship with INEOS Team UK is better than the relationship the Kiwis had with the previous Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team of Italy. The Kiwis beat the Italians 7-3 in March to retain the oldest trophy in international sports.

Due to the high cost, the last America’s Cup drew only three challengers. It’s not yet known how many will challenge for the 37th America’s Cup.

”I don’t subscribe to the cost barrier thing because it’s often just one of the great excuses for why someone can’t make it or, `I couldn’t raise the money,”’ said Dalton, who added that he thinks teams can mount a campaign for $60 million.

”If that’s a barrier to getting involved, then that’s unfortunate,” Dalton said. ”We’d like more teams, but it’s still the America’s Cup and it’s not for everybody. So it’s a fine balance between turning it into just another regatta and turning it into the premier technology race of the sport.”

Terry Hutchinson, president of sailing operations and skipper of the American Magic sailing team, said there are definitely cost savings in the protocol, but that Dalton’s $60 million figure seems low.

”There’s a difference between competing and winning,” said Hutchinson, whose startup syndicate represented the New York Yacht Club in the challenger trials in the 36th America’s Cup. American Magic suffered a catastrophic capsize and went home winless.

The New York Yacht Club replaced American Magic with Stars+Stripes earlier this year, and then announced a few weeks ago it was pulling out of the 37th America’s Cup.

Hutchinson said American Magic has been speaking with other yacht clubs and will make a final decision about challenging in the next regatta once the venue has been picked. Stars+Stripes also hopes to find another yacht club to represent.

Other highlights of the protocol include shared team reconnaissance that will be made public, using the AC75s for the next two regattas and a requirement that each team build and operate two hydrogen-powered foiling chase boats.

Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson

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