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Ireland’s America’s Cup Venue Selection Agony Extended Until March 31st 2022

20th November 2021
The AC 75 American Magic in the preliminaries for the 2021 America’s Cup at Auckland. The essence of the contemporary America’s Cup is that it should be sailed in unique boats
The AC 75 American Magic in the preliminaries for the 2021 America’s Cup at Auckland. The essence of the contemporary America’s Cup is that it should be sailed in unique boats

The 170-year-old America’s Cup is global sailing’s Sacred Mystery. To be most true to itself, it should be raced in boats - or more accurately sailing machines - that are about as different as possible from the craft used by most sailors as they go about their more normal and largely unpublicised activities on the water.

In contrast to that normality, the America’s Cup is ultimately totally reliant on very high levels of publicity to fuel the enormous resources of commercial sponsorship – much of it for brands at the luxury end of the international spectrum – which are needed to keep the show on the road and fund the contending teams as they advance the technology, while also hiring the best international sailing superstars within a time-frame which enables them to qualify for a somewhat convoluted nationality and residential time frame.

The publication this week of the Protocol for the 37th America’s Cup in 2024 moves the “Saga of the Auld Mug” into another chapter. It’s a joint production by defenders Emirates Team New Zealand and their club the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron of Auckland, and the Challengers of Record, INEOS Britannia of Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd, otherwise known as RYSL.

The New York Yacht Club’s giant Reliance, successful defender in 1903, was arguably the first extreme boat in the America’s Cup history. Designed and built by Nat Herreshoff for just one season’s use, she used metals in electrolytic conflict such that it’s said she sizzled when put afloat, and leaked at an increasing pace as the programme progressed. After her successful defence, she was taken over by the US Navy to observe and monitor the continuing electrolytic degradation, and then broken up before she was a year old.The New York Yacht Club’s giant Reliance, successful defender in 1903, was arguably the first extreme boat in the America’s Cup history. Designed and built by Nat Herreshoff for just one season’s use, she used metals in electrolytic conflict such that it’s said she sizzled when put afloat, and leaked at an increasing pace as the programme progressed. After her successful defence, she was taken over by the US Navy to observe and monitor the continuing electrolytic degradation, and then broken up before she was a year old.

For traditionalists, it may seem slightly odd that one of the world’s most historic yacht clubs has lent its name to a run-of-the-mill limited liability company. Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd carries the vague whiff of a brass plate outside a solicitor’s office in an obscure street in Southampton rather than an historic waterfront castle in Cowes. And indeed Hamish Ross, the Auckland-based America’s Cup law expert, has suggested it may be invalid, as the original Deed of Gift stipulated that the challenge should be between the yacht clubs of different nations, and the use of a limited liability company – whatever its name - was not envisaged.

But all that seems to have been blown away this week, with a theme of the Protocol being the wish to make the America’s Cup “more inclusive”, as Ben Ainslie of INEOS Britannia put it, while Grant Dalton of defenders Team New Zealand talks of their desire to limit costs by allowing each team just one AC75 boat – the boat type is going to be used for at least the next two stagings of the cup - while sharing a certain amount of research info, incorporating some one-design features, making do with a crew of eight instead of 11, and planning to create basic boats which will cost only 60 million US dollars apiece….

Maybe so, but as Dalton admits, there’s no upper limit on expenditure, and on past experience he’s expecting that any British, Swiss and Italian challenges – to name but three - will effectively be operating on an open-ended budget. However, the scope of the event is going to be extended to include a women’s series and a youth challenge using the AC 40s. This will lengthen the period over which the 37th America’s Cup is held some time between January and September 2024, making even greater demands on the expectation of prolonged quality sailing weather at the chosen venue.

Charlie Barr (1864-1911). One of the most effective America’s Cup skippers, he commanded three successful defenders for the New York Yacht Club. In doing so, he anticipated the theme of “nationality fluidity”, as he was born in Gourock in Scotland, but his sailing career came to life when he moved to the US in 1885.Charlie Barr (1864-1911). One of the most effective America’s Cup skippers, he commanded three successful defenders for the New York Yacht Club. In doing so, he anticipated the theme of “nationality fluidity”, as he was born in Gourock in Scotland, but his sailing career came to life when he moved to the US in 1885.

