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Extreme Sailing Series 2014: America’s Cup cost concern is undercurrent in St Petersburg


Running the next America’s Cup in two venues half a world apart could cost Britain’s challenger, Ben Ainslie Racing, and others an extra $5m. One of the sticking points in the negotiations between the Australians, who helped draw up the rules, was an insistence by the American defender that the qualifiers should be staged early in 2017, and that means finding a southern hemisphere venue.

The top four qualifiers would then go into a semi-final knockout at the venue in which the cup match would be staged. What are said to be the remaining three candidates – Bermuda, Chicago, and San Diego – are all in the northern hemisphere.

The teams could, therefore, have to establish bases in the qualifier venue – Sydney will be keen to pick up that job – for up to six months. Then the whole shooting match needs to be transferred to the match venue in time for a June/July finale. Ainslie is, outwardly, relaxed saying that he is happy to work with all sides in order to make progress.  

In St. Petersburg, where light air racing in the Extreme Sailing Series was proving very difficult to stage, Ben Ainslie is competing, as is France’s Franck Cammas, who would like to head a French challenge, as is team New Zealand and not only Team Australia but its boss, Iain Murray. The ‘big fella’ ran last year’s racing in San Francisco and then moved to the other side of the negotiating table from his old boss, Russell Coutts. Murray knows more tweaks could yet be made to the AC set-up.

Among important changes already made is an agreement that teams will be allowed to take part in other racing events, though they still need to notify the cup holder, Oracle.

The entry window for 2017 in theory closes on 8 August this year. Others taking a close interest include the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, which could be problematic at a time of U.S. sanctions against Russia, and the Chinese, who may recruit management skills from the Oracle team and from New Zealand to help them organise.

Also problematical was Extreme Sailing Series racing on the Neva River. Only two more races were possible but they were enough for defending champion Leigh McMillan in The Wave, Muscat to take over the lead from arch-rival Morgan Larson and Alinghi. Sir Ben moved up a place to fifth and Nathan Wilmot, also an Olympic gold medallist at the helm of Team Australia’s GAC Pindar, moved up a place to eighth. The boss would approve, but waits to see if applause will be in order.

Said Sir Ben: “It’s a tricky place to sail, like they all are on this series. But, it’s beautiful and it’s very special to be racing on the Neva river - a pretty unique experience for all of us.  The racing has been a real challenge but we are going OK so far. Hopefully we will keep moving forward and improving in the final two days.”