The canvas is starting to take shape of the 37th America’s Cup. Little by little snippets of information are coming out into the public domain and in drawing the dots we can start to conclude that it’s going to be one hell of a show guided by a progressive Challenger of Record and a really committed Defender. What’s happening is that the greatest show on earth in the sailing world is going into a brave new, aware, woke, enlightened era that will capitalise on the goodwill engendered by the 36th Cup in Auckland and deliver the most fantastic event.
What really interested me in the latest Grant Dalton comments, dressed up as broadsides was the line: “we can promise an innovative Protocol which addresses diversity in the sport, sustainability, youth as well as cost control to help enhance entry numbers.” Let’s break that down and mix in the Terry Hutchinson comments to Tom Ehman on design. Throw this all together in the mixing bowl and a pretty fancy cake is emerging.
Okay so let’s kick off with the words “which addresses diversity in the sport.” Anything less than female athletes on the boats is a failure. An abject failure. And I don’t think the sporting world will come anywhere close to recognising the Cup as an apex competition if they don’t mandate a crew quota. It will be cancelled in the public conscience. Cancelled. Stone dead. Don’t even try and fudge this one.
Many observers in the sport passionately hate the idea but whilst I respect their opinions, I disagree and have disagreed for a long while. Gender diversity – it should be equality really – has to happen but it’s refreshing that Grant Dalton is being open and on the front-foot about this red-hot issue. I have every faith that the Cup will lead the way and the debate will abate as normalcy and expectancy creeps into our collective thinking.
Physicality however has always been the trump card for the naysayers of gender diversity and equality. And it’s here where Terry Hutchinson’s allusion to stored power comes thundering into play. Hold that thought for a second. Combine Terry’s comments with Dalton’s about cost control and you get the picture. People cost money – and at this end of the sport, a lot of money. Payrolls have ballooned and anyone with talent on the water is a prized asset. But so too shoreside. It’s an ultra competitive market as teams vie for engineering, design, AI, computational, mechatronic and aero dynamicist talent.
Ranged against the teams on the HR side are the big tech companies offering stable mega-bucks, innovative start-ups offering lucrative stock options and organisations shooting for Mars – literally. If you’ve got talent and education in the areas where the Cup boats play, the teams have to dangle large carrots. The promise of national pride and the outside chance of a picture with a pretty ugly silver ewer at the end of the competition after a huge amount of blood, sweat and tears, sadly doesn’t pay the mortgage or the school fees so keeping the requirement for these uber-brains to a minimum is key to cost control.
Increased stored power delivered through strict one-design elements of the boat should take the crew numbers down to five and lessen development spend. That’s the hope but the well-funded teams always find blind alleys to run down and shed cash by the bucketload – be that aero, systems, design etc. But it’s a good start and crucially it allows female athletes to participate on an absolute parity. It’s also the way of the world at the grand prix end of our sport and there’s a clear downstream to the rest of us at the lower echelons be that cruising, racing, fitting electric outboards/inboards etc etc.
And then we come onto “Youth” and Dalton’s reference is again very welcome as pathways into the Cup have to be created. Sail GP absolutely leads the way here with its Inspire programme that is not only fun but deeply relevant offering really interesting experiences in all facets shoreside but also getting smiling, happy athletes flying around in Waszps at every grand prix on the circuit. What’s not to love?
But Dalton and Ineos will more than likely go a big step forward than Sail GP – wouldn’t it be great to see mule racing? Everyone who saw the Ineos, Magic and ETNZ mules in the last Cup wanted a go. Can you imagine a fleet of one design mules with three-man crews fleet racing ahead of the main event on raceday? It would be like Formula 2 races preceding the big boys of F1 every race weekend but what a spectacle it would be.
And last, but certainly not least, we address the ‘sustainability’ part of Dalton’s quote. It’s no secret that almost all of the world’s top sailors are committed to causes concerning the ocean. Pete Burling and Blair Tuke are stand-out ambassadors for the Live Ocean project, Hannah Mills is red hot on the Big Plastic Pledge and Ineos will move heaven and earth to convince of their green credentials – open that can of worms and expect the fastest lawsuit in history to be issued.
Expect sustainability plus a healthy smattering of Environmental, Social and Governance initiatives to be front and centre – those foiling electric chase boats that Team New Zealand championed may well come to fruition and be mandated but all round the teams will be expected to sign up to a charter of commitment and do the right thing all over the massive sustainability agenda.
So it all looks like it’s moving in the right direction. The one big factor is venue and you can start to feel the frustration vortex that Team New Zealand is being sucked into. Torn between wanting to host in Auckland which would be the logical and right thing to do (and they must move heaven and earth to try and do that) or taking it to Cork or the Solent in the hope of securing funding to mount a dynamite defence. It’s tricky.
A hybrid would work – the challenger series in Cowes and the defence in Auckland. Bring it on. It would be magnificent and look at the conditions we can serve up in the Solent – everything from flat as a witches tit at Cowes Week to screaming 40 knots at the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race – and that’s in just 48 hours…It would be a bold call but my goodness it would be a good call.
The Ineos Team and the Squadron members are, quite rightly and quite remarkably, under the strictest of NDAs imposed by Jim Ratcliffe and it doesn’t matter how many bottles of wine you buy them, they won’t even raise an eyebrow or tip a wink. Could a left-field candidate be stalking in the wings?
“You’re miles off” was the gruff response I received when I mentioned Cork and Cowes in a recent conversation with a connected contact and I keep on getting emails telling me that the Middle East is a possibility/near certainty. The Deed of Gift makes it tricky but the venue is crucial to the boat development and design. A tractor or a Stradivarius? That’s the difference between Cowes and Doha. Bomb-proof or see-through? It’s going to be the big determinant.
And the good news is that American Magic have got quickly on the front-foot in the re-build of their design team with the appointment of ex-Oracle and just-about-every-notable-big-boat-camapigner Scott Ferguson as Design Co-Ordinator. As Scott says: “I firmly believe that AC37 is a winnable event, and look forward to working with the Team Principals and Terry to assemble the right design group to get the job done.”
Winnable? Won’t be easy but AC37 looks like being one heck of an event in 2024. Set the countdown, start planning and hold fire on the AirBnB until September 17th. Game on. Fabulous.