Emirates Team NZ: America's Cup quite winnable under new Protocol

Grant Dalton, Emirates Team New Zealand Managing Director talks to media at a press conference at the team base in Auckland. 13/6/2014
On Friday, Emirates Team New Zealand became the first team to publicly respond to the Protocol for the 35th America's Cup, holding a media conference at the team's Auckland base for invited media.

Part of the conference focussed on the team's finances, but the Team surprisingly revealed that after an analysis of the Protocol and the changes that had already been made, or signalled, that the document was reasonable and the Cup considered to be quite winnable by the team.

The point was made by team CEO, Grant Dalton, that the team were a lot more advanced in terms of technology and timing of key events, than had been the case in the previous America's Cup cycle, where the Team had to transition from monohulls to foiling wingsailed multihulls. Then they were up against Oracle racing who already had one wingsailed multihull America's Cup under their belt.

The team released a statement after the media conference where it set out its analysis of the Protocol, the first amendments to it and San Francisco being ruled out as a venue.

Grant Dalton, Emirates Team New Zealand Managing Director talks to media at a press conference at the team's base in Auckland. 13/6/2014
The team has spent many days going through the document line-by-line, clause-by-clause and importantly its first amendment that was published earlier this week, says the review.

We finished this process only this morning.

Yesterday Oracle announced that San Francisco was no longer being considered as the venue. We are sorry we won’t be racing there, but agree with the reported reasons for the decision which was based on factors that would have massively increased costs to competitors.

America’s Cup Protocols always advantage the defender. In our review we asked: how will each of these clauses impact on Emirates Team New Zealand’s chances of winning the 35th America’s Cup.

We found some checks and balances that are not necessarily apparent at first reading.

Our conclusion is that we can mount a competitive challenge, with a realistic chance of winning the 35th America’s Cup.

To achieve this we will have to think smarter and mobilise the knowledge and expertise of the New Zealand marine industry.

Remember the initial advantage Oracle had in the 34th America’s Cup. They had beaten Alinghi in a multihull challenge. Their trimaran had a wing sail.

Emirates Team New Zealand was a monohull sailing team. Crew had only minimal experience in multihulls. The design team had absolutely no experience of wing sails.

Oracle seemed to hold all the cards yet in San Francisco last year little New Zealand was able to give the world’s biggest economy a very big fright.



Here are some of our conclusions:

The two-boats issue

The Protocol allows the defender to build two boats; challengers only one. However, the detail of the rule shows the advantage to Oracle is not as has been widely perceived.

Here’s why:

Oracle is allowed only minimal two-boat sailing time. The second boat cannot be launched until 30 days before the Challengers’ Qualifier series, which is not earlier than four months before the America’s Cup match and they cannot sail their two boats together until after the completion of the Qualifier series.

Oracle can do two-boat testing while the challengers are racing their semi-finals and final, which has been the case in previous America’s Cups.

The second boat has to be built from the same mould as the first with modifications limited to no more than 20% of the hull surface which is the same as for the Challengers.

Oracle is required to sail their first boat in the America’s Cup final.

Crucially they are limited to the same number of dagger boards (six one-piece dagger boards or 12 lower sections) and only two wing masts even though they will have two boats.

Challengers will be able to train/two boat test together at either the qualifying venue or the match venue, or both if they wish, as there is no restriction of the exchange of design and performance data, which was in the past, prohibited.

ISAF jury sidelined

The lack of an ISAF (International Sailing Federation) appointed independent jury has been highlighted. This was to be replaced by a three-man arbitration panel with panel members to be appointed by the Golden Gate Yacht Club and the Challenger of record.

This week’s amendment changes that to a fairer system: The chairman is to be appointed jointly by the GGYC and the COR from the Court of Arbitration for Sport list of arbitrators. The second member of the panel is to be appointed by the Competitor Forum (ie all competitors with one vote each) and the first two appointed arbitrators decide the third member.

Grant Dalton, Emirates Team New Zealand Managing Director talks to media at a press conference at the team's base in Auckland. 13/6/2014
When Team New Zealand defended the Cup in 2000 and 2003 an arbitration panel was used. Emirates Team New Zealand is satisfied that this is a fair appointment procedure.

The amendment also changes the manner in which crucial decisions are made in relation to the appointment of regatta officials and the management/budgeting of the regatta official’s fund which uses entry fees to pay regatta operation costs.

In the initial protocol the Defender and the Challenger of Record made these decisions jointly. Competitor Forum made up of all the teams will now make them. Each team will have one vote.

The level of fines able to be imposed by the Arbitration Panel will now be decided solely by the panel rather than by the Defender and Challenger of Record together.

These changes in the Protocol amendment represent significant concessions with the Defender agreeing to reduce the controls it can have over challenging teams.

The 35th America’s Cup is not yet sanctioned by ISAF but the regatta director is empowered to negotiate for this. We are confident that, as in the past, it will be an ISAF-sanctioned event and we expect that, like 2000 and 2003, ISAF-certified umpires and jury members will adjudicate on all on-the-water and racing-rule issues.

Timing of entry fees

This team has raised the issue of up-front entry fees and the performance bond being required before the venue is known which is a major issue for commercial teams.

The intent seems to be to avoid the situation that arose leading up to 2013 when several challengers that competed in the preliminary AC45 regattas were not financially strong enough to mount a campaign for the Cup itself. This meant the host city’s expectations on team numbers were not met.

Requiring such high entry fees and the performance bond all by December 1 2014 without the venue being known is a cash-flow problem for commercial teams rather than materially affecting their ability to win the event.

Permission to sail in other events

A clause in this week’s Protocol amendment covering permission to sail in other events corrected an ambiguous clause. As originally written it could have been interpreted to mean sailing team members had to get permission to sail in events outside the America’s Cup. The wording also required a challenger yacht club to ask for permission to conduct its own regattas. These consequences appear to have been unintended and the Protocol amendment resolves this issue.

Nationality rule

The nationality rule for crew has been somewhat harshly described as 'token'. Whilst the quota is not as high as we would like to see, it is a start and a good precedent for further refinement in the future.

AC62 Class Rule

Since the publication of the Protocol, the AC62 Class Rule has also been released. A draft had been previously circulated to all prospective teams for comment. We are pleased to see that comments made by Emirates Team New Zealand were dealt with in adjustments made to the final version.

Conclusion

The release of the Protocol and the subsequent amendment, the release of the final AC62 Class Rule and the elimination of San Francisco as a possible venue give the team something to work with. Leading up to the 2013 match the Protocol was amended 19 times, the final time on September 2, 2013, just days before Emirates Team New Zealand faced off against Oracle.