In keeping with the inescapable and essential mood of the times, there’s a new emphasis on environmental compatibility, and a high profile will be given to the fact that the official chase boats will be hydrogen-powered. This may see a very small item in the bigger picture, but those boats buzzing efficiently yet cleanly around will be seen on screen by tens of millions worldwide, and their presence will offset the images of the huge carbon footprint of building just one AC75.

DAMIAN FOXALL’S VIEW

Ireland’s own Damian Foxall has recently broadened his environmental portfolio by taking on the role of Sustainability Manager for Charlie Enright’s 11th Hour Racing, which is currently working - among other projects in marine environmental activity - towards the most sustainable possible Vendee Globe campaign.

Damian Foxall has revealed the carbon imprint of the advanced construction of today’s IMOCA 6s and AC 75sDamian Foxall has revealed the carbon imprint of the advanced construction of today’s IMOCA 6s and AC 75s

And in typical style, Damian – who has spoken in favour of the America’s Cup coming to Ireland - crisply makes the point that building just one Vendee Globe IMOCA 60 creates as much carbon as building 105 – that’s one hundred and five - Renault cars. We can be quite sure that building the more complex AC75 has an even bigger footprint, so anything that can be done to alleviate the situation, or at least change perceptions of it, is all to the good for America’s Cup enthusiasts, as the reality is that talk of making it more inclusive and accessible doesn’t really bear examination.

For the fact is that the America’s Cup is elitist in both the most base and yet also the purest sense of the word. Supporters may indeed share in the performance achievements of their favoured crews and sailors, but beyond that it’s like suggesting that Usain Bolt fans have personally run the greatest hundred metres ever.

Admittedly at another level there is a genuine meaning to this, which the ancient Greek philosophers carried to such a height that they argued that the appreciative and knowledgeable spectator of athletics was actually morally and intellectually superior to the athletes themselves.

But with sailing being so totally a wind-powered vehicle sport, there’s an extra barrier between the usually few enough spectators and the performers, and it’s further heightened by the AC crew being anonymously clad in Formula 1-style car-racing kit. So the America’s Cup is essentially elitist and remote, for if it weren’t it would be a waste of time, and that’s all there is to it. It’s top-drawer stuff. 

NO IRISH TEAM

Thus the staging of it has become one very difficult, demanding and expensive proposition. But if it weren’t for the fact that Ireland has become involved in the venue selection process, it would be hugely entertaining to observe all this wheeler-dealing. However, with Cork apparently still in the potential lineup despite the absence of any likely Irish team, it has become a minefield for anyone in Irish sailing who dares to question the wisdom of spending tens of millions of euros of taxpayers money in developing the sort of shore base facility at the former Verolme Dockyard at Rushbrook in Cork Harbour which the 37th America’s Cup advocates suggest is essential.

Down Cork way within the sailing community, pariah status awaits anyone who doubts the good sense of Cork going hell-for-leather with high-profile public money in pursuit of this America’s Cup Venue status. It takes the greatest Leeside verbal dexterity to side-step stating clearly whether you’re for or against……

America’s Cup crew in action off Auckland, March 2021. The AC75’s need to have crews in crash helmets and protective clothing has increased the empathy gap between spectators and athletes.America’s Cup crew in action off Auckland, March 2021. The AC75’s need to have crews in crash helmets and protective clothing has increased the empathy gap between spectators and athletes.

But in the rest of the country’s sailing world, a sceptical viewpoint can just about survive, even if the debate about cost-effectiveness is blurred by the fact that the most recent figures from the 36th staging is Auckland must be adversely affected by the global pandemic battle.

Nevertheless, last weekend’s detailed Sunday Independent enquiry into the topic by Hugh O’Connell revealed – through use of the Freedom of Information Act - just how far back and how deeply the Irish manoeuvring behind the scenes had been and was still going on, with the analysis of released emails and other sources.

But while the relevant politicians and leading civil servants are specifically named, also involved is someone only referred to as “an Irish citizen”, who clearly played a significant role in getting Ireland on the inside track in this summer and autumn’s “one nation bidding war”, which resulted in publicly-stated demands from Grant Dalton of defenders New Zealand that Ireland should commit within six weeks.

Something very special….Grant Dalton with the America’s CupSomething very special….Grant Dalton with the America’s Cup 

Now with the protocol we see that the decision day for venue selection has been pushed way back to March 31st 2022, which suggests we’re getting into murky water. Or maybe it was rather murky water to begin with, for although most people in Irish sailing could make an educated guess as to who this “Irish citizen” is, it’s significant that Ireland’s largest newspaper stops short of naming the individual in question.

