I’m extremely fortunate to have been given the draft of the AC 37 Protocol under embargo to mull for a few hours before its issuance to the world and that’s given me the time to pore and ponder over several details. On reflection, it’s good. It’s fine. It’s highly professional. It moves the dial forward. Does it go far enough? The jury’s out. But the America’s Cup is happening in 2024 and that’s just an eye-blink away.
Let’s start on the positive, and there are a lot of positives in this Protocol announcement, with the good news being that not only will AC37 be a multi-challenger event, but there will also be a Youth and Women’s America’s Cup. Great for the pathway. Great for the future. Great for female athletes of all ages and the young talent emerging – imagine being in your early 20’s and getting the nod to sail an AC40…more on that in a minute.
However, and I say this with a heavy sigh once again, we still won’t see women onboard the actual AC75’s competing for the trophy and personally I will contend until the cows (Cowes?) come home, unpopular as it may well be with the AC gang, that it’s a massively missed opportunity. In fact, the new rule is almost anti the idea with a significant reduction in crew on the 75’s making for even less opportunity.
I know the views of senior people in the Cup around tokenism and I know they debated the issue long and hard. I understand but with respect, I disagree and we will always disagree. Those at the top don’t like mandates. Many of the female athletes don’t like mandates. Some say with conviction that the skill level in the relatively new discipline of big-boat grand prix foiling isn’t quite there amongst the female athletes (due to their recent exclusion for a variety of reasons – cost, pandemic, timescale etc) and that a pathway is needed rather than radical measures. I get it.
But in such a male dominated event, mandates are the fastest way to smash the glass ceiling. It worked in SailGP brilliantly at a stroke of the masterful Coutts pen, and would work in the America’s Cup. Big miss in my book. And from a media eyeball standpoint, why disenfranchise 50% of the potential audience from the main event? The Women’s AC will have to do for now. There’s room for improvement in AC38.
Then there’s the news in the press release, played quietly somewhat but big news nonetheless, that crew numbers will be down to eight on the AC75’s from eleven. No word in the releases that I was privy to about whether there’s an increase in stored power onboard but after checking with ETNZ I’m hearing that there won’t be.
That puts a renewed spotlight on the trimmed-down afterguards and might well explain why we haven’t seen a whole host of helms and tacticians being signed for the next cycle. Many great sailors will be left benched – and I fear that it’s ‘Game Over’ for Pete Burling now. Tom Slingsby won’t get a look in.
Tacticians will need to grind as well as call the shots. It will be all-on. Muscle will be at a super-premium. The all-powerful Grinder’s Union has won again. And there’s enough wriggle room in the rule to allow for ‘cyclors’ to make a return – good grief – that just looks wrong to me but could be the answer for the tacticians to keep their eyes out of the boat whilst still contributing the grunt required to pump the oil. On yer bike Glenn and Giles…
Meanwhile, the nationality rule is in and is reiterated. This could be THE big issue of the Cup depending on the venue decision which by the way has been kicked down the road to March 2022, I kid you not. Richard Gladwell, the peerless New Zealand editor of Sail-World, had the scoop on this a week or so ago and it’s a frustration all round. Yes it’s within accepted norms of the America’s Cup venue announcement history, but a frustration nonetheless. We can and must do better in the future. More time in the bank for the CoR and Defender might just rule one or two syndicates on the sidelines out on the basis that the time-dice are just too loaded now and the schedule mighty tight. It never was a fair contest.
There’s also an interesting line about all competitors having to sign a ‘Deed of Participation’ which enshrines the AC75 for another cycle. We’re firmly wedded to the gekkos on steroids now through the 2028 cycle which I heartily approve of, but the longed-for change by the New York Yacht Club and the Italians back to water-shifters and spinnakers won’t be happening until the 2030’s – if at all. By that time we’ll have hover boats on lasers and water will just be an inconvenience to traverse. It’s not going back.
