In a break from usual America’s Cup transmission, there is going to be stuff happening on the water this week.
The America’s Cup World Series (not be confused with the America’s Cup Qualifiers, the America’s Cup Play-offs or the America’s Cup proper) begins in Portsmouth this week, marking the start of the new Cup cycle nearly two years after the last event in San Francisco.
In that time we’ve seen two new class rules introduced – the AC62, a 62-foot foiling catamaran that promised to be just as fast and spectacular as the AC72s sailed in the last event, only way cheaper so more teams would be enticed to enter.
Then, after those promised cost savings failed to eventuate, the AC62 class rule was scrapped through a questionable application of Cup rules and replaced with a 48-foot foiling catamaran (don’t worry, it will be just as fast and spectacular as the AC72s).
Along with suddenly deciding to change the boat, which saw Luna Rossa quit the event in protest, America’s Cup organisers made other sweeping changes to the regatta programme, including reneging on an agreement with Emirates Team New Zealand to host the Qualifying Series in Auckland.
That’s not the only drama Team NZ have been dealing with since their close defeat in San Francisco two years ago. The selection of Bermuda as the host of the 35th America’s Cup meant major budget cuts for the Kiwi syndicate, with commercial sponsors and government officials seeing fewer leveraging opportunities on a small, exclusive island in the Atlantic.
Budget cuts meant restructuring, which saw the messy exit of long-serving skipper Dean Barker – the repercussions of which were still being felt last month, with design chief Nick Holroyd and three of the 2013 crew walking out.
While many have found the on-shore manoeuvrings over the past 22 months a turn-off, it has also made the World Series events suddenly a lot more interesting.
When the World Series regattas were introduced to the Cup programme much of the interest in the events was manufactured. It had been five or six years since the last multichallenger event, and in that time former Cup holders Alinghi packed up their sails and went home after Oracle Team USA snatched the Auld Mug in a deed of gift challenge.
Oracle kicked off their reign with a bold revamp of the event, including a new class of boat, which brought new faces to the America’s Cup. But it wasn’t until the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco that these new rivalries really took hold.
These rivalries will again be stoked in Portsmouth this week, while in other cases there’s new battles set to take place.
Forget about Jimmy Spithill v Dean Barker, they’re practically teammates these days with Barker’s Team Japan receiving assistance from the Cup defenders. It’s all about Barker v Peter Burling, the man who displaced him at the helm of Team NZ. Not to mention Spithill v Ben Ainslie, who, after helping Oracle to victory in 2013, is at the helm of his own British syndicate.
While the outcome of the Portsmouth regatta will in no way be an accurate guide of what to expect in Bermuda in two years, it will be good to see the scrapping finally taking place out on the water.
by Dana Johannsen