America's Cup: Challenger calls Competitor Meeting ahead of deadline

Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team NZ - 34th America’s Cup. The AC72's are now just a liability says Iain Murray
Hamilton Island Yacht Club, the America’s Cup Challenger of Record, has taken the initiative and called a meeting of potential Challengers for the 35th America’s Cup, ahead of the close of entries in less than a month’s time.

The meeting will be a face to face meeting with about seven Challenger teams attending plus the Defender, Oracle Team USA.

The circuit-breaking development came midway through an interview with the Challenger of Record's CEO Iain Murray. The point was raised that extending back into the period of the 1987 America’s Cup and through to 2009, Competitor Forums and Meetings were a regular part of the America’s Cup cycle. Murray was asked by Sail-World.com why these had not yet been called in the current America's Cup cycle.

'We are not waiting until the entries close. We’ll be having a meeting very shortly. It will be face to face, and they have to attend in person,' Murray replied.

'I’m not at liberty to say where it will take place, but it is going to happen very shortly.'

'The meeting was instigated by HIYC’s Michael Jones after many discussions with teams. There are a lot of things that need discussion.'

Regatta Director Iain Murray - at this morning’s America’s Cup media Conference
Oracle Team USA would be at the meeting by invitation of a majority of the potential Challengers. Of the seven teams attending, all would be known names in the current America’s Cup round.

Responding to consternation about the Venue selection process and time taken, Murray says: 'Coutts is going about his business. He’s narrowed it down to two venues.'

Murray says that there was a lot of consultation with the Oracle team in drafting the protocol but much less in the last month. 'But we did meet up with Russell Coutts in London last Monday. All he said was that he was going to narrow it down to two (venues) by the end of the week - which he's done - and has been true to his word. He didn’t elaborate.'

'Russell Coutts is going through a process. He said he had laid down criteria, financially and support-wise. The candidates were meeting the criteria. He didn’t say why he chopped Chicago out of the mix. From a sailing venue perspective, it probably would have been the most difficult in terms of weather conditions.

Murray says he understands that other teams have entered, but he didn’t know who they were. He assumed that those teams had paid the required entry fees. But noted that under the Protocol they don’t get accepted until there are three Challengers, plus Team Australia.

'The bottom line is that they probably won’t accept anyone until the end of the Entry Period,' he added.

When asked about the level of consultation going on between Oracle Team USA CEO, Russell Coutts and the teams, Murray said that: 'I’m sure that he’s talking to most teams.'

When told that Team NZ had confirmed only yesterday to Sail-World, that they had not been spoken to by Coutts (aside from the receipt of standard documents - Class Rule and Protocol) since the America’s Cup, Murray chuckled in a very unsurprised manner.

Audi Hamilton Island Race week 2013 - Hamilton Island, Queensland (AUS)

Murray said he did not believe there was a stand-off going on between the potential Challengers and Russell Coutts, who is running the Event Management side of the 35th America’s Cup.

'I don’t think there is a stand-off. I think you could read that, but I don’t think that is the case. Some people haven’t entered for good reasons. They have to get their house in order in terms of the entry process, and qualifying and that sort of thing.

'I think that by the beginning of August you will see then entries come in.' (Entry deadline is August 8, 2014)

The main items that Murray expected to be covered at the Competitors Meeting included the split venues, talk about the selection of the Regatta Director, and look to the future of the America’s Cup. 'I think there are people looking at the AC72’s and asking what they are going to do with them. We have to make sure that we start planning for the future.'

Long time America’s Cup insiders have become very frustrated with the direction taken by US organisers towards the 35th America’s Cup. With a more open and inclusive approach many believe that a much better event could be created from the base established at the 2013 America's Cup.

Murray doesn’t quite see it like that. 'I think there is a willingness, of people to try to work together. We have asked for a meeting, and people are coming. I think that is a good sign.'

Responding to the point that at least four of the Challengers had expressed a clear preference for a return to San Francisco, Murray responded: 'I’m sure we would all rather sail in San Francisco. But the difference in offering by the other venues to San Francisco is substantial.'

Team Luna Rossa - Dockside in Cagliari, Italy

The lack of inclusion of potential Challengers into key decisions around the next Match and its preliminaries has been a sore point with many of the teams. Several say they are holding out for key details to specified before they will front with an entry and over $3million in fees. ($2milion in deposits to Regatta Directors Fund to cover the costs of running the regattas and officials, and a $1million Performance Bond)

Murray chuckles at the suggestion.' They can probably say all they want, but how much traction it gets remains to be seen.'

'A lot of the teams would prefer one event (single venue only). It gets to the point with numbers when we'd only have one event. We know if there are only four teams we only have one event. If there are five or six, then we have to ask if, for all the extra cost, is it all worthwhile?'

'But in other ways the split event does afford other opportunities. In that situation we have to look at venue, the time gap, and the relocation costs. No-one wants to spend lots of money flying things around the planet. We all want it to be as efficient as we can. It is not like everyone is rolling in money. We all have to be responsible.'

Both venues also suffer to some extent with wind issues. 'San Diego does not have the same reliability with wind as we had in San Francisco.'

‘I think there is some flexibility in course layouts in Bermuda,’ he added.

The available leg length in both venues does not faze Murray, who was Regatta Director for the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. 'If you want to do 25 minute courses of three laps in lighter breezes, then there might be legs of just 1.5nm,' he said.

Murray’s 'lighter breeze' was 10-15kts, and he was confident of getting that for much of the time in San Diego Bay. 'There are times when you will get no wind. It’s not as regular as San Francisco. We were in San Diego for two Cup cycles in 1992 and 1995, and there was often breeze in the harbour – it just got lighter when we went offshore.'

Team Luna Rossa - Dockside in Cagliari, Italy

Murray says he has raised the issue of port traffic and restricted areas in San Diego, which is a major US naval port, and has been told: 'it is under control'.

'On the Cup venue, we are not consulted. In the Qualifiers, we do have a piece of the decision – we can make a recommendation but we don’t get to decide,' he explains.

'Under the Protocol, the America’s Cup Event Authority makes a decision on the Venue.'

Another item on the agenda for the Competitor Meeting will be the longevity of the America’s Cup yachts, and use of the AC62’s beyond just one America’s Cup cycle.

'We tried to get a whole lot of things agreed at the America’s Cup World Series in Venice in May 2012. We wanted to talk about the future, and get consistency in the boats, and the type of racing. But we couldn’t get people to buy into it.'

'Every team is trying to look at their future long term. Running on an event by event basis is very difficult. Any serious professional sporting team would love to be promoting itself over a longer range. I think it is in everyone’s interest to look at the America’s Cup as a long term exercise.'

That wider game includes looking at putting value into the teams and their assets for the America’s Cup, so they have a long term use, and aren’t just throwaway assets and start-ups each cycle. There should be some hand-down technology to teams who are just coming into the America’s Cup event.

'The AC72’s are now, unfortunately, a liability, he says. 'At least Larry turned the big boat from 2010 into a monument!'