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America’s Cup: Protocol released for 37th AC

Details announced for the 37th America’s Cup – no venue yet, but reduced crew numbers, 100 percent nationality rule – and cyclors could be making a comeback

America’s Cup Defender, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (Emirates Team New Zealand) and the Challenger of Record the Royal Yacht Squadron (INEOS Britannia) have today, Tuesday 16 November, released the Protocol for the next America’s Cup.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to where the 37th edition of the America’s Cup would be held, but this information (and a number of other specifics) is missing from the protocol.

Traditionally the Defender defends the trophy in their home country but wrangling over hosting costs and funding for the home team may potentially see Emirates Team New Zealand take their defence overseas.

It was widely rumoured ahead of this Protocol announcement that a venue was unlikely to be released so few will be surprised this has yet to be confirmed. However, there is now a timeline to that crucial information being shared, with 31 March, 2022 now the official date by which this will be announced.

The 31 March deadline is also when the date of the next America’s Cup will be made public.

Grant Dalton, Defender Emirates Team New Zealand’s CEO, admitted that the original deadline for a venue announcement of September 17, 2021 was “too ambitious, I’ll put my hands up there. But what it has done is focussed the mind.

“We haven’t got a venue as of today, but it’s certainly my major focus – especially now we have a Protocol.” Dalton pointed out the fact that his team is working 24-7 on the venue agreement, with a dual pronged approach led by New Zealand and Team Origin in the UK operating on opposing time zones.

In the Protocol announcement, Dalton said: “As we saw with AC36, after 170 years, as the oldest trophy in international sport, the America’s Cup maintains its unique position of balancing the traditions of the Deed of Gift while continuing to push the boundaries of innovation, technology and design in the boats, the event, the broadcast and the commercial aspects of the event.

Maintaining this balance is the ongoing challenge and responsibility of the Defender and Challenger of Record as we aim to progress into the 37th edition of the America’s Cup in the ever-changing environment and demands of global sports as well as a determination to drive sustainability through innovation via hydrogen technology for the marine sector which we both believe is reflected in this Protocol.”

INEOS Britannia CEO and Team Principal Sir Ben Ainslie said: “As Challenger of Record, INEOS Britannia has sought with the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, to make the next America’s Cup less expensive and more inclusive.

“The Protocol this time around will see reduced team operating costs without compromising any of the technical development which the Cup is so famous for. There is an opportunity for change, so for AC37 we will see the first Women’s America’s Cup Regatta and we also welcome back the Youth America’s Cup.”

AC75 retained

The AC75 from the last round of America’s Cup racing will be retained, though with a slightly modified ruleset. These changes should be small enough to allow for new challengers to buy an old generation AC75 and make it class legal.

Dalton explained, “It’s about building a fleet. If you want to encourage more teams, you have to create a fleet that people can buy to get going.”

In a nod to trying to get new teams signed up via this route – which would likely prove cheaper than starting from scratch – existing teams are not permitted to sail their AC75s’ before the 17th September 2022, however new Challengers entering AC37 that have purchased a second hand AC75 are permitted to sail their AC75 for 20 days from 17th June 2022.

Emirates Team New Zealand sailing their AC75 in the last America's Cup

Emirates Team New Zealand sailing their AC75 in the last America’s Cup

Significant changes for the AC75 include the reduction in crew from 11 to 8 sailors. “There’s a couple of benefits from that [crew reduction],” explained Ainslie, “obviously it reduces the weight of the boat. Together with some other changes, subtle changes to be made to the class rule, means I think we’re saving about a tonne of weight out of the boat, which coupled with the increase in wingspan, will drastically improve the light air performance, which I think we all agreed on the back of the last event, is important. 

“Also, it reduces the budget having less sailors,” Ainslie added. “I mean, there’s a limit until at what point you take more and more sailors off the boat. But that was something which actually was discussed with most of the teams, if not all of the teams from the last cycle, in quite a collaborative meeting not long after the last Cup.”

With fewer sailors the question of how to generate enough power whilst also maintaining full control will be top of each sailing team’s mind, and – love them or loathe them – the door is open for ‘cyclors’ or leg-powered grinding to return.

Dalton explained: “The rule is silent. You don’t have to go there, but I guess we will because we’ve got a bit of knowledge in that area too, but I just thought it was bloody cool and why not bring it back?  Or give teams the option to bring it back.”

