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Sail-World NZ - June 12: SailGP.. The Ocean Race Europe.. America's Cup future

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 7 Jun 21:48 PDT 8 June 2021
New Zealand SailGP Team helmed by interim skipper Arnaud Psarofaghis in action on Race Day 2. Italy SailGP, Event 2, Season 2 in Taranto, Italy. 06 June © Ricardo Pinto / SailGP

Welcome to Sail-World.com's New Zealand e-magazine for June 12, 2021

It has been an interesting few days on several counts, with two significant international events being contested, and the negotiation period for the 37th America's Cup hosting coming to an end.

The second round of the SailGP being contested in Taranto, Italy, with the Nathan Outteridge skippered JapanSailGP winning the series and improving to be third on the season leaderboard, and another international win for an Asian sailing nation. The Ocean Race Europe has now completed two legs with the performances differences between the VOR65 and IMOCA60 fleets becoming apparent. And, the America's Cup saga continues with the Government negotiations nearing an end and with an announcement happening next week. The club and championship sailing scene is starting to build back in New Zealand and around the world as COVID alert levels ease.

Yesterday came the news that the International Olympic Committee has rejected the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat event proposal for Paris2024. Instead the Mixed Kiteboard event has been split into a Mens and Womens events, with the other nine Paris 2024 sailing events having been previously accepted.

The upshot is that the Finn, the iconic Olympic class, has been summarily dropped, and males weighing more than 85kgs have been disenfranchised from having a single Olympic event in which they have the physique to be competitive. Others of the opposite gender have competed in two of the 2024 classes and with options to compete in another two maybe three. In fixing one issue, World Sailing has created another, and was well aware of the inequity of its action, but simply couldn't care less.

Sail GP Italy

SailGP held their second regatta of Season 2 in Taranto, Italy.

Bermuda, you will recall, was chopped and changed to cope with a difficult COVID situation which arose just before the regatta. There was only limited training in Bermuda for all teams, also the New Zealand team suffered from having a boat that was sent to Bermuda needing completion.

For Series 2, SailGP Italy, those issues had gone, but were replaced with another set, being the changes to the crews. Skippers Peter Burling and Ben Ainslie were not there.

The organisers decided to try racing with only three crew aboard in lighter winds to aid foiling. Racing F50's short-handed was not what the fans expected, and to be honest, it didn't seem to make the foiling difference that organisers seemed to believe would happen.

It was a strange sight, in some races, to see a short-handed crew having to reach from the aft into the forward cockpit to turn the grinder handles and generate some hydraulic pressure. Sailing three-up the crew seemed unconcerned about the aerodynamic drag caused by their upright body stance.

With the full complement of five crew onboard, they all stayed low in the boat reducing drag, there was plenty of hydraulic pressure, and the boat could be sailed properly from a tactical perspective. From a fan's perspective the racing looked better, than with three people trying to do the job of five.

Hydraulic issues aboard the Australian team took them out of the first day and three races, which diminished the event. They suffered the same way the Kiwis did in Bermuda with similar issues. Reliability is proving to be an issue in the F50's and one suspects that the shore crews are rather stretched. Maybe a few more stage-hands are required.

Those issues aside, along with the dreadful commentary, SailGP did provide some good racing. There was plenty of place changing, and more importantly, good tactical moves are rewarded with an improvement on the water. At the end of the day, a couple of shrewd moves by Nathan Outteridge (AUS) sailing SailGP Japan probably won the regatta, and Asian sailing took another step up the sailing success ladder.

The F50's were sailing with the 24metre rig - which is due to have a light air extension. But the teams didn't appear to suffer that much from the limited wing area. For sure the boats that got foiling had a big advantage over those that weren't.

There might have been some grumbling over Peter Burling being replaced by an Alinghi crew member Arnaud Psarofaghis - instead of using crew from the Kiwi AC team or from the two Youth teams in the 34th and 35th Youth America's Cups.

But all said and done, the Kiwi F50's starting in Taranto was very good indeed. They were right on the line in most starts - fractionally over in one - and usually foiling fast and in the top three at the first mark. Arnaud skippered Amokura to the first-ever race win for the NZSailGP team.

The SailGP circuit just needs to settle down, and start banging out the racing without fiddling around the edges and making mid-series changes.

Inherently SailGP is a good concept. From afar it seems to run OK. Its big advantage, at present, is that SailGP is the only game in town. It needs to maximise that opportunity, and build a prominent place in the sailing scene before the other circuits restart, post-COVID. In short, it needs to grab market share.

The Ocean Race Europe

The Ocean Race Europe has now completed two of three legs, with the 12 boat fleet finishing Leg 2 from Cascais to Alicante on Wednesday.

It has proven to be a much better race than expected. The fleet of one design VOR65's and restricted design IMOCA60's is very competitive both within their own class but also as an open fleet. In the first leg, we saw the two classes finish together. Six boats from the combined fleet of 12 IMOCA60's and VOR65's crossed the finish line at Cascais, Portugal within three minutes after sailing a 1400nm leg from Lorient, France.

