5th challenger for the 36th AC?

Paul Lewis says the fifth challenger in the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland is thought to be US21 and the Long Beach Yacht Club – a second American challenge for an event looking as if it will be much beefier than many thought, with six challenges a possibility and a slim chance of seven.

Make no mistake – though the new entries received recently by Emirates Team New Zealand are “late” challenges for the 2021 event, the conditions of entry (including US$4m of fees and performance bonds by the end of December) and the need to catch up on a difficult boat design mean these are no lightweight, funsy, let’s-go-for-the-hell-of-it challenges.

US$4m up front is, even for billionaires, not chump change and represents a pretty firm commitment – though it may be some teams will seek an instalment plan to help with the financial burden.

Yesterday’s confirmed announcement of the Malta Altusa challenge may also be shrugged off by some who think the tiny Mediterranean tax haven is likely only to come away with the title of the smallest country ever to compete for the Cup (previously held by New Zealand, of course.

But not only does this challenge have the money, there are strong signals they are putting together a good sailing team involving some from Artemis – the 2013 and 2017 challenger not competing this time. Principal among them is said to be Iain Percy, the Olympic gold medallist and highly experienced and respected America’s Cup sailor.

Malta might seem an odd contender but sprang out of the long-anticipated second Italian challenge. One version of the evolution of this challenge says at least one Italian yacht club wanted a large donation to be the challenging club – so the organisers hitched their wagon to the Royal Malta Yacht Club instead through patron Pasquale Cataldi, head of Altus, who lives in Malta.

US21, now challenging through the Long Beach Yacht Club from California, are said to be the other syndicate accepted by ETNZ; they are headed by hot US match racer Taylor Canfield.

So that’s five challengers: Italy’s Luna Rossa (the challenger of record, COR), INEOS Team UK (Sir Ben Ainslie’s mob this time round), American Magic and the New York Yacht Club plus Malta Altus (Altus being the real estate company behind the challenge).

The six other conditional late entries still in front of ETNZ need to have certain requests granted before they can join the hunt – and those conditions also must be ratified by Luna Rossa as COR.

So it will be a little while yet – maybe the new year or after – before we know the identity of confirmed challengers for the 36th America’s Cup. However, the volume of bar-room gossip/sailor speculation is rising, pointing to some possibly left-field entries.

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