Sustainability is addressed, to a good degree, with the un-arguable insistence of hydrogen powered chase boats of which two are mandated for all teams. Big call on the budget but a necessary step although environmentalists will argue about carbon footprints of the AC construction far more eloquently, and with more expertise, than I. And whilst on the subject of budget, a degree of cost-cutting measures have been brought in (hurrah!) around testing, foils, the one-boat build mandate for the 75’s, shared reconnaissance, uniform weather data, supplied starting software etcetera, etcetera.
People are the biggest costs in the Cup however, and I’m more than certain that the bigger teams will chomp through this cycle shedding cash at an alarming rate. With such an emphasis on getting the one boat design right, the R&D will be simply enormous behind the scenes where there’s no nationality limits and no budget cap.
On the format side, it’s interesting. ‘Up to’ three preliminary regattas that will count towards seeding (but little else) for the Challenger Series that will be conducted at the still-to-be-determined Venue with two of those regattas to be sailed in AC40’s. The travelling circus is on. It matters, but not massively. All indications are that Auckland is the likeliest venue for the Match – the RNZYS membership are agitating and passing motions to demand it happen. We’ll see how that pans out. Makes sense to me though.
I do however sincerely hope they set up the big top in Cowes for one of the challenger series events. The Solent would be terrific and yes I am biased (but who cares?) – seriously though, perhaps it’s a good idea to test the 2028 venue out early? Get some weather data. Find the best restaurant? Block book The Hut and Smoking Lobster for crew dinners? Just saying…
But I like the little clause slipped in right at the end in the Women’s & Youth AC section when talking about the AC40 events that states: ‘additional entries accepted from other yacht clubs.’
That sounds fun. Will we see some monied privateers getting an AC fix at a fraction of the cost of competing in the main event? I think that’s the intention here. It could catch fire. How cool would that be if your local club had an AC40 programme offering the chance to let your youth programme and Ladies divisions stick it on the start-line against the works teams? That’s a club USP if ever I saw it…I will be arranging a cake sale to kick things off at my local in Cowes.
But this is great and it takes an element of AC cliquey-ness away whilst broadening the opportunity for more female athletes and youthful talent to get involved. Now it’s simply a case of going and finding a bored millionaire rather than a bored billionaire.
My cakes start at 50 grand apiece…form an orderly queue.
Furthermore, the upper age limit for the Youth AC at 25 is going to be fascinating. How many under-25’s are there currently that have the skill to take on an AC40 that can travel at speeds touching 50 knots? Some have suggested that the new class could be even faster in some respects than the AC75’s.
We’re going to see some nervous shore managers from Ineos and ETNZ when their steeds are thrashed like donkeys by the inexperienced whilst they have the AC75 boys to answer to when they want to do foil testing on Monday morning. Could be the ultimate donkey derby. Great spectacle but I believe in youth…new superstars will be found. Youth is everything. Brilliant initiative and to hell with the repair bills.
Quite rightly, the ones in charge are happy with their work. I’d mark it as a seven out of ten. Could be better. Could be a whole lot worse. Will it get nascent teams coming out of the woodwork and committing? That’s a whole other question. This Cup is professional and it’s got strict tramlines and conditions. In my view it’s set up for a perfect one on one between Ineos and ETNZ and that might just be the unintended consequence. We shall see.
A shame not to have clarity on the venue for another four and a half months but plenty to discuss and I’m looking forward to seeing AC75’s that are up to a ton lighter with better detailing (note no bowsprits) and the first AC40 to be launched – that will be a moment of huge significance. The renders look terrific.
Equally, what I’m really keen to see is the new media approach from the organisers. It’s alluded to in the statements around ‘shared recon’ and I’m delighted to see an intention for the America’s Cup to get on the front-foot across all platforms and really tell its story to the world.
The website needs to be thrilling. The social media needs to be alive. The Netflix docu-com serves up one part of the story but don’t tell anyone that the F1 version is so dull that it’s largely irrelevant apart from at the time when the driver’s market is open and after about two episodes, completely unwatchable and boring. That isn’t the whole answer, good as it may sound – a wall of media needs building so that consumption in whatever format and via whatever platform can be catered for. Will be interesting to see who they bring in.