Expect the unexpected has already become a theme of the new look The Ocean Race.

We expected there to be a marked difference between the foilers and non-foilers in the IMOCA60 class - that didn't seem to be the case - and all boats seemed to be competitive on their day. That's great news for the older IMOCA60's - which clearly don't need to be upgraded to foilers, and while they might lose some speed in fresher conditions, they do make gains in lighter conditions with reduced drag, and improved reliability. The race winning factor is still navigational strategy and boat positioning.

From the last two Volvo Ocean Races, we knew the VOR65's were closely competitive. That is again proving to be case in The Ocean Race. The addition of the A4 into the VOR65 inventory has made a big difference to the downwind performance in light to moderate breezes, and it is a cheaper upgrade which does make a significant performance difference.

Not expected was how close the two fleets would be, but also how different.

In some conditions the VOR65 and IMOCA60 are very evenly matched, and in others one genre steps away from the other for different reasons,. When the conditions change, the two fleets close up again. In The Ocean Race there is always a race within a race between the VOR65's and IMOCA60's. Regardless of who is dominant, or not, there is always plenty of intrigue.

Of course, despite the split fleet the interest is always on who will be the first to finish regardless of whether they are a VOR65 or an IMOCA60.

For fans, The Ocean Race has made some changes, with The Daily Fix on Youtube being just that, and a must-see. Same with the excellent decision to live cast the fleet running down the Portuguese coast heading for Cape Finisterre, as they surfed along under their A4's in the setting sun against a spectacular coastline. It's great to able to watch some serious racing without a director chopping and changing the camera angle, and commentators making too frequent interjections.

America's Cup set to unfold

The America's Cup will boil over next week, with the decision expected from Emirates Team New Zealand that the Cup will go offshore in some way for the next couple of years. We will have more on this ahead of the announcement. However from our analysis, without input from ETNZ, it is a pragmatic decision.

Grant Dalton has always been very clear that his first loyalty is to the team and securing their future. Given that Emirates Team New Zealand has been around for 35 years and has won four America's Cups, the time is long past when it needs to bankroll its reputation and assets and secure its future.

The NZ Government can shoulder a big part of the responsibility for the Cup heading offshore. The Labour Government has had to make a difficult choice between protecting the NZ population against the ravages of COVID-19 and keeping borders open to tourists, visitors and business.

As everyone knows New Zealand and Australia are operating a Trans-Tasman bubble, backed by a mass-vaccination program. When we last looked New Zealand was ranked 74th in the world on full vaccinations, with USA ranked 8th and UK 9th. Australia is 98th and the Olympic venue, Japan is 85th.

To make an America's Cup viable in New Zealand, the borders have to be opened to international visitors without entry restriction, as high ranking UK and USA are about to do.

Without the open border, none of the Cup's economic benefit will flow into New Zealand from visitors/tourists, international media and the servicing and support of superyachts and their high-value guests. Running a series of international bubbles is not a medium to long term option. Even on the Trans-Tasman routes, the passenger traffic is just not there, and may take a while to build.

Against that COVID backdrop, the NZ Government can't afford to invest money into a closed border venue event which will show a no/low return.

For its part, Emirates Team New Zealand has, in the past, been a much easier sponsorship proposition when the Cup has been in Europe, where it is easier for sponsors to get exposure and fly in their VIP's for a unique Cup experience. Staging the event during the day in Europe, also makes it a more attractive sponsorship and television proposition.

As Cup Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand effectively controls the game, and they are now in a very strong position to set the rules. ETNZ needs to capitalise on this situation for the future of the team.

We're expecting to see a Cup program announced that will be based initially in Europe but with the protection of a home Match in New Zealand for AC38. If New Zealand is a Defender in AC38 - the situation is no different than it would be pre-COVID.

If New Zealand loses AC37, with an agreement in place to ensure that AC38 takes place in New Zealand, then Emirates Team New Zealand will be able to sail in the Challenger series in Auckland - which will have huge interest locally and internationally.

For the kiwi team, other than accommodation costs, there is no real downside to sailing AC37 at a UK/USA/European venue.

Competing in a home Challenger series also gives the team match sharpness which was lacking in Auckland in March 2021. If ETNZ cannot win the Cup back, in their home waters as a Challenger, then they don't deserve to hold it, and the Cup should, and will, go elsewhere.

Everyone agrees that the Cup needs new teams. Those teams can be more easily "grown" with an event in Europe, with the first generation AC75's available for purchase by new teams.

But more of that in Sail-World early next week, followed up with a full story next Thursday when the "good faith" negotiation period with the Government and Council ends.

For all the latest news from NZ and around the world, see the top stories below.

Between newsletters, you can follow all the racing and developments in major and local events on www.sail-world.com/nz or by scrolling to the top of the site, select New Zealand, and get all the latest news and updates from the sailing world.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

Please forward your news stories and images directly to Sail-World NZ as text in the email and attach images in the standard way for emails. Our email address is sailworldnzl@gmail.com

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