Sailing

Team New Zealand’s quality problem

Ten challengers – both tangible and potential – are being taken seriously by Emirates Team New Zealand on the eve of entries opening for the 2021 America’s Cup. But team boss Grant Dalton won’t be disappointed if not all “pony up”.

Although Auckland hosted 11 challengers in 2000, Dalton knows that realistically there isn’t room on Auckland’s waterfront this time for more than eight teams, including the Cup defender.

Wynyard Basin – the $140 million site for bases that Auckland Council agreed on last week – has allocated eight spaces for teams to set up on the yet-to-be built extensions of Halsey, Hobson and Wynyard wharves.

“We can only create eight bases, including one for ourselves. You could say it’s a nice problem to have if there are more teams, but I actually don’t know where they’d go,” says Dalton, who’s already chosen the spot where his team will make their home.

“Seven challengers still pose quite a logistical issue for the city. Not only with the bases and the building of the infrastructure, but with accommodation. If there are around 100 people in each team, plus families – that’s 250 in a team. I think if we had seven, that would be just fine.

“I don’t think we will limit the number of teams who can come. But quite frankly, I don’t know where the others would go.”

It was made clear at last week’s council meeting that should the next America’s Cup attract more than seven overseas syndicates, the latecomers will have to find their own sites to launch their boats and run campaigns from.

Entries for the regatta open on January 1, closing six months later. Dalton doesn’t expect a rush of entries next month: “Some teams don’t enter early, because they think it might give them more leverage.”

But he expects an entry from the New York Yacht Club, and Sir Ben Ainslie’s British BAR syndicate, to be the first confirmed on the challenger list, after the Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa of Italy, who’ve already entered.

Team NZ have selected the eighth base in the Wynyard Basin as their spot. 

“There are another six or seven teams we’ve heard from that we are treating seriously. Some are from outside the normal sphere that we know, one in particular,” he says without naming names. “We treat everyone seriously because you don’t know whether they are or not, and you don’t want to miss one because of it. Out of those seven, we might get five. Because in the end, they’ve got to pony up.”

Challenging syndicates must pay US$1million ($1.42m) when their challenge is accepted, and the same amount again to be paid no later than November 30 next year. Late entries, accepted up until the end of the year, will have to pay a US$1million penalty on top.

“There will also be the odd lurkers, those teams who haven’t said much at all yet. In the past, that would have been us; we wouldn’t have said much at this point either,” Dalton says.

A second Italian syndicate, the Adelasia of Torres team, which race monohulls in the Mediterranean, have publicly announced their hope of challenging. Their frontman Renato Azara – a Sardinian entrepreneur who runs a maritime agency servicing superyachts – is now on the hunt for financial backers.

Team France skipper Franck Cammas has said his team is “working hard” to contest the Cup again in Auckland, and there are encouraging noises coming out of Australia, who haven’t challenged since 2000.

The order in which teams enter for the challenger selection series will carry some weight when it comes to base allocations.

Team NZ have already chosen their spot in the Wynyard Basin site – in spite of the Government still looking into an alternative site. The Cup defenders have selected the eighth base on the Wynyard Basin map – out on their own on an extension of Hobson Wharf.

“It will be like an extension of Voyager, the Maritime Museum,” says Dalton. “We’ll also incorporate a public area with an innovation centre, and find a way to display the cat.” Aotearoa New Zealand, the victorious AC50 catamaran, is currently broken down and stored in pieces amidst some of the 60 shipping containers that returned from Bermuda.

Luna Rossa will have second dibs on a base site.

The spot is an extension of Hobson Wharf (pictured). File photo: Getty Images

Of course, it’s still not set in concrete that the next America’s Cup will be sailed in Auckland. The base infrastructure must be guaranteed to be in place by August 30 next year before the host city agreement is signed. Italy is still on stand-by, although Dalton insists that’s not what the team wants.

Accused of holding the country to ransom over an event fee, Dalton admits he made a mistake in not clarifying straight up what the fee was for.

“The mistake we made was not defining it at the start, and the story leapt away,” he says. “The fee was always what it is now defined as: part of the cost to run the event. If you want free-to-air TV, free access to the public, an opening ceremony, security and big screens – even some toilets, and volunteers. They’re all part of the myriad costs to run the America’s Cup.

“We have to build 26 chase boats that will deal with safety, crowd control, umpiring, the race committee, and media. Santa certainly isn’t bringing them. But building them helps the New Zealand marine industry.”

As the man currently at the head of the America’s Cup event team, Dalton wants to transform North Head into a grand “viewing platform” above the racecourse. “But it’s going to cost to put all the bleachers up. You’ll need full PA systems, a big screen. It just goes on and on,” he says.

As does the bases debate. The Government is continuing to analyse its preferred “Wynyard Point” base site – on the old “Tank Farm” and Site 18, currently used for superyacht repairs – while Auckland Council forges ahead with plans to lodge a resource consent application for Wynyard Basin by January 15.

Dalton says there is now little Team NZ can do. “It’s going through its process. There’s really not a lot that we can influence, or try to influence, at this point. It’s just running its course, and we have to wait and see what happens,” he says.

“But we back the council’s decision and their resource consent going in on January 15. Time is of the essence.”

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