Sailing

One year on: inside Team NZ’s America’s Cup defence

It's almost a year since Emirates Team New Zealand brought the Auld Mug home. Suzanne McFadden talks to operations chief Kevin Shoebridge about Team NZ's plans to defend it in 2021 in Auckland. 

The village

After the fraught and drawn-out wrestling match over where the teams will be based, Team NZ will move into their new home, taking over the entire Viaduct Event Centre, in October.

A redesign of the building, which they have rent-free till 2022, is now underway to turn it into a functioning boatshed. Massive doors need to be installed so the 75ft (23m) yachts can easily slip in and out.

This, of course, wasn’t what Team NZ envisaged. They wanted a legacy – a permanent base on Hobson Wharf that would be an enduring marine centre for the city.   

“No, it’s not what we were hoping for long-term,” says Team NZ COO Kevin Shoebridge. “But it’s a very good position for us for this defence. It means we can operate out of there later this year, when we could have been waiting up to two years for a new base. It’s going to be a great use of a prime spot.”

It ticks the box for getting up close and personal with the public - one of Team NZ boss Grant Dalton's key requisites - and will form the heart of the America’s Cup village. Parts of the base will be open to everyone, and the victorious Aotearoa catamaran will be on display.

The six other base sites available for the challengers – one double-sized site on the Hobson Wharf extension, and two doubles and three singles on Wynyard Wharf – are in the process of  resource consent. Construction needs to start at the end of the year, with teams having to build their own bases.

The challengers

Three challengers have already made it public they will line up on the Hauraki Gulf in January 2021. 

Italians Luna Rossa, the Challenger of Record, have two decades of experience behind them; American Magic have the unrivalled Cup history of the New York Yacht Club  and INEOS Team UK, Sir Ben Ainslie’s British challenge, have a whopping $217 million.

Another four or five potential syndicates have contacted Team NZ in the past six months. Three have been in constant communication, Shoebridge says, with one from left-field.

That’s likely to be Norway. Norwegian sailors Christian Loken and Petter Morland Pedersen have been investigating the America’s Cup, and say Norway’s marine technology and Viking heritage will give them a good shot - providing they find the money.

A second US syndicate – 2018 Congressional Cup winners Team USA21 – and another Italian challenge - Adelasia of Torres from Sardinia – have also been making the right noises.

The first entry period ends on June 30. Late entries, until November 30, will incur an extra US$1 million on the entry fee. Further entries can be accepted after that if all syndicates agree.  

Team NZ haven’t officially announced entrants yet, because the teams “want to do their own thing in their own time”, Shoebridge says. It’s likely we’ll hear who has entered soon after the June 30 deadline, when Team NZ are confident there will be more than three names to announce.

“Remember we didn’t enter until an hour before the entries closed for the last Cup,” he says. “You always want more teams, but you have to be realistic. These teams are hard enough to run and fund when you’ve been going for years. Starting from scratch is a big ask, but it is possible.”

The event

Get used to the name ACE, because you'll hear it a lot over the next three years. ACE, America’s Cup Events Ltd, is a separate company created to control the 2021 America’s Cup.

“For the first year, we’ve run as one organisation working on the rules and infrastructure. But the time is almost here that ETNZ needs to be isolated from the event, to get on with the business of defending the Cup,” says Shoebridge.  

“ACE is in its early stages, but it will have very good people in place to run the event.”

Someone has yet to be appointed to run ACE. (In Bermuda, Sir Russell Coutts was the CEO of the America’s Cup Events Authority, which ACE is based on). But Dalton will oversee both ACE and Team NZ through this Cup term.

The team

Team NZ will grow to around 120 people for the defence. That includes 25 specialised boatbuilders, with the team’s decision to build their boats in-house for the first time.

“One of the things we always realised after the last Cup was to keep the team fresh and keep an open mind. We have to be stronger than we were in Bermuda to defend the Cup,” Shoebridge says.

With the main focus on design so far, there are 25 designers on the payroll, with another five likely to be added – young graduate engineers who will learn as they work. Team NZ will also run a design internship programme over the summer.The core group of sailors from the 2017 campaign has been retained, but the crew won’t be filled out until later in the year. “We’re waiting until we completely understand the roles on these new boats, so we can get the right people for the right job - physically or expertise-wise,” Shoebridge says.

Those already signed are busy strengthening their sailing resumes around the world. Glenn Ashby, Team NZ’s skipper in 2017, won the GC32 world championships (in 10m foiling cats) in Italy last week. It was his 16th world title.

With two legs of the round-the-world race remaining, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are battling it out for the triple crown - an Olympic gold medal, an America's Cup and a Volvo Ocean Race victory, all in the same cycle. 

The boats

Now the class rule for the AC75 is drawn up, design teams are working frantically to create boats that will out-foil the others.

“It’s a tricky thing for us. We wrote this rule and we think we know it. But like everyone else we want to exploit it,” Shoebridge says. “Now we are fully committed to coming up with the best boat we can. It’s an exciting stage.”

The sailing team is already in cahoots with the designers on what will work for them. Ashby makes regular visits from Melbourne, and Burling and Tuke are in contact whenever they’re in port. Sailing coach Ray Davies, now competing on the world TP52 circuit, has also contributed.

Team NZ’s boats will be built somewhere on the North Shore, by their own team of builders. Many have come from the now-closed Cookson Boats, which built eight of Team NZ’s Cup boats in the past.

The first AC75 foiling monohulls will hit the water any time after April 1 next year, with the America’s Cup World Series events starting in the second half of the year.

The money

Dalton, the king of fundraising in the sailing world, is now in Europe for five weeks, fully committed to the sponsorship trail.

While the Government will contribute $100 million to a “support package” for the Cup, all that money will go towards infrastructure and running of the regatta.

Team NZ has to find its own funding for the defence, which is pretty much what they did for the last campaign.

As far as sponsors go, Shoebridge says “there are commitments there, but it’s all a work in progress”.  Team NZ won’t reveal their budget to run the team, but it’s unlikely to be anywhere close to rivaling Ainslie’s vast backing.

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