The nights are closing in. Winter is coming. And in the America’s Cup darkness has descended. There are some very dangerous moves happening behind the scenes that will leave many stunned, disappointed and scratching their heads. I’m going to paint the picture and let you, a knowledgeable reader, fill in the blanks. Super litigious people are at work, money-men with open chequebooks and the whole thing could be about to blow up in spectacular fashion.
So let’s start by looking at Team New Zealand. One of the great disappointments, in my view, of the Match in March was that we never quite got to see Te Rehutai in all its glory due to the racing being largely conducted in light airs. For weeks before, we heard of speed records being trashed and a horizon job beckoned.
It didn’t quite materialise like that and at the mid-way point they were 3-3 against Luna Rossa in the light. Base doors were closed and rollockings were administered to the team for the way they were sailing the boat. Roll tacks and enhanced flight ensued and the rest is history. They thumped the Italians from there on in. Te Rehutai was considered to be perhaps half to a full cycle ahead in terms of design and that’s a key point to what I am about to explain.
If you are a team that competed in the 36th edition, you are well aware of Team New Zealand’s speed. You had chase boats on the water. Hours of video footage. Massive analysis of everything from the lowered mast detailing to the aero package to the foils. Your designers have taken away prime IP and have had computer simulations running ever since. With the confirmation that the AC75’s are going to be in the next Cup, I’ll say you already have the design of the next boat pretty much done already.
But what if you’re a new challenger? And let’s say you are a challenger that is hell bent on winning, backed by one of the richest men on the planet who knows what it takes to compete in the Cup. Te Rehutai and Team New Zealand’s superstar crew are the key to a successful challenge. You’ve been offered the rather knackered Boat 2’s of perhaps all the other challengers from Auckland and although that’s a nice thought to get your new team on the water, it’s a bit second-hand and you don’t do half measures. You want Te Rehutai’s elixir lock, stock and two smoking barrels. That’s the goal. How do you achieve it?
Well first off, you look at the key afterguard and ask have they signed contracts yet? If the answer is ‘no’ then you have a Russell Coutts moment and you could do a raid similar to what Ernesto Bertarelli did for the 2003 Cup. You won’t be popular in New Zealand but this is about money-no-object to win the Cup. Who cares? You court the key afterguard whilst they are stuck in Europe unable to get home due to quarantine restrictions and their commitments to the SailGP circuit, and dangle monetary carrots that are eye-watering to simple people. If the sailors come, happy days, and they will bring one level of intellectual property with them. But you want more. How do you do that?
Well, you look at the current political landscape and throw a massive spanner in the works. Just as the Cup was set fair for Cork, at the 11th hour an unknown steps up with a jingoistic challenge backed by un-named investors who it’s implied have been involved in supporting Team New Zealand in the past. Remember, you are very rich and the chump change that needs to be raised is small beer to you so whilst the Kiwi media all scrambles around pointing fingers at the homegrown millies and billies as the mystery backers (and they may well be interested in contributing), you sit back in your eyrie safe in the knowledge that you are the real driver and the main cash source.
If you can stay in the shadows long enough, and the campaign to keep the Cup in Auckland is compelling enough, the patsy that fronted the bid gets all the attention, and hogs the headlines. The court of public opinion combined with global pandemic woes and a dire sponsorship landscape forces the hand of Team New Zealand and a deal is struck.
This is where the darkness gets even darker. The Te Rehutai data is transferred or sold immediately as a condition of your largesse and then you go about taking out the nationality rule so that your new multi-millionaire Kiwi afterguard can steer your challenge before they head home and build mega mansions.
This one isn’t easy but a threat of legal action over the validity of the Challenger of Record’s club arrangements in the New York Supreme Court might work to get the rule amended ahead of the Protocol being published. If that doesn’t work and if it does go to court, it buys a lot more time to work on the design. You have the rocketship blueprint now in your possession don’t forget and aces in your pack.
As a place to start on an all new entry to the America’s Cup, you are on the front foot and firing. The big issue is that you are going to be met with fire and fury by a hard-as-nails Mancunian who fought his way from the back streets to the top of the rich list and doesn’t suffer fools. Details, details in your grand masterplan though. You’ve been this way before.
This is what could well be going down in the America’s Cup right now and could well be the reason why Team New Zealand have been absolutely insistent on all the names of the backers behind the Kiwi Home Defence project being revealed publicly. Quite rightly, they are in media blackout right now and are not in the business of speculation or fuelling writer’s pens. I don’t blame them but others are talking and the scene painted is pretty ugly, if it’s to be believed. You can see I’m treading carefully on this but just let your memory run a little.
And whilst some are even speculating that the money behind the scenes is our old friend from Switzerland with a grey-haired whispering afterguard member from the 2003 campaign involved as a go-between, I think that’s perhaps a step too far. Surely not?
Seahorse do the Swiss rumours particularly brilliantly and always end any speculation in their short rumour column with the word: ‘yawn.’ However the story of the Swiss sniffing around this Cup is one that just refuses to die. But funding the defender to get the design and nicking two talented Olympians from the TNZ afterguard? Wow. That’s a long shot and even with their history in New Zealand, supporting the Kiwi Home Defence project to raid the IP would surely be straight out of the fiction shelves. Or would it?
Perhaps the mystery backer is of Italian heritage flush with an incredible stock-market run? That’s a story that keeps popping up now and again on the rumour mill. Again, my view is that it’s unlikely. No-one will confirm anything but I am starting to understand why the Team New Zealand management are so on the front-foot with the Kiwi Home Defence proposal and have so much at stake. And tell me if I’m wrong but doesn’t it start to become clearer and explain why the original intent was to remove Grant Dalton, the ultimate winning machine from the team (since rowed back) in that opening gambit of press work?
Where this all leads to, I’m unsure. The names I’ve had suggested to me can’t be backed up in fact as the proponents are all too clever for that. It’s the America’s Cup and we will just have to let the rumour tide run its course.
We will find out who’s swimming naked soon enough. It’s all going on though. More anon.