TeamOrigin out of the Cup

Sir Keith Mills shares his reasoning and CEO Grant Simmer his views

Saturday October 2nd 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

The worst news for British yachting for several years came yesterday when out of the blue Sir Keith Mills pulled the plug on TeamOrigin’s bid to challenge for the 34th America’s Cup. This announcement followed more than three years of ramping up for what appeared to be Britain’s most potent challenge in a generation, including participation for the team in the Audi MedCup with a brand new TP52, in the Louis Vuitton Cup events and the Extreme Sailing Series, with at times up to 75 people employed and tens of millions spent.

“It was a difficult decision to take,” Sir Keith Mills told thedailysail this morning. “We spent the last three or four weeks since we got the class rule and the Protocol, really looking at it in a lot of detail. We have had a number of meetings with the defender and other challengers and when you take all of the different constituents and you add them all up, it didn’t add up for us, we didn’t think it was a viable America’s Cup.”

If they were going to go ahead they would have had to start designing the boat immediately and as a result Mills says this timetable forced the timing of his decision yesterday (Friday) morning.

The announcement came following a meeting in Paris on Thursday where Mills met with Russell Coutts, newly appointed Regatta Director and CEO Iain Murray and some of the ‘events team’. “It was a very good meeting, very constructive - very positive and helpful.”

However it seems Coutts was unable allay Mills’ fears. “He [Coutts] has a vision for the America’s Cup, his own vision which he is perfectly entitled to as the defender. I just don’t share it. Fundamentally it’s that. I am not happy with the class, the catamaran with a 40m wingsail. I am concerned frankly about its sailing capabilities. I can’t imagine what that is going to be like in 30 knots of wind and we are supposed to race in up to 33 knots of wind! And I have no idea - and they don’t have any idea - about how they are going to get them in and out of harbours or how they are going to dock them or moor them up. So there are a lot of concerns around the class. And I am not happy with the racing format which is essentially going to be driven by television.”

Coutts cites one of the principle aims in his transformation of the America’s Cup as being to make the event much more viable commercially for teams, however Mills says he doesn’t believe this to be the case. “I see three or four business plans a week, because I invest in businesses, so I am quite used to assessing whether things will work or not and in my judgement - and I might be wrong – I don’t think this is workable. Now Russell absolutely thinks it is workable and it is a difference of opinion and I wish him every success. I hope the America’s Cup does succeed in the new format, but it is not one I think is workable for us.”

The reasons for this, says Mills, comes down to what makes a good sporting event? Close exciting racing between top sportsmen and a lot of teams. He says he doesn’t believe there will be enough serious teams competing in an America’s Cup with this format. There will always be ‘B’ teams that turn up to participate and might get their day in the sun just as you see occasionally in Formula 1, but in his view that doesn’t make good sport . “You need half a dozen serious teams that have a chance of winning and on my analysis – and again I might be wrong – I don’t think it is winnable. I think BMW Oracle will successfully retain the America’s Cup, probably in San Francisco. I’m sure that is what Larry would like to do.”

He is not in favour of the catamaran/wingsail combination as he believes it will just be drag racing. “By our calculations it will be five minutes to the first mark and five minutes to the second mark and it will all be over in 15 minutes. I don’t think that is yacht racing. I suppose cricket has been turned about by Twenty20 and perhaps that’s what he is trying to do with the America’s Cup. But there are an awful lot of people down in Wales watching people hit a ball around a golf course and that takes several hours [he refers to the Rider Cup].

“When he got all the designers together in May, 90% of them thought a fast 80-88ft super mini-maxi type format would produce really exciting close racing, with lots of designers who can design them and lots of sailors who can sail them and that would attract a lot of teams. I thought that was the right conclusion. But now we have got a very unique, unusual boat that no one has really sailed and hardly anyone has designed that is going to be required to race in 33 knots of wind on a very short race course and God knows how you park it. It just doesn’t stack up.”

No minor issue is also that the budget has gone up and the date of the America’s Cup has come back - in 2013, rather than 2014 as had been thought before the Protocol was announced. BMW Oracle Racing maintains that holding the event a year earlier will reduce campaign costs by 25%. However Mills dresses it another way: “It is a £100 million campaign, so it is 20% more than the last America’s Cup but over three years instead of four years. So it becomes a much more challenging commercial proposition too. I think we probably could have overcome that.”

Then there is the proximity of 2013 to the Olympic Games, to which Mills is also heavily involved and as published on this site last week, Ben Ainslie thinks it unfeasible with this timetable he would be able to compete successfully in both the Games and in the America’s Cup.

Mills continues: “So the conclusion wasn’t driven out of one issue, it was out of multiple issues and if you add them all together and you take a cold towel, as Charles Dunstone and I did yesterday morning, and you say ‘you know what? This just doesn’t add up.’ Do we really want to spend the next three years of our lives and a whole lot more money pursuing something that we genuinely don’t think is winnable or viable? The answer we came to, very sadly for us, is that we didn’t think it was. Then the issue was that we need to tell everyone really quickly and that’s what we did yesterday afternoon.