AC37 is off and running…where to is anyone’s guess but the runway is lit and the road ahead is bright. I like the tone of this event. I hope others do too.
Prepare for take-off.
To read the Protocol Key Points Document please see below:
And to see the full Press Announcement, please see below:
The Transcript is here:
The Protocol of the 37th America’s Cup was released today by the Defender, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Emirates Team New Zealand and the Challenger of Record – Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd and their representative team Ineos Britannia, eight months to the day after Emirates Team New Zealand successfully defended the America’s Cup.
The Protocol sets the foundations and rules of participation for all teams in the 37th America’s Cup and records the items of mutual consent under the America’s Cup Deed of Gift agreed between the Defender and the Challenger of Record which establishes the basis for a multi challenger event.
Defender Emirates Team New Zealand’s CEO Grant Dalton said: “As we saw with AC36, after 170 years, as the oldest trophy in international sport, the America’s Cup maintains its unique position of balancing the traditions of the Deed of Gift while continuing to push the boundaries of innovation, technology and design in the boats, the event, the broadcast and the commercial aspects of the event. Maintaining this balance is the ongoing challenge and responsibility of the Defender and Challenger of Record as we aim to progress into the 37th edition of the America’s Cup in the ever-changing environment and demands of global sports as well as a determination to drive sustainability through innovation via hydrogen technology for the marine sector which we both believe is reflected in this Protocol.”
Ineos Britannia CEO and Team Principal Sir Ben Ainslie said: “As Challenger of Record, Ineos Britannia have sought with the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand to make the next America’s Cup less expensive and more inclusive. The Protocol this time around will see reduced team operating costs without compromising any of the technical development which the Cup is so famous for. There is an opportunity for change, so for AC37 we will see the first Women’s America’s Cup Regatta and we also welcome back the Youth America’s Cup.”
An updated ‘Version 2’ of the AC75 Class Rule has been released which specifies the latest requirements to be class legal including modification requirements for new teams buying ‘Version 1 AC75’s’ that were built and used by teams competing in AC36. Cost reduction has been a key consideration as part of the balance in the development of the AC37 Protocol including:
• Teams are only permitted to build one new AC75.
• The AC75 class of boat will be maintained for the next two events
• Limitations on the quantity of foils and componentry that can be built for the AC75’s.
• Introduction of the multipurpose One Design AC40 class which teams will be able to convert and use for testing, component development and Match Race training.
• AC40 class will then be converted back to the measured One Design AC40 class for use in the exciting new America’s Cup Women’s Regatta and America’s Cup Youth events. These events have been developed to create new accelerated inclusive pathways into the America’s Cup for the growing global talent pool of female and youth sailors.
• Race crew onboard the AC75 reduced from 11 to 8 sailors.
• Further One Design elements.
• Shared team recon.
• Supplied starting software.
The shared recon programme whilst reducing costs, is also aimed to give America’s Cup fans the inside track from all the teams testing and development on the water. The observations will be made public via AC media channels so that fans can stay up to date with the latest developments as they emerge from the sheds throughout the whole of AC37.
With a view to opening the doors and continued drive to increase the global audience of the America’s Cup and the sport of sailing, a condition of entry to competitors is they agree to be part of a potential behind the scenes documentary series.
The intention of this is to bring the secrecy, the drama and all the teams’ personalities into the limelight. There will be up to three Preliminary Regattas, the first two raced in AC40s, the last one at the Match venue in AC75s. The Challenger Selection Series and the America’s Cup Match will be held in 2024, with the Match Venue and approximate event dates to be announced by 31st March 2022.
The Protocol outlines restrictions on when the AC75’s can be sailed. With the anticipated benefit angled towards new Challengers to AC37, existing teams are not permitted to sail their AC75s’ before the 17th September 2022, however new Challengers entering AC37 that have purchased a second hand AC75 are permitted to sail their AC75 for 20 days from 17th June 2022.
