Stand By to Stand By...

So you take a few days off, get out on the water, get some fresh air and come back to find… New boats?! Ninety footers…!!

It’s all change in the America’s Cup world, and coming after what’s probably been the best sailing Match we’ve ever seen, you’ve gotta wonder about the motives of those doing the changing. But it’s easy to be cynical, and we should remember that this is being brought to us by the same people that introduced a lot of the elements that made the 32nd Match so extraordinary – notably the preliminary Acts and reducing the design ‘box’ that the Cup yachts had to be built in.

So I think we should hold off making snap decisions about motivations here, until we know a little bit more about what’s going on...

And there is plenty of uncertainty. Alinghi claimed at the Protocol's press conference that these bigger boats were a late idea. And if you read the relevant para 14.1 in the Protocol, which deals with the new boats, there's a grammatical error that you’d think they’d have spotted if they had read it more than a couple of times - The new ACC Rules may provide for yachts having a maximum length overall of ninety feet in length overall… Unless they put that second length overall in there to make us all think it was a late addition...

Conspiracy theories again.

But notice also the words - may provide for yachts… Another example of the uncertainty.

The lack of a date and venue is particularly irritating to those people with lives in Valencia, who don’t know whether to shut them down and go home, or not. But that seems to apply just as much to the Alinghi crew, and the big decision is really Valencia or somewhere else, and we should know the answer to that one pretty soon…

Here's some more - how, exactly, might the Defender be going to participate in the Challenger semi-finals, now allowed for by the Protocol? By taking the place of one of the Challengers? By turning it into a five boat round robin? But given that there is also a provision for Defender trials in the Protocol, perhaps it’s a little early to get too exercised about this one.

(Taking a bit of a diversion - I wonder if any of the European teams have thought about proposing to race Alinghi in Defender trials, in exchange for a healthy percentage of the Defender's event profits, whilst ceding the right to run the next Defence? Given that the Challengers share 45% of the event profit between 11 of them, and the Defender gets 45% all to themselves, it would be a lower risk strategy for a new-ish team. They can't take the big prize home, but they won't need to raise as much money either.)

And while Alinghi could have a headstart in the design process because they are generating the new rule for the boats, they could also choose to negate some of this advantage - by ensuring that the measurement committee (who will ultimately be called upon to adjudicate the rule) are involved from the beginning, and that someone issues progress reports.

Alinghi can play this two ways - they drive a bus through the holes they've left in the Protocol to give themselves an undeniable advantage. Or they don't. The problem is that we won't know which way it's going to go until they start issuing the rest of the rules, and appointing the bodies that will oversee them. And by then, it may well be too late to level the playing field back up...

As to whether the whole new boat thing is good or bad, I jotted down some pros and cons for the three prospective viewpoints:



Alinghi gave every indication of believing they had (and actually had) a design and technical edge in the four or five years prior to the 2007 Cup match. But in the end, that edge wasn’t enough to stop it turning into a full-blooded yacht race, giving the sailors more influence than usual over the result. Moving the Cup into new boats ought to allow Alinghi every opportunity to properly use their perceived technical advantage and produce a significantly quicker boat to this new rule.

If Alinghi write the rule, they will have a headstart in designing a boat for it.


The next Cup is a series of 5-0 bore-fests and all the interest generated so far dissipates, leaving them with a seething throng of angry sponsors and media rights holders…



A new class means a brand new opportunity to come up with something inspired. The only way to win in the old boats was to out-Alinghi Alinghi – in other words, endless navel-gazing refinement of arcane detail. Some people find it hard to get excited about this stuff. I can’t imagine why. The new boat will make it a lot easier to raise enthusiasm amongst designers, and will create opportunities to build a wonder boat.


Alinghi will almost certainly have a headstart in the design process.

If you didn’t race in 2007, you are faced with the problem of competing in a qualifying series conducted in Version 5 ACC boats, while not being allowed to build a new one. All of a sudden, competitive second hand boats may be at something of a premium.

The new boats will cost more. Alinghi have suggested that teams might subsequently be restricted to one new boat for this campaign (but there’s nothing in the Protocol to that effect), and they’ve also raised the possibility that there will be restrictions on training and testing. If they push ahead with either of these rules, they may be able to negate some of the additional costs imposed by the bigger boats. But much of Alinghi’s technical advantage seems to have stemmed from their ability to refine design ideas in an iterative loop between on the water testing and their tank and software predictions – why give that up? In which case, the sailing teams will have to jump from around 36-40 people to 44-50 sailors to run a two boat programme – in salaries, accommodation and other personnel overheads that’s a fair chunk of change, before we even get started on the cost of the boats, sails and gear.



Bigger boats will look cooler and more exciting - the proposed length of 90 feet will make them a visual match for most of the modern canting keel supermaxis, and that’s important. It’s the America’s Cup – the boats have to look the part.

More powerful, lighter boats will be able to race in less windspeed - so there's not so much chance of waiting around for a week to get enough breeze to go sailing.

Faster boats means they will be more responsive to wind speed changes, and that ought to allow for more rapid gains and losses, and that ought to mean more passing – but see the cons…


The actual speed of the boats matters little to spectators – sailboats just don’t look quick when viewed from a distance or on television, unless it’s blowing like hell in huge waves.

What matters is relative speed – and although the design tools have been much refined since Il Moro built five boats to the first iteration of the IACC rule, we’re still going to see some serious differences in boat speed. The next Cup match will almost certainly be a return to the bad old days of 5-0.

Faster boats means the apparent wind will be further forward downwind, and that means the wind shadow will go further aft. It will make it much harder to use the wind shadow to attack from behind downwind, and will likely lead to less passes.


Did I miss anything? It feels like there’s good and bad for everyone involved - no surprise that Alinghi have the smallest downside, in the short term, at least. The bottom line is that at some point, the weight of the desire amongst designers and sailors to change the boats had to be satisfied. A few weeks back, Alinghi's head designer, Rolf Vrolijk, gave an interview to Seahorse magazine to the effect that the current rule was finished. So if it's not for this Cup, it's the next, or the one after that. The only question remains: is this the right time? If Alinghi do a good job, then it can be so - but I’d rather answer the question in five years time…

Mark Chisnell ©