“Personally I am really gutted and very very sad for our team, not just the sailors, but the guys on the shore as well. I assembled a spectacular team of guys who I think would have done the team really proud, so for them I am really sad. I have said I’ll do whatever I can to help them do whatever they want to do in the future and we’ll do this professionally and sympathetically.”

So while Ainslie, Iain Percy & co are competing this week at the Argo Bermuda Gold Cup, TeamOrigin’s participation at the next Louis Vuitton Trophy event in Dubai in November and the Monsoon Cup now look set to be canned.

There have been some thoughts about keeping some element of TeamOrigin going, but at present Mills says he is uncertain what this might be. “I might keep the team name and some of the team members and go and do some racing next year in the TPs or the Extreme 40s or something. I really haven’t put my mind to thinking about that. The focus has been on making this decision. I set the end of September as the decision time to decide whether it was viable or not. Having now made that decision I will look at the options next year and make a decision on whether we will put some elements of the team together and do and go something else.”

Whether this is to keep the pot bubbling is a minor way with a view to competing in the 35th America’s Cup, Mills states is way too early to say. “We’ll just get over this one first! But you never say never. If an America’s Cup format came out that looked really interesting and viable I’d have another look.” If a TeamOrigin campaign of sorts is to continue in the future Mills says the onus will be on having some fun racing or “the part that has been missing for the last three and a half years.”

Earlier in the week TeamOrigin’s CEO Grant Simmer, along with designer Andy Claughton, Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy, had been in Paris for a meeting with Iain Murray to discuss their list of technical issues about the competition they have foreseen with the event going forwards. Fellow Australians, Iain Murray is an old friend of Simmer’s and the discussions went well. Among the items discussed were how the AC45s were going to be allocated and would there be the opportunity to train on them and the opportunity for two boat testing with the AC72s.

“Of course the nice thing about Iain is that he understands all these issues so even though he didn’t have all the answers, he understood it,” says Simmer. “It was an open discussion – there wasn’t anything that was a deal breaker for us.”

The main issue seemed to be one of logistics – how the 72ft long wingsail cats will be moored and manoeuvred around a host of different venues, that have yet to be finalised.

Despite BMW Oracle Racing holding a considerable technological advantage in the design, R&D and build of their their solid wingsail, Simmer says he believes TeamOrigin could, even in the short time frame, have overcome that. “The biggest issue I have was taking these boats and doing up to ten regattas a year in a boat that is logistically incredibly difficult. And then we have got to develop the boat at the same time.

“If it had been a normal Cup where we were going to go to a venue and do a couple of pre-regattas in the AC45s, then you could get set up properly logistically to manage a big boat like this with a wing in one venue, then it was definitely do-able. But throw in on top of that moving them around the world to an unknown number of regattas in an unknown set of venues – and then to continue doing your development work is pretty hard. There are so many pieces of that puzzle missing that it is...difficult.”

Personally for Simmer, Friday’s announcement came as a shock to him as it did for the rest of the team. “I know how Keith agonised over the decision and it certainly wasn’t taken lightly and I understand. It is really just with the unknowns: was this really going to be a viable project commercially and competitively? And the answer is that he didn’t feel comfortable that it was.”

He has been excited about the prospect of the wingsail catamaran as their design and development was goig to be highly challenging. “Clearly I have been putting together a design team, which I thought could take it on and do a really good job. So I am disappointed, but I understand the decision that Keith and his partners have taken and I don’t disagree with it because there are so many unknowns, it is hard to ask guys to stump up for that sort of money and that sort of commitment. The logistic questions are big but if I had to pick one guy who could sort it out, Iain [Murray] would be bloody high on my list to sort all those issues.”

So the team, including Simmer, is to be disbanded, although a handful may be kept on – that has yet to be decided, depending upon what, if anything, is planned for 2011 and beyond. “I am going to do a professional job with all the people and keep working and finish what I started. We’ll try and move to the next phase or close it up properly and professionally.” So Simmer is not going to be on the plane back to Australia next week.

“I don’t know what I am going to do next. I don’t have a plan right now. I always thought I should take a holiday after the last America’s Cup, so now I think I am going to have time to do that.”

All very sad.



