Well, well, well. Whilst we all slept and as the Cup slumbers peacefully, nestled comfortably (and camply) in its Prada shorn hibernation box like an aged fashionista, up pops the New York Yacht Club with a well-crafted, detailed challenge and submits it brazenly to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. What’s going on here? Surely we all assume, as we are such know-it-all Cup junkies, that the venerable Club knows the protocol around the Protocol? The format is as well-known to them as a well-worn slipper. Let’s not forget, ’twas The New York Yacht Club ‘what created them rules’ and then fought like fury for 132 years, hiding, ducking and deflecting all comers so brilliantly.
So it’s interesting. It’s very interesting. And it’s not as if it’s some fly-by-night submission that you and I would craft on a pub table as a joke of a summer’s Friday night. No, this is a 150 page document outlining the new (the latest) standpoint of the New York Yacht Club and you can’t help but think that there’s some interesting politics both behind the scenes and in plain sight going on here.
On the face of it, it’s a proposal slap bang in the middle of where we would like to assume the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Royal Yacht Squadron Racing Ltd will be once the wise heads have got around the table but the geopolitics at play is interesting. The jungle drums coming out of New Zealand aren’t good. The Government has implemented a wage freeze for its workers, and that always goes down like a lead balloon, so it is looking pretty likely that they will have to turn around to Team New Zealand and say, ‘Sorry lads, the coffers are empty. We can’t support your yachting dream anymore.’
So where does that leave Grant Dalton and Kevin Shoebridge? The only deal seemingly in town is with the open chequebook and smiling faces of Ineos who their supporting Club has accepted a challenge from. All the aces would seem to be with Ratcliffe. If Ineos fancy a race around the Isle of Wight then so be it. Cowes here we come. Book Te Rehutai on the next Antonov and start looking for bases in Southampton, Gosport and Cowes. Buy ‘Winning Tides’ from Joliffe’s Chandlery on Shooter’s Hill and you’re good to go…But hold on. Not so fast…
What the New York Yacht Club is doing is saying, hold on guys, let’s look at this. This is the big boys league and we’re not going to let things pass without a say. We want a strategy that goes beyond the next Cup and the one after that. We want to create a playing field (and a commission – God help us) where commercial sense can prosper rather than this stop-start shenanigans that just ramps the costs skywards in a three year spending blizzard which isn’t serving the sport or the Cup very well. They also talk about ‘dwindling number of challengers and public interest’ and they are at least 50% right on that.
But I can see their point. The submission is common sense and it’s a great ideal. But ideals are littered with pitfalls and unintended consequences and this is no different. But crucially, and aside from the content, what it’s saying to me is that others want to play in the next cycle and that there are backers ready to commit and provide the desperately needed challengers to make the event a success. That’s great news – epic news – and the fact that both the Kiwis and the Brits have rejected it so emphatically and vociferously leads me to think that either the one-on-one is set in stone or in fact, what’s being proposed here is pretty close to what they are working on.
Either way, it’s a clever move by the NYYC to signal their want-in and ramps up the pressure all round. It’s also highly likely to get heavyweight backing from Luna Rossa and Alinghi who are all but nailed on to join the party if the Cup stays in New Zealand. Again – great news. And it’s news that can’t be ignored nor brushed off as has been the case so far.
For Ineos and Team New Zealand all they can really do is say “thanks for the interest and we’ll let you know” and that’s precisely what their statements about the challenge said. But in the next few days and with the coming announcements of support, the NYYC Challenge could well grow into a mighty headache that could force hands and be highly revealing. It isn’t going away and if there’s a cabal of intent that is unified and, crucially, has the money to support it, then this could be something that changes the game and a proposal that the Kiwis will have to take seriously. It’s 150 pages that won’t be filed in the bin, mark my words. This is a haunting spectre on the Cup waterfront.
The Challenger of Record status is well-known as being the ultimate poisoned chalice and Royal Yacht Squadron Racing could well be about to find out why. ‘Bet on self interest, it’s always running,’ was how Dennis Conner described the America’s Cup. And you can be damn sure that it’s not only running right now, it’s galloping.
Expect the unexpected – it’s the Cup after all.