There are other restricted sailing periods which are provisional and will be confirmed once the Match venue is announced.
The Crew Nationality Rule will require 100% of the race crew for each competitor to either be a passport holder of the country of the team’s yacht club as of 17th March 2021 or to have been physically present in that country (or, acting on behalf of such yacht club in Auckland, the venue of the AC36 Events) for 18 months of the previous three years prior to 17th March 2021. As an exception to this requirement, there will be a discretionary provision allowing a quota of non-nationals on the race crew for competitors from ‘Emerging Nations.’
As part of the ongoing drive for innovation and new clean technology in the America’s Cup, it is now a mandated obligation of all teams to build and operate two hydrogen powered foiling chase boats for their campaign (subject to proof of concept). It’s hoped showcasing proven hydrogen technology in the marine sector will help create a game-changing pathway for the wider industry and lead to a significant reduction in its carbon footprint. These boats must be a minimum of 10 metres long and the usage and performance criteria is set out in the Protocol.
“A significant proportion of teams carbon footprints is in their on-water operations, through their long days of testing, development and training,” said Grant Dalton. “So, for the past year we have been researching, designing and are now building a prototype hydrogen powered foiling chase boat which will have a dramatic effect on the reduction of the teams carbon footprints, as well as pushing the development of hydrogen in the marine sector.”
Race Management will be entirely independent of the event organisation and will be led by the Regatta Director. The umpires and jury that will manage all on the water rules and disputes for all events.
• The independent Rules and Measurement Committees will be responsible for interpretation of the AC75 Class Rule and the yacht measurement.
• A three-person Arbitration Panel will oversee and deal with all Protocol disputes with published decisions to maintain the integrity of the event.
Aaron Young: Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron: “A lot of work has gone into the AC37 Protocol, and we extend our thanks and gratitude to Emirates Team New Zealand and the Challenger of Record – the Royal Yacht Squadron and INEOS Britannia – for their hard work and commitment to an exciting 37th America’s Cup. Clearly the 36th America’s Cup was hugely successful despite the difficulties and huge restrictions due to dealing with Covid 19 pandemic in New Zealand and globally. But as custodians of the America’s Cup along with Emirates Team New Zealand, it is our responsibility to keep building the event for the good of the America’s Cup, and the sport. We especially welcome the inclusion of both the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup as part of the protocol and event and believe these are important developments that will increase participation and inclusion within the America’s Cup going forward. We are also pleased to keep pushing the boundaries of innovation, technology, sustainability, participation, broadcast and the commercial aspects of the event. And so we think we have taken a good step forward in that respect. The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron will continue to support Team New Zealand as they fulfil their role in the planning, funding and delivery of this AC37 campaign and event.”
Bertie Bicket: Chairman of Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd: “We are delighted with the result of this positive collaboration between the Defender and the Challenger of Record which has resulted in a truly progressive protocol for the 37th America’s Cup designed to promote fair competition and sustainability. Furthermore, we believe that the cost reduction measures and introduction of a women’s and youth event provide new and exciting opportunities within our sport.”
17th November 2021: AC37 Protocol and AC75 Class Rule V2 Published.
1st December 2021: Entries for Challengers Open.
31st March 2022: Defender to announce Match Venue and approximate event dates.
17th June 2022: New competitors may sail Version 1 AC75’s for 20 sailing days.
31st July 2022: Entry Period Closes.
17th September 2022: Competitors may sail an AC75 Yacht.
30th November 2022: ACE to announce race schedule for the Match.
30th November 2022: ACE to announce racing area for CSS and Match.
31st December 2022: ACE to publish Brand Manual.
31st May 2023: Final cut off for late Challenger entries.
30th June 2023: ACE to publish Youth and Women’s AC Agreement.
30th June 2023: COR/D to publish Match Conditions.
30th November 2023: COR/D to publish CSS Conditions.