Latest Comments

  • James Boyd 06/10/2010 - 09:45

    Definitely. A windmill that could take the boats directly upwind (as they tried out on a Prout catamaran once). That would remove any port-starboard issues
  • amfraser 05/10/2010 - 21:59

    Instead of a wingsail they should go for a wind turbine, propeller arrangement.
  • 828540 04/10/2010 - 19:14

    A perfect storm of progress! Engineers have known for over fifty years that a wing sail would out perform a soft sail, but all that extra weight, what to do back at the dock; and then there is the serious issue of reefing? Even the basic challenges of both tacking and gybing have given boat builders considerable heartache with the construction of solid sail devices. Recent continuous improvements in engineering and materials have combined to provide soft sail multihulls with the ability to extend their performance potential and set spectacular offshore records. Russell Coutts is the supreme match racing champion of his generation, and has gone on to conceive the highly successful monohull RC44 which provides superb match racing for its constituents. How fortunate we are that he should look outside the box and develop an America’s Cup that will clearly place the contestants in the fastest match racing boat imaginable. No one is disenfranchised here. Monohull sailors can make the switch if they choose to as James Spithill demonstrated so eloquently in February. David Collins
  • chriswah 04/10/2010 - 11:29

    Indeed this is a very sad end to what could of been a great campaign for Great Britain. But you have to look at all the facts really. The first has to be down to the size of Mills wallet and his expected sponsors, its going to be very hard in this climate to find the £100 million to get this campaign working and working well for sponsors to find it attractive enough. The second is the current team and what there plans are, obviously there is Ben and the other olympic hopefuls. There is no way in the world that they wouldn't compete at the 2012 games, but would that of been different if the games were held else where? I think it would of. But that begs the question, if the AC was the year after, would they still of been involved? I again doubt this very much, mainly due to the sponsorship, but also very much around what the output has been from the BMW Oracle camp in terms of boat. Could you really see Ben out there competing at the highest level in anything other than a mono? If there was time to get the ground work in, lots of training etc, then maybe he would, but that would then put him out of the Olympics (well maybe). I just hope that this Americas Cup actually comes to something worth while. Its suppose to be for the masses, but are people that interested? I know I am, but maybe that is due to me wanting to see the Americas fail at this. I hope they don't. I would of opted for 75ft canting keel versions of the TP52, with a mixture of race courses, but then am I the target market for this americas cup?
  • capthorp 04/10/2010 - 11:22

    Re America Cup participation It was obvious, given the lack of interest at Cowes in the AC boats and the contrasting interest in the I-shares Cats that a wing sail cat was the way forward if flat water venues were going to be considered rather than going back down the heavy displacement keel boat route, which only look great when run in big waves and wind - contrast Perth 1987 with recent events. The amount of development Oracle has done in my view is being overstated. They had the benefit of taking over Conners wing mast data from 1988, but given the amount of time they had all they actually did was ensure it stood up in San Diego before shipping to Valencia. Every outing was put on U-tube so it is possible to watch what they were able to test. In Valencia Oracle was only there for a couple of weeks and did two races in very light conditions, all that is documented. It looked like the Alinghi Cat combined with the Oracle rig would have been really quick, so neither participant came out with a perfect set up. Oracle cobbled together a system for putting the mast up, also they put wind turbine blades up at sea without too much difficulty, a quick and easy system can be evolved given some thought. Also if you are going to sail in 20kts + the rigs would have to be a lot smaller, the hulls would hit terminal velocity and thereafter the problem is increasing efficiency and reducing drag - much of this information re large blades will be available in the wind turbine sector, which operate pretty near peak efficiency. The real problem is the economy and the proximity to the Olympics. There are sound business reasons for not sponsoring an event like this when substantial cuts are on the way. It would have been viable for a large number of teams to enter using a variation of the existing AC rule, but it may be a better event long term with 4 teams using modern technology rather than 10 teams sailing very boring old tech. Once the AC goes cutting edge, it wont go back - which will leave the likes of Origin out permanently, because the Tec gap is narrower now than it will be in 4 years time and once a full cycle has taken place it will take 10 years to come fully up to speed and be competitive. So this is a sad day because instead of being in on an exciting state of the art project the UK is side lined, all the skilled sailors will be picked up and go abroad and a great team who could have won the cup, will be broken up. Charles Apthorp
  • ICS 03/10/2010 - 14:39

    Sad. But not suprising. Origin are not alone amongst teams not being happy with the new boats and format. As I have written elsewhere this is a vision of the Cup controlled by sailors, rather than business people or owners. No bad thing. but it is different. And I am not sure viable commercially. We will see.
  • bonaqua12345 02/10/2010 - 21:16

    Rubbish, absolute rubbish, how lame are your interview skills? 1. With the Olympics in London, Ben, bart, and Iain were always going to choose to do the Olympics rather than an America’s cup which most likely they will not win. However Sir Mills knows full well he will not get the sponsors he needs to make the cup possible without these people. Bottom line, he is simply not rich enough. 2. Surely if you want to win you have to do two tournaments anyway, one would be training, getting used to the boat, i am sure larry will win but at least you will have the experience for next time. Why is he not doing this..... comes down to money...
  • KingMonkey 02/10/2010 - 20:35

    Very sad indeed. Mills had got a great team together and - on a level surface - they would have done very, very, very well. How long can the AC go on like this? Crazy!
  • Richard Lovering 02/10/2010 - 18:11

    Oh dear

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