Gilles Martin-Raget /

America's Cup in Bermuda

We consider Tuesday's announcement

Thursday December 4th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: Bermuda

After AP’s Bernie Wilson broke the story a few days ago that the 35th America’s Cup was going to be staged in Bermuda, there were few surprises when Harvey Schiller, the Commercial Commissioner for the America’s Cup, confirmed this at a press conference in New York on Tuesday.

As a host venue for the 35th America’s Cup Bermuda and San Diego both have distinct pros and cons. Of the two Bermuda got thedailysail vote purely because it has the better wind conditions. Given that the 35th America’s Cup will be waged in foiling AC62 catamarans, being able to race in decent breeze will be the make or break of the event. We perhaps over-casually assume that the 35th America’s Cup will be an exact repeat of the drama and the extraordinary high octane sailing we witnessed during the 34th last year – in boats that may be smaller, but this time are purpose-designed for (and with a rule that now encourages) foiling. In fact a large part of last year’s spectacle was thanks to the superb 15-20+ knot wind conditions that regularly blew on San Francisco Bay.

Seeing AC62s dragging their foils around a San Diego race track in low rider mode in 6 knots of breeze or even marginally foiling in 8, would not make for good television and practically the course there is really only just about big enough for the AC45s, let alone the new generation of 40 knot AC62 flying boats. On the plus side, San Diego is mainland America and, despite what the skippers said at the press conference, the California choice would have been the preferred option for the teams dependent upon commercial partners – allegedly all of them, but in particular Emirates Team New Zealand, Ben Ainslie Racing and Team France.

Intriguingly at the press conference Commissioner Schiller said that they had two extra challengers waiting in the wings. All we have heard is that one may be coming from China, but Japan has also been mooted as possibly making its return to the America’s Cup, following its last foray with the Peter Gilmour-led Nippon Challenge campaign in 2000. Otherwise - what do we think about a Bermudan challenge?

As to Bermuda - being located in the middle of the Atlantic presents accessibility issues, and it will be a costly hike for spectators to get there whether they are coming from the US or Europe. It will also not be easy logistically for the teams, particularly as we have still heard nothing about where the America’s Cup Qualifiers will be held - this is supposed to be taking place in a venue other than Bermuda and will be used to determine the top four challengers going through to the America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs, which WILL take place in Bermuda.

When Team Australia was still going, it was expected that the Qualifiers would be held in Sydney, but more recent thinking suggests that it might now be the Cup venue which didn’t win the bid, ie San Diego. This was perhaps also borne out by the announcement in New York that Chicago - at one point also in the running to host the 35th AC - has agreed to run an America’s Cup World Series event in 2016.

Otherwise Bermuda will be a great venue for the Cup.

To recap on the reasons Harvey Schiller gave for it being chosen: “When we were looking for a venue for the 2017 America’s Cup we wanted a place that had great sailing conditions, so racing would be exciting for the fans to watch and challenging for the sailors as well. It had to support the stadium sailing concept with room for an integrated spectator experience on land and on the water as well.

“We wanted a location that shared our vision for hosting an international event where all the teams could be based in one place with a public village accessible to all the spectators and fans. We wanted a venue that would look amazing on television and would work well for international TV broadcasts. Time zones were very important particular in consideration of future TV broadcasts. We wanted somewhere which would maximise the viewers that would enjoy the America’s Cup in their home areas and we wanted somewhere that would be embrace the America’s Cup, our fans and our teams and welcome us as a family.

“We also compared with some of the best America’s Cup events that had taken place in the past - smaller venues like Newport, RI and Fremantle where the public fully embraced the teams and supported the event in the smaller venue.” Ie an event like the America’s Cup can get lost in a big city like San Francisco or San Diego.

He continued: “We have expressions of interest from several cities. As we worked through the process and narrowed our focus there was one place that stood out as the best location. One spot that offered everything we needed to make the 2017 America’s Cup an exceptional event: Bermuda.”

We agree with all of these points.

While in terms of the sailing, San Francisco would certainly have been the first choice of venue in the US, it seemed that the 34th America’s Cup took place in spite of the city and its monumental amounts of red tape and bureaucracy, rather than thanks to it. In a significant change from the last event, this time around Larry Ellison seems to have tasked Russell Coutts and Harvey Schiller with getting the 35th America’s Cup to clean its face, if not turn a profit, so then one can see why the lure of a venue where the local government actually wants the event, and is prepared to offer incentives such as tax breaks in order to host it, was such an attractive proposition.

At this point the size of the island needs to be put into perspective – while physically Bermuda is around 25km long by 8 across, most of this is water and in fact the Bermudan land mass is only 53km², compared to say the Isle of Wight which is 380. Even Guernsey is bigger at 78km².

