America's Cup changes considered

Changes to the format of the America’s Cup preliminary events are being considered in San Francisco by the holder, Larry Ellison’s Oracle Racing Team, the sponsoring Golden Gate Yacht Club and the organisation they have set up to arrange regattas over the next 48 months, the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA).

Already having had to hold up the announcement about which of the 14 challenges received for America’s Cup 34 can meet the qualification and financial requirements, ACEA, in conjunction with its sister organisation, America’s Cup Event Management ACEM), has seen timetables slip as a search continues for the venues to host the 2011-12 America’s Cup World Series (ACWS).

The projected seven or eight events are to be held in a specially designed and centrally-built 45-foot, wing-powered catamaran. These were to be replaced by 72-foot wing-powered catamarans, designed and built by each team, for the second ACWS series, the challenger elimination trials, the Louis Vuitton Cup, and the match between the defender and the single victorious challenger.

ACEA has consistently been saying that it does not expect all 14 of the original hopefuls to make it into the world series. The Challenger of Record, the Rome-based Club Nautico di Roma and its Mascalzone Latino team, has already dropped out. One of the 14, believed to from Germany, was rejected by the scrutineers in San Francisco.

But, while the new Challenger of Record, the Royal Swedish Yacht Club’s Artemis and the New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s Emirates Team New Zealand, are seen as certain runners, only the Team China challenge has been looking viable.

Another Italian team claims to have paid its $200,000 initial performance bond and San Francisco has been talking up a team from South Korea. The Australian team has yet to be substantiated.

An announcement is expected on or about 1 June which will finally name the participating teams for this season, but Iain Murray, ceo of ACEM, has already said that some of the penalties and forfeits over payment by the deadline of 31 March this year may have to be reviewed. Many believe the number may have dropped from 14 to six or seven

There is also the possibility that the fleet of 10 45-footers, originally due to switch to a Youth America’s Cup at the end of the 2011-12 season, may see their campaign life extended and the introduction of the 72-footers for the 2012-13 season delayed.

There is a team already working in the host marina for the first World Series regatta in Cascais, which directly clashes with the official test event for the 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth and, of more local interest, the long-established Cowes Week regatta on the Isle of Wight.

The second world series regatta is scheduled for Plymouth in September. The city was happy to give the impression that its total financial commitment was about £200,000 and that it had not paid a host venue fee, a substantial sum when ACEA first started touring the world looking for venue partnerships.

The city remains coy on the budget, which has been drawn down from various existing sources, or obligations undertaken by ACEA on either the number of boats which would race or the number of teams which would compete. It had hoped for 10 teams but admits “this could change".

The third ACWS regatta this year will be in San Diego, though the dates have still not been announced. November is more likely than December.

A new America’s Cup website is supposed to replace any of the team websites, all of the teams being required to submit everything to the central site.  

Also suffering from a thinner entry list than it would have liked is the Volvo round the world race, which starts from Alicante for the first stop in Cape Town in November. Five new, 70-foot boats have been built, but doubt has been thrown over the participation of a second boat by Pedro Campos’ team, which recently launched its new Telefonica.

He is contracted to enter a second boat, but there has been no confirmation that a 2008 boat, Telefonica Blue, will make it, though there is a second Spanish team in the form of Camper, which is being managed and crewed by Team New Zealand.

There are also hopes that two more teams using exiting rather than new boats, may emerge, though only a team, also from China, regularly features in the rumour mill. Life is proving hard, even for premium sailboat racing brands, even one with a rich history that goes back to a race round the Isle of Wight in 1851.

In Istanbul, the third event in the Extreme Sailing Series was led by Artemis skipper Terry Hutchinson, chased by Alinghi, skippered by Tanguy Cariou and Team New Zealand, skippered by Dean Barker.

And in Langenargen, light winds curtailed racing in Match Race Germany with Italy’s Francesco Bruni on 5-0 in the round robin and France’s Damien Iehl on 5-1.

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