Love it or loathe it, ‘cyclor power’ could be back for the next America’s Cup.

Although the New Zealand team innovated the original cyclor configuration, for INEOS Britannia this rule change could be a potential benefit.

“If you take the viewpoint that we’re going to go down the cyclor route, will you bring in athletes from other sports who potentially are better suited?,” Ainslie told Yachting World. “Cycling is an obvious link there. And we’re fortunate with the INEOS sports group and the Grenadiers that we’re partnered with arguably the world’s leading cycling team. So that will have an impact on the sailor selection, athlete selection and their training. 

“But it’s still going to require input to get these boats around the track. As in the last Cup, we saw close to pretty much all of the sailors having an input at one time or another with the manoeuvres of these boats. And I’d expect that to be similar again in this next cycle.”

Those crew must also be passport-holders for the country they represent, or have spent “548 days between (but excluding) 17 March 2018 and 18 March 2021” in that country.

Other innovations on the AC75 include a closed-loop system which is designed to reduce power loss. Winches, for example, have been replaced by hydraulics, so settings can be more accurately replicated without spilling power. Runners and the bowsprit have also been removed.

Second generation AC75s

Cost reductions

Other efforts to rein in costs include rules that:

  • Teams are only permitted to build one new AC75.
  • Limitations on the quantity of foils and components that can be built for the AC75’s.
  • The introduction of the multipurpose One Design AC40 class for a Youth America’s Cup, Women’s America’s Cup class which teams will be able to convert and use for testing, component development and Match Race training.
  • This AC40 class will then be converted back to the measured One Design AC40 class for use in the new America’s Cup Women’s Regatta and America’s Cup Youth events. These events have been developed to create new accelerated inclusive pathways into the America’s Cup for the growing global talent pool of female and youth sailors.
  • Further One design elements.
  • Supplied starting software.
  • The AC75 class of boat will be maintained for the next two events, and entering teams will be expected to subscribe to that agreement.
  • Whilst not a cost-saving exercise, teams are also required to develop hydrogen powered chase boats to reduce the event’s environmental impact.

Hydrogen powered America’s Cup chase boat in development in New Zealand

Drive to Survive on the water

Finally there had been a rumour that America’s Cup organisers where considering a behind the scenes show to accompany the racing – widely seen as a reaction to the success of Netflix’s Formula 1 behind the scenes show, Drive to Survive.

This concept is confirmed in the Protocol, though only loosely stating that: With a view to opening the doors and the continued drive to increase the global audience of the America’s Cup and the sport of sailing, a condition of entry to competitors is they agree to be part of a potential behind-the-scenes documentary series. The intention of this is to bring the secrecy, the drama and all the teams’ personalities into the limelight.

No more America’s Cup spying

The trade-off for this degree of openness is that reconnaissance – or spying – between teams will be banned. Instead there will transparent publication of data, open to both teams and fans, including details of which team is sailing with new foils, number of sailing days they have spent on the water, days lost to repairs etc

The approach has two aims – to reduce costs to the teams, and also to help grow the America’s Cup audience by feeding information to the public in the build up to competition. 

The big question will be whether the new Protocol – and the new open approach – overcomes the Defender’s traditional advantage? Speaking after the announcement, Ainslie said: 

“​​I wouldn’t say they [Emirates Team New Zeaalnd] have given up all the advantages of being the Defender, but they’ve certainly given up a few, and I think we’ve got to applaud that.”

37th America’s Cup timeline

Timeline for the 37th America’s Cup

​​2021
17th November 2021: AC37 Protocol and AC75 Class Rule V2 Published.
1st December 2021: Entries for Challengers Open.

2022
31st March 2022: Defender to announce Match Venue and approximate event dates.
17th June 2022: New competitors may sail Version 1 AC75’s for 20 sailing days.
31st July 2022: Entry Period Closes.
17th September 2022: Competitors may sail an AC75 Yacht.
30th November 2022: ACE to announce race schedule for the Match.
30th November 2022: ACE to announce racing area for CSS and Match.
31st December 2022: ACE to publish Brand Manual.

2023
31st May 2023: Final cut off for late Challenger entries.
30th June 2023: ACE to publish Youth and Women’s AC Agreement.
30th June 2023: COR/D to publish Match Conditions.
30th November 2023: COR/D to publish CSS Conditions.


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