Given this, understandably much has been made of Bermuda’s potential lack of hotel beds. However one wonders if the America’s Cup really is a big first-hand spectator event (like Bermuda’s annual PGA Grand Slam event is) that will attract legions of fans prepared to travel all the way there and then stay for any length of time in a place where hotel rooms seem certain to be at a premium. And in case you’re wondering - the ‘hotel’ aspect of the Bermuda deal was why film stars Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones attended the press conference: Douglas’ family has been a hotel owner on the island for some 50 years.

Because of this we suspect that the 35th America’s Cup will be much more of a TV rather than spectator-orientated event (if it wasn’t already last time). But, as mentioned in our interview with Leslie Greenhalgh last week, merrily watching the full television offering on YouTube, as many of us did for the 34th America’s Cup, is most unlikely to happen for the 35th America’s Cup, as there is a much stronger effort being made this time to develop the TV offering and actually sell some rights to broadcasters, which broadcasting it free on YouTube would undermine.

Bermuda also has a long tradition as a match racing venue with the Alpari World Match Racing Tour’s Argo Group Gold Cup for the King Edward VII Gold Cup having been first held there in 1937 and run annually since 1950. In fact several key players involved in the 35th America’s Cup have seen success in Bermuda: Russell Coutts himself has the top record having won the Gold Cup six times, while Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill beat Coutts in the final in 2005, Ben Ainslie won it twice over 2009 and 2010 and Luna Rossa’s likely helmsman Francesco Bruni claimed the Gold Cup in 2013. In comparison Team France’s Franck Cammas admitted he never even visited Bermuda!

However while many of the sailors involved will have competed at the Argo Group Gold Cup, this event takes place on Hamilton Harbour immediately off the downtown area of Bermuda’s capital, whereas the America’s Cup racing will take place to the west, on the substantially larger Great Harbour, where few of the crews will have raced to date. In certain wind directions Hamilton Harbour is renowned for being ‘tricky’ (to put it politely) when the wind blows through the capital’s built-up down town waterfront or across the Harbour from the opposite direction. In comparison Great Sound will offer a much more open race course.

As Schiller puts it: “The race course on The Great Sound is a natural amphitheatre with room for racing and spectators, amid a spectacular backdrop of islands and beaches. And the proposed America’s Cup Village at the Royal Naval Dockyard will be the heart of the event for the teams and fans alike.” Unfortunately the Dockyard is on the opposite side of Great Sound to Hamilton and at the very opposite end of the island to the airport which is at least an hour’s drive away.

For purists of course the choice of Bermuda represents a severe break with tradition – it will be the first time that the holder of the America’s Cup has voluntarily not held the next event in its own domestic waters. Alinghi of course put on the 32nd America’s Cup in Valencia, Spain but this was because the Deed of Gift governing the Cup stipulates that ‘all such races shall be on ocean courses,’ and while Switzerland has most things, it lacks an ocean. However, thinking back, one wonders if this couldn’t have been bypassed by the Deed’s ‘mutual consent’ clause that would in theory allow the Defender and Challenger of Record to hold the America’s Cup in Optimists in a duck pond anywhere, provided both parties mutually consented to it.

In reality, while Oracle Team USA’s challenging yacht club, the Golden Gate YC might have preferred to hold the 35th America’s Cup on their own doorstep in San Francisco as they were able with the 34th last year, the days of challenging or defending yacht clubs playing anything more than a vestigial role have long since passed. Just as Ernesto Bertarelli ultimately drove the 32nd AC and the choice of Valencia (over Cascais for example), so the driving force behind the big decisions – such as the venue – for the last two Cups have been Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts.

While ostensibly the America’s Cup might seem a largely autocratic affair, run by the Defender who gets to make the call on big ticket items such as venue, TV rights and other commercial aspects of the event, this Cup otherwise appears to be the most democratic in its history. Following the demise of the Oatley family’s Team Australia, Luna Rossa is now Challenger of Record, but with past experience, the Italians have recognised this to be a poison chalice, and have eagerly shared this role between all the challengers. As a result there are regular weekly meetings between the Defender and all of the Challenges, in person or by conference call, to discuss whatever are the issues of the day.

Although it has been talked about many times previously, but never achieved, there seems to be a greater will than ever at present, thanks to this degree of union between challengers and defender, to create some body that will enable future America’s Cups to roll more seamlessly from one event to the next. So rather than Harvey Schiller announcing the venue for the 35th America’s Cup this week, he should really have been announcing the venue for the 36th taking place in 2020. The reason for this would be to increase what Sir Keith Mills refers to as ‘certainty’ over future events and vastly increases the possibility of raising commercial dollars for both the event and for teams. However to accomplish this the defender would have to relinquish many of its rights and it would require a significant rewording of the Deed of Gift.

One wonders for example how Emirates Team New Zealand would feel if they won in the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda but weren’t able to stage the 36th. A neat solution, as has been mooted in the past by the likes of Brad Butterworth, is that the winner of the 35th America’s Cup gets to host the 37th, the winner of the 36th, the 38th, etc.

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