Matthew Sheahan analyses the recently released 37th America's Cup Protocol and looks at the changes on the horizon for the next America's Cup
From the next generation of AC75s that will be a tonne lighter and carry three fewer crew and result in higher top end speeds and earlier flight in the light, to the new AC40 one-design class that will be used for testing and training as well as the preliminary regattas, the overall mission was clear – to take the last Cup and tweak it to make it better, more accessible and more appealing to stakeholders and spectators alike.
37th America’s Cup Protocol in detail
Teams will only be allowed to build one AC75 and nationality rules are strict this time around requiring 100% of the race crew for each competitor to either be a passport holder of the country of the team’s yacht club or to have been physically present in that country for 18 months of the previous three years prior to 17th March 2021. Having said that, there will be dispensations for ‘Emerging Nations’.
Generating power with cyclists, as the Kiwis did to great effect in Bermuda, was outlawed for the last America’s Cup but with this America’s Cup protocol it seems they will make a return for this edition.
While the focus of debate may be on the additional power that legs provide over arms, it’s important to remember that the Kiwis’ advantage in 2017 was also that their crews’ hands were freed up to perform other functions.
With a reduced crew on board the new AC75s perhaps it’s not that surprising that both the Defender and Challenger of Record see this as something worth putting back into the mix, especially for the Brits who have strong links with the INEOS cycling team.
When it comes to the events, there will be up to three Preliminary Regattas, the first two raced in AC40s, the last one at the Match venue in AC75s. The Challenger Selection Series and the America’s Cup Match will be held in 2024.
There will also be a Youth America’s Cup as there was in Bermuda in 2017, but in addition there will be a Women’s America’s Cup in the same boats. (If the online chatter is any guide, this has already triggered some lively debate.)
It’s not all about the racing. Teams will be required to build a minimum of two hydrogen fuel cell powered chase boats capable of sustaining a minimum speed of 25 knots for no less than 75 nautical miles and hit a top speed of 50 knots, something that Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton describes as ‘a game changer for the industry.’
What next for the America’s Cup?
But this is also a bold Protocol in that it seeks to influence further than just the next Cup, something that few – if any – have made stick before.
By entering the 37th Cup, a team undertakes that if it is successful in winning it will continue with the AC75 class for any Challenger series and the 38th America’s Cup. And while the Brits and Kiwis announced this as a goal some months back, the reality is that it changes fundamentally one of the cornerstones of the America’s Cup in that the winner doesn’t get to make the rules.
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I have no doubt that their intentions are well meaning in trying to achieve consistency for the good of teams, hosts, sponsors, spectators and the whole sport in a way that has eluded most over the last 170 years.
The very thing that has kept the Cup at the leading edge is also the very thing that holds it back at times – by creating huge leaps of faith and radical changes that costs huge sums of money and frequently dilutes the number of teams and the level of racing.
The Cup often suffers when it has big gear changes. For my money, creating a way of ensuring the development of these extraordinary machines provides an opportunity for the wider sport to benefit.
But I’m also sure that trying to bag the next Cup before this one’s been won will attract plenty of criticism from some quarters for seeking to effectively modify the Deed of Gift.
And where next…?
And while considering the criticisms, the lack of a venue is another that is fuelling a debate. Unusually for a Cup Protocol there was no mention of where the next Cup would take place. Instead, a new deadline of 31 March 2022 for the announcement.
The venue debate has been swirling around for months already, get set for some more, especially after Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said in an interview that Auckland was ‘unlikely’ as a venue ‘but not ruled out’.
Whatever your view, like political debate, an America’s Cup cycle without controversy wouldn’t feel right.
For me, aside from the unknows the 37th Cup Protocol has plenty to be excited about.
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