Challenge accepted as rumours abound of Isle of Wight, one-off, America’s Cup defence

Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) has entered the history books and won the America’s Cup for New Zealand for the fourth time. The New Zealand team scored the 7th point it needed to raise the Auld Mug in front of thousands of spectators. This comes as New Zealand media reports the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has confirmed receipt of challenge for the next regatta amid speculation whether a one-off defence might take place around the Isle of Wight next year.

Luna Rossa fought until the last race but as Jimmy Spithill, helmsman, says: “At times it felt we were taking a knife to a gun fight.

“But for Luna Rossa, what a fight. The team refused to give up. I believe we left some wins on the table. But that’s sport and I truly believe the better team won.”

“The boat [Te Rehutai] loves the wind,” says Dan Bernasconi, ETNZ’s head of design. “The boat has a lot more to give in those (stronger) conditions. But it’s also good in the light to moderate as well. You had to come out with a boat that was good across the range. That kept costs down and made things simpler. But it would be nice to see a bigger range of conditions in the future.”

Challenge for the 37th cup issued – and accepted

That future is the subject of much debate as a challenge for the 37th America’s Cup has already been issued and accepted, with the start of the process beginning out on the water as soon as ETNZ secured the Auld Mug, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron general manager, Hayden Porter, confirmed the club had received a new challenge, but would not say where the challenge had come from.

“We have received a challenge for the 37th America’s Cup. There’s a lot of details to come; discussions will evolve over the next few days, weeks and months and things will happen from there … it was all done out on the water – all details will be revealed in the next wee while,” says Porter.

There have been suggestions the challenge has come from the UK’s Royal Yacht Squadron, with RYS commodore James Sheldon in Auckland with his associates. This means Ineos Team UK would be in line to represent Challenger of Record (CoR) in the next cup.

Porter says there was exchange between ‘the two commodores’ which, says the NZHerald, suggests it was Sheldon and RNZYS commodore Aaron Young.

The process of agreeing terms with the next CoR is remarkably swift. The deed of gift allows for any other yacht club to put in a challenge that must be accepted should it be considered ‘legitimate’.

“It’s one of those traditions that is pretty special about the cup; that they must receive a challenge and it must be accepted,” says Porter.

“There’s a protocol that goes with it; it gets handed over literally at the second it happens. In the old days, things used to get thrown on to boats. Here at the club, we have some protocols that go around it where our email servers get shut down, our phones get shut down, the doors get locked and things like that so it can’t be challenged that another challenge has been received. We’ve done it a few times, so we know the drill.”

Rumours of one-off event on Isle of Wight

This comes after the NZHerald reported that it understood ETNZ is considering a radical proposal for the next America’s Cup defence – a one-off defence against Ineos Team UK excluding other challengers on the Isle of Wight next year.

That idea has been slammed by veteran America’s Cup sailor Dean Barker, says Stuff.

“The America’s Cup can’t leave New Zealand with New Zealand taking it away, it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” Barker says.

Stuff reports that waterfront talk is of a special challenge, as early as next year, with ETNZ taking the Auld Mug to Britain to defend it in an around the Isle of Wight race. This would replicate the first America’s Cup battle in 1851 that sent sport’s oldest trophy off to the United States.

“There’s some bizarre stuff going on. The ball’s always bouncing in the America’s Cup. They are talking about INEOS . . . funding the whole thing. Both teams would go to the Isle of Wight and do an America’s Cup like it was 200 years ago,” former ETNZ and America’s Cup hall of famer Brad Butterworth told NewstalkZB.

According to Stuff, a one-off challenge in Britain could help with the immediate financial security of ETNZ which is a priority.

The champion syndicate has been open about sounding out international interest for staging the 2024 America’s Cup offshore and would not rule that out if the numbers stacked up. Its preference is to continue to hold it in Auckland if it is financially viable, given the infrastructure in place and the passion for the event here.

The city and New Zealand government will be given three months to come up with a proposal which will be weighed up against any international offers that were due to be tabled by the end of last month.

But, says NewstalkZB, the minister responsible for the America’s Cup, Stuart Nash, says he wants to see it all happen again in 2023.

“The government has already agreed that the successful America’s Cup team will be supported to stay together while it plans its next defence of the Auld Mug,” Nash says.

“Cabinet has agreed to invest in the team from within existing budgets. It would be subject to a number of conditions, including an expectation the cup will be defended in New Zealand.

“The defence of the cup offers a global opportunity to promote New Zealand as an innovative and successful nation, with spin-offs in areas like tourism and export deals.”

Nash says no request for support has yet been made, but there has been government assistance following every America’s Cup since 2003.

“I anticipate a similar request will be made this year.”

Denials and speculation

Ineos Team UK has consistently denied the rumours, though Ben Ainslie admitted he has a close relationship with Team NZ chief executive Grant Dalton, since his stint with the New Zealand syndicate for the 2007 America’s Cup, says the NZHerald.

The paper believes that the British are the logical partners for the next cup, given how the association between ETNZ and existing CoR, Luna Rossa, has steadily deteriorated over the last year. Even though their combined efforts produced a successful design class and innovative boat with the AC75s, it’s impossible to imagine them working together for the next cup, says the NZHerald, given the clashes that have played out publicly and privately between the two syndicates.

The New York Yacht Club is also not a realistic option. That’s partly because it has previously advocated returning to traditional (non-foiling) monohulls for the cup and also because the backers of American Magic are yet to decide if they will launch another challenge says the NZHerald.

“It’s hard not to draw the dots with Jim Ratcliffe’s 242ft Feadship Sherpa sitting at virtual anchor like a whale amongst sprats,” says Rule69blog, it’s “a rather large clue as to what happens next in the America’s Cup.”

Jim Ratcliffe was extremely clear that he wanted to level the playing field and see some changes to the quirks and nuances of the cup rules, the blog points out. So what deal has been struck? While one option could be to use the same boats, the blog suggests this might be a “tactical play to shut out the Italians who both teams found difficult to work with and halt their march to the cup which would surely be inevitable after coming so close this time? Don’t expect this one to end in anywhere other than the Supreme Court.”

Resounding success for ETNZ

“Today was a stunning victory for the team, who were quite open about the lack of boat-on-boat racing experience in this new AC75 class at the beginning of this event,” says a ETNZ statement. “This meant the team had to lift their game and learn fast, taking key lessons out of the regatta as they moved forwards one race each, until Races 7 and 8, when they lifted their game and rolled over the Italians to dominate the event through Races 9 and 10: winning the regatta 7-3 and retaining the oldest trophy in international sport.”

ETNZ says it has achieved its ambition of promoting fast, close, and exhilarating sailing. It says it has changed the perception of yacht racing forever, as spectators witnessed nine lead changes in one race, and in the finals, turning a heart stopping four-minute deficit into nearly a four-minute victory.

The celebrations began onboard after crossing the finish line.

“What a beauty,” says ETNZ flight controller, Blair Tuke. “To win the America’s Cup on home waters – unbelievable. To know the work that has gone into this. Just huge from the whole team. It has been a massive honour to race in front of five million Kiwis, and to know we have had their support.”

Images courtesy of Studio Borlenghi.

Comments are closed.