It was a bit like launching a sports car in Oxford Street and taking it for a spin down to Piccadilly Circus – or, in the case of San Francisco, Union Square – but the latest spin-off in the development of the America’s Cup brand took place in front of the Palazzo Ducale, next to the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Square and will give youth a chance.
After being described by Jimmy Spithill, skipper of the America’s Cup defender Oracle Racing, as “one of the biggest days ever in the history of the America’s Cup,” a racing yacht, emblazoned with the colours of Red Bull and heralding the Youth America’s Cup 2013 was launched into one of the busiest bits of waterway in Europe. Gondolier song was in danger of fracking into alarmed Austrian yodel.
The first Youth America’s Cup will be staged simultaneously in San Francisco during the running of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger elimination trials in July and August 2013 to find the single challenger to the locally-based defender, Oracle.
In the youth event, there are 10 contestant places, with no more than one per country, and the crews must be between 19 and 23 and hold a passport of the country for which they are sailing. San Francisco would be able to enter its own team in addition to any U.S. team.
The races will be in the same 45-foot wing-powered catamarans that have been used in the America’s Cup World Series of regattas, one of which is currently underway in Venice, the number of crew will be increased from five to six, giving extra chances for women race alongside the men, and the costs are modest.
This is a neat solution all round. There are still only three declared challengers for America’s Cup 34, the deadline is at the end of this month, and filling two months of elimination trials for three boats would be stretching attention spans to breaking point.
The 45-foot boats already exist, the race management team already exists, the broadcast set-up already exists. The entry fee is just $35,000, but individual teams would be responsible for their own expenses, like travel and accommodation, and would be able to attract and publicise their own sponsor support.
Red Bull is thought to have supported the event with about $10m., which covers a basic package of event naming rights, television rights and even the branding of Spithill’s and other Oracle team members’ helmets. Bolt-ons and expansions are being considered.
Ben Ainslie’s Ben Ainslie Racing, though he is at present contracted to the Oracle team for AC34, is keen to put together a team to represent Britain. If there were to be rival initiatives then it would be up to a combination of race director Iain Murray and talks between any interested parties.
Reaction varied among other AC challengers. The Prada-backed, Luna Rossa, for instance, is not as culturally in tune with youth sport and competition as New Zealand, which could probably put together half a dozen teams by the end of the month. Said Loick Peyron of France: “This would suit France. The future looks good, even if the present is difficult.”
Ainslie himself, in Falmouth, has blitzed a fleet of 94 boats from 29 countries to go into the last, so-called, medal race of the Finn Gold Cup, the singlehanded class’s world championship, with seven winds from nine races. The other two were thirds, one of which was discarded as a “worst” result.
With a 20-point cushion between himself and second placed Ed Wright, himself a former world champion, Ainslie has only to sail round the course, be the first to carry the Olympic torch when it arrives in Cornwall, and then set up a howitzer position in the boat park at Weymouth from where to beat far fewer boats into submission for his fifth consecutive Olympic medal and fourth gold.