The “Match” is Back

By Kimball Livingston Posted June 4, 2014

It’s far from the most important feature of the newly-released Protocol for America’s Cup 35, but it just jumps out. The word, match.

After a long, belabored attempt to get people to speak of the 2013 match as the “America’s Cup Finals,” this time out, the powers that be have let the verbiage slip back to tradition. As in what it is, a match. A match between two boats following whatever runup, trials, eliminations are required to get there. And no, barring an intergalactic spasm, there will be no Louis Vuitton Cup awarded to the winner of the 2017 challenger selection. Vuitton had a thirty-year run and put its stamp on the history of Cup competition, but the days are long gone when breathing the air at the America’s Cup was a salty equivalent to hanging near the Queen’s box at Ascot.

What we have in the 78-page document revealed on Tuesday is a reminder of what we knew already, that it is a tortuous process to tie the America’s Cup match to a world tour. Doubly tortuous to imagineer a tour that might generate revenue and somehow be relevant to The Match. It’s a made marriage, and you will love each other.

Even at a quick march through the read, it comes clear why the negotiations between Defender and Challenger of Record ran so long that we are only now seeing this document. There’s a devil in every detail. And, oh yes, the guy in charge of the Challenger side for Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club is Iain Murray, whose long record of success on the race course and in related business was most recently seen in his service as CEO of America’s Cup Race Management for AC34. Does Iain Murray know where the bones are buried? Does rhetorical question carry an extra “h?”

Here’s one devilish detail by way of example: There will be racing in 2015 and 2016 in the familiar one-design AC45s, then racing in 2017 in new 62-foot foiling catamarans—the generalities were leaked months ago—and the AC62s will sail a Qualifiers series leading to a Final Four Playoffs to decide who actually becomes the Challenger for America’s Cup 35. If the winner of the Qualifiers becomes the Challenger (having, obviously, then won the Playoffs) that boat enters the first-to-seven America’s Cup match with one point in its pocket.

Only the final-four eliminations (the “Playoffs”) are guaranteed to be held in the venue of the Match. And where is that, you ask? We are assured of an answer by December 31, 2014.

I repeat, December 31, 2014.

What I can tell you about that, not that I “know” a danged thing, is that San Francisco Bay is the likely place, because it is the right place, and if the Golden Gate Yacht Club as Defender, and Oracle Racing as the home town team, were not trying to make it happen on San Francisco Bay, they could already have a deal elsewhere. I’m betting on the waters where Jimmy Spithill recently won a six-mile standup paddleboard event hosted by one of Larry Ellison’s two (that I know of) San Francisco yacht clubs.

The Qualifiers leading to the final-four, we should note, will be put out to bid separately.

Even shortened ten feet from the boats we saw last year, a foiling AC62 catamaran—per the 2017 protocol—will be a handful for a crew of eight, reduced from eleven crew in 2013. What makes that doable, in theory, is a new prescription allowing for limited stored energy in the boats that will be raced in 2017.

That is, one of Oracle’s comeback tricks last year was that the grinders never stopped grinding on the upwind legs. The trimmer always had juice to work with in the hydraulic systems and never had to ask for “trim.” But as a vision for the future of sailing, well, that’s a bit much. And people are the biggest cost, and promises have been made about trimming costs, and there we go. A crew of eight.

Wind limits of five to twenty-five knots true. Much simpler. Much better. And the boats will be up to handling the higher wind range.

The next cycle kicks off with nonfoiling AC45s sailing, we are assured, at least six events each in 2015 and 2016. Each challenger is offered an opportunity to run an event in-country, which, obviously, becomes a financial conversation. There also are two youth events to be placed on the calendar, presumably one per year. Youth racing was popular on the last go-round, in part because “youth” is an easy sell but also because that was fleet racing, and plenty of boats on the water spells visual drama, and here we have one more chapter of the made marriage between what people want and what they get, the America’s Cup being the America’s Cup.

For all the talk about a nationality requirement, the stipulation under the protocol that 25 percent of the crew of an AC62 must be nationals of the challenging “yacht club” brings it to a total of two, which is a yawn. And the definition of yacht club continues to be stretched like taffy, and that’s what’s happening, baby.

Personally, I’d be fine without no nationality component at all, even though I get the history. The original winner, after all, was a schooner called America, and no one took the America’s Cup away until Australia II appeared on the scene 132 years later. But that was 1851, and then 1983, when nationalities were much more defined, and sources of resources were much more clear than they are now, and people simply did not move around as much. Now the organizers naturally want to encourage new countries to participate, and bring money, and two-out-of-eight is a milktoast number that is close to meaningless.

Not a wrong number, because no number could ever be right . . .

And the only parts of the boat you have to build in-country are the outer skins of the hulls.

Two more details: For the youth racing, the 18-25-year-olds must each be nationals of the country they represent, but for two years of AC45 racing, 2015 and 2016, six events or more per year, one national aboard will do. National by birth or by passport. Said World Series racing in AC45s—not modified to foil, apparently—will determine the “seeding” of the Qualifying round in AC62s, which means to me that the AC45 competition continues to be more show than go. As well it should, having no inherent connection to The Match.

Golden Gate Yacht Club as Defender and Hamilton Island Yacht Club as Challenger of Record “shall publish the AC62 Class Rule prior to the start of the Entry Period” which opens June 1 and continues through August 8. Plenty of the intent of the rule-to-come has already been leaked. A number of one-design elements to lower R&D costs, fewer restrictions on trimmable surfaces, etcetera. But, returning to our consideration of what negotiations must have been like—

The Defender gets to build two boats. Each Challenger gets to build one. But that simple language simply won’t do. It’s more like this:

Oracle Racing may build two pairs of hulls and two pairs of crossbeams, but the second pair of hulls must come from the same molds as the first pair. Any modification cannot exceed 20 percent of the surface area.

In a world where catamaran hulls have become foil-delivery devices, and we’re expecting the rule to require that all boats have fuller (safer) bow sections than Oracle carried in 2013, do we much care?

Modifications to crossbeams cannot exceed 50 percent of surface area, and all of this is tied through detailed specification to the risks of repairable versus unrepairable damage. Under clause 35.3 (b), the Defender is required to race its first pair of hulls and crossbeams unless etcetera etcetera. Challengers face similar percentage limits on surface modifications of their one pair of hulls and crossbeams.

Wing spars are limited to two, lower daggerboard sections to six (but they count only if installed). Considering the copious verbiage dedicated to defining one-piece versus two-piece daggerboards, there must be room here for mischief, and determination is specifically allocated to the Measurement Committee.

The Qualifying races in AC62s will be sailed in 2017 at a date and place still to be set, and no challenger may launch ahead of 150 days prior to race one of the Qualifiers. The Defender may not launch a second pair of hulls more than 30 days prior to race one of the Qualifiers.

truth-will-outThe Defender may not sail two boats together until the Qualifiers are complete.

Are you with me?

The Defender will sail in the Qualifying round, according to the Protocol, and the mere thought of having the Defender mix with the Challengers in their Cup vehicles takes us back to some ugly conversations of the past. In the Qualifying round only, not later. But still. The Match may be back, but not all of the traditions associated with it. The Protocol Governing the 35th America’s Cup, dated June 2, 2014, is one helluva barrel of sausage. As we grope toward a formula for high-end sailing in the 21st century, and a public face for the sport, the adventure continues. Gosh, how I look forward to explaining it. And explaining it.

“And Tiny Tim said, ‘God bless us every one.’ ”

Which is the right way to speak. When cameras are rolling, under 47.2, there are fines for profanity. Careful, Scrooge.

Suns New Jerseys