Yet there are alternative ways in which the transformation of Rushbrooke Dockyard could be funded without leaning unduly on the Irish taxpayer. For instance, there would be no better way of projecting the entrepreneurial image of Cork than a local movement to get it done through Munster funding.

Equally, the boundless resources of the might INEOS conglomerate are such that, in order to comply with the apparent need to have a non-British venue, they could simply take over the entire Rushbrook complex lock stock and barrel, re-develop it for multi-team America’s Cup use, and then after two or three stagings of the Cup (the number would probably be dependent on how well our quirky weather proves compatible with America’s Cup requirements), they sell up and move on.

Ripe for development…..the former Verolme Dockyard on Cork Harbour near Cobh.Ripe for development…..the former Verolme Dockyard on Cork Harbour near Cobh.

Whatever happens, it will all add to the special and sometimes scary America’s Cup mystique. That said, we can only hope that the good people living around Cork harbour appreciate that this is contemporary capitalism and consumerism at its reddest in tooth and claw.

Yesterday (Friday’s) American Scuttlebutt included this salutary quote, attributed to a local but un-named Facebook page:

Maybe nice guys can’t win the America’s Cup

Published on November 18th, 2021

It is hard to imagine Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history, an A-lister at social gatherings and elbow-rubber with royalty, losing the love of Great Britain. Good looking, well-spoken, and in hot pursuit to bring the America’s Cup home, he does seem to be losing traction at home.

A glimpse of Ainslie’s’ fiery side was seen at the 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships when he jumped out of his Finn and boarded a media boat to confront the crew before swimming back to his boat and sailing away. He was disqualified from the final races, and was nearly banned from the sport prior to the London 2012 Olympics.

After helping the USA win the 2013 America’s Cup, he launched a campaign for his country, embracing an environmental and educational platform in support of sponsors and the crown. However, it was a new team, and it made new team mistakes, failing to develop a boat capable of winning the 2017 America’s Cup.

Ainslie was ready to put the lessons to get use, but needed a bigger war chest. A chance meeting in Bermuda with Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the second richest British billionaire courtesy of his chemical company, launched a new partnership. The sailor exchanged his righteous sponsors for Ratcliffe’s INEOS, a company that’s no friend of the environment, in pursuit of the 2021 America’s Cup.

In 2015, Ainslie had set up his operations in Portsmouth, a port city on England’s south coast. The government had committed significant taxpayer money to assist the development of the team headquarters, relocating businesses to make space for the team’s buildings and facilities.

Thanks and good-bye – it’s “That Building” on the Portsmouth waterfront. Thanks and good-bye – it’s “That Building” on the Portsmouth waterfront. 

It was deemed “a fantastic investment” by politicians, but with the results from 2021 falling short again, Ainslie and Ratcliffe are upping the effort, and that has the locals in Portsmouth screaming foul as the team is leaving the city.

Ainslie’s INEOS Britannia is now based nearly 100 miles to the north in Brackley with Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 as Ratcliffe owns a third of the F1 team and is leveraging that asset to win the Auld Mug. However, the announcement of the move has solicited a strong reaction from a local media Facebook post about the team’s departure:

Leslie Harris: “I don’t think he ever intended to stay long, that building is an eyesore.”

Tina Pink: “Another waste of tax payer’s money, should be made to pay it back!”

Rob Watkins: “Hopefully he’s taking the monstrosity of a building away with him that’s destroyed residents views!”

Other readers have added what they think should be done with the building now it is no longer being used by the team.

Rob Emery: “Knock it down and erect buildings more in keeping with the area, or use it to house the Royal Marine and other maritime museums.”

Paul Henty: “He has used the city, so if he has left who does the building belong to and whose money built it? He should definitely not profit from it, if it reverts back to the council it should be used for youth club/outward bound groups.”

Paul Threadingham: “What a waste of money which could have been spent on other areas in Portsmouth for the people of Portsmouth, not a bunch of spoilt rich boys.”
No venue has yet been set for the America’s Cup and Sir Ben is now being forced to pay £110,000-a-year rent for The Camber after pulling the sailing team from the base in June this year.

The rent is now due as a clause in the contract brings to an end the rent-free period if the building is not being mainly used for the America’s Cup.

Published in W M Nixon
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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