Was the move to a smaller 48ft predominantly one-design America’s Cup Catamaran forced by the decision to hold the next event in Bermuda?
There’s not much you can rely on when it comes to the America’s Cup except that almost anything could change at almost any point in the build-up to the finale.
The proposed 62-footers for the 2017 America’s Cup were originally expected to reach similar speeds to the 72ft boats in the 2013 event. However, once teams started modifying their existing 45ft boats to both add foils and make them more powerful, they started to achieve speeds of over 40 knots. So on 1 April, the official America’s Cup website announced that the event finale in 2017 will be raced in foiling catamarans between 45ft-50ft in length.
Lack of racing room
Bermuda’s reef-fringed Great Sound is a more restricted body of water than San Francisco Bay, where the last Cup was held, offering an area of less than two miles by three miles in which to race. Given that three-mile long windward legs were set in the last event, it’s clear that in many wind directions the course in Bermuda would need to be somewhat shorter. This of course favours smaller and more manoeuvrable boats, even if that comes at the expense of visual impact, especially given the reduced crew numbers of a smaller boat.
This doesn’t explain the decision to adopt boats that are almost identical one designs in many respects. The hulls and wings of each boat will be identical, with teams only able to determine the design of their appendages. This overturns more than 160 years of America’s Cup history and is analogous to Formula 1 being raced in cars that share many common components.
Having said that, the design of the foils and rudders have a disproportionate effect on the speed of these boats, with even small changes having the potential to make a big speed difference. The official line is that the change to a one-design structure is to promote affordability, which would be a laudable enough claim, if the event were not to be held in one of the most expensive venues on earth.
On the other hand, it surely can’t have escaped the organisers’ attention that the incredible spectacle of the last Cup, that had enthusiasts glued to the edge of their seats, could have turned out very differently. In fact, for the first eight races it looked like a complete flop between two utterly unmatched teams. The excitement only started when Team Oracle USA staged the biggest comeback in sporting history that saw them turn a 1-8 deficit into a 9-8 win. Had it been scripted in advance, such a comeback would surely have been unbelievable.
While big differences between teams have been a common thread throughout the long history of the Cup, in a commercial world that doesn’t make for compelling TV viewing. As we’ve seen with the current Volvo Ocean Race, the best way to level the playing field is to change to a one-design format.
by Rupert Holmes