Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie could allow himself only a brief moment to celebrate clearing another hurdle on the track to winning the America’s Cup as it was confirmed that his British challenge through the Royal Yacht Squadron had been accepted, along with Italy, Sweden, France, and New Zealand.
There was no surprise dark horse from the Orient and the cup holder, the San Francisco and Golden Gate Yacht Club-based Oracle, lined itself up with the five to boost the number of teams to six which will contest the 2017 event, the 35 defence, in a venue to be decided, either Bermuda or San Diego, and on dates yet to be tied down.
Quadruple gold medallist Sir Ben has the short term problem of fighting his way to the top of the Extreme Sailing Series regatta in 40-foot catamarans in Cardiff this Bank Holiday weekend. First day back at the office on Tuesday he continues chasing a budget he has targeted at £80m. and of which his fellow-board member Sir Keith Mills says 40 per cent. is secure.
But Ben’s principal sponsor J.P.Morgan has said it is ending its support this year, perhaps influenced by the problem of being an American bank having to explain to its American customers and others why it is supporting a foreign team whose sole aim is to beat the Americans. The original John Pierpont Morgan was commodore of the New York Yacht Club and a member of several successful America’s Cup defence syndicates.
That need not be a problem. BAR has known of the need to find new backing for some time and its connections are both extensive and powerful. It says it expects to have a new title sponsor in place from January onwards.
“We are delighted that Royal Yacht Squadron Racing's challenge for the 35th America's Cup has been officially accepted,” said Sir Ben. “The America's Cup originates from the Squadron and it is our goal to return the Cup to where it belongs.”
Added fellow gold medallist, now skipper of Sweden’s Artemis, Iain Percy: “We are not only in this competition to win the 35th America’s Cup, but to dominate the America’s Cup arena for the next decade. I’m also passionate that Artemis Racing is about more than simply winning; it’s about producing a legacy and winning in a certain way.”
The French said they were “very happy” to be back in the event but they, too, have a steep financial mountain to climb, unlike the Prada-backed Italians, whose skipper, Max Sirena, said: “This is Luna Rossa's fifth challenge for the America's Cup, an historic record. Not only does it underline the attachment of our team to the America's Cup, but it also shows our determination to bring the Cup to Italy.
“This edition will be very competitive and our team has already been preparing for several months now ahead of a challenge that promises to be spectacular and exciting right from its preliminary events, the America's Cup World Series, that will take place next year.”
Which raises some of the problems which America’s Cup Event Authority, run by Oracle team director Sir Russell Coutts, faces as he not only ties down the match venue but sets up the world series schedule. As in San Francisco, the size of the challenger fleet is smaller than hoped and three teams still have to raise money.
For the world series, Sir Ben has already said he is keen to see two of those regattas come to Portsmouth where his BAR team is building a new base and has received £7.5m. from the government as part of its job creation programme as well as £1.4m. of support, some of it in kind, from Portsmouth City Council.
Nor was any successor announced, though that is the job of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, to the original lead challenger, Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club, as Challenger of Record, a role expected to fall to Luna Rossa and its Circolo Vela della Sicilia.
Each of the challengers has paid the first $1m. of the $2m. entry fee plus a $75,000 contribution to running costs. Meanwhile talks continue on everything from the format of the competition – none of the teams wants to run an elimination regatta to find the challenger semi-finalists in a completely different venue than the one which will eventually host both those semi-finals and finals plus the one-on-one winner’s best of 13 match against the defender, Oracle. That may not be known until the end of the year. It had been pulled forward to October, but now the deadline reverts to the end of the year.
And further consideration is being given to the dimensions of the 62-foot wing-powered catamaran designated in the rules as the yacht to be used. What the teams say they want is certainty for their design teams and their sponsors.