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AC36: ETNZ confirm high performance monohull for the next Cup; happy days are here again?

AUCKLAND – Emirates Team New Zealand, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's representative team for AC35 and, apparently, AC36, wasted no time emailing a brief statement to journalists today after an article appeared in Italy's La Stampa newspaper Monday morning in which Patrizio Bertelli (ITA), CEO of Prada – the company and the team representing the AC36 Challenger of Record, Circolo Nautico della Sicilia – spilled the beans that AC36 would be raced in monohulls.

The La Stampa headline was, "Bertelli: "America Cup, no more catamarans, back to monohulls" (in the original Italian, "Bertelli: 'Coppa America, niente più catamarani, si torna ai monoscafi'").

The hastily-released ETNZ statement, issued Monday evening NZT, was indeed brief and does not yet appear on either of the RNZYS or ETNZ websites. The full text:

Emirates Team New Zealand can confirm Patrizio Bertelli's suggestion today that the next America's Cup will be sailed in high performance monohull yachts. Currently there are a team of designers, lead by Emirates Team New Zealand Design Coordinator Dan Bernasconi working on various exciting monohull concepts which will eventually help shape the AC36 Class Rule. Emirates Team New Zealand have been consulting with a number of potential challengers and there is an overall desire to have a spectacular monohull yacht that will be exciting to match race, but also one that the public and sailors can relate to as a sail boat that really challenges a full crew of professional yachtsman around the race track. Further details of the Protocol for the 36th America's Cup will be announced at the end of the month.

As a wordsmith, you gotta admire the use of the "suggestion" in the opening sentence. No doubt there were more than a few ruffled Kiwi feathers in the ETNZ camp after Mr Bertelli let the, er, cat out of the bag – or, in this case, put it back in.

The La Stampa article was a brief interview with Bertelli at the prestigious Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Sardinia during the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup that ended yesterday. The full text below (Google translation from the original Italian) is revealing because it also confirms that there will be a strong nationality rule (as we reported months ago here on Sailing Illustrated), and there could be multiple challengers per country, including more than one from Italy:

So, will we still see the flying catamarans?

"No, you're back to monohulls."

Really? Has the agreement reached with the New Zealanders?

"It was the condition for us with Luna Rossa to help them with men and means in the last edition."

When did the announcement of the Protocol (the new rules)?

"At the end of the month".

It's a turning point for many, returning to monohulls.

"They will be very powerful boats, but technical details, for example with foils (the boards that raise them from the water) or the canting keels, we will see later."

Will you also come back to a challenge among nations, with the requirement of the passport for men and women, as it was in the past?

"Yes, there will be limitations on nationality."

What do we do in Costa Smeralda? Are you fund-raising for a campaign?

"Well, yes".

Will there be pre-America Cup events in Italy too?

"There will be preliminary races also in Italy, yes."

Rules of nationality apart, Luna Rossa will be a team of Italians?

"Here in Porto Cervo have been racing in these last days the maxi yachts (in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup). How many Italian sailors are on these boats? Few. And most of all, I'm fifty years old today who grew up with Luna Rossa, which I launched. Here, my future goal is to raise young Italian talents. "

A nice challenge.

"We'll have to roll up our sleeves. Also because I think we will not be the only team with the tricolor on the stern."

The interview also appears to confirm what SI also reported months ago – that in return for backing Emirates Team New Zealand with men and matériel against their shared nemesis, Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA, not only would CNDS/Prada be challenger of record, but AC36 would be raced in monohulls. We hear that the total support from Mr Bertelli for ETNZ was in the neighborhood of US$25 million in the way of a loan that would have to be paid back to Mr. Bertelli if AC36 were not raced in monohulls.

Your Ed. has informally surveyed the AC35 challengers and prospective AC36 challengers, and I concur with the Kiwi statement when it says, "...there is an overall desire to have a spectacular monohull yacht that will be exciting to match race, but also one that the public and sailors can relate to as a sail boat that really challenges a full crew of professional yachtsman around the race track."

Only the remaining AC35 teams – Artemis (SWE) and Land Rover BAR (GBR) – were keen to continue with AC50-style foiling mulithulls. Virtually all potentially new challengers, including one from Australia and three from the USA, wanted a monohull. We say "remaining AC35 teams" because by all appearances the teams backed by Larry Ellison (USA) in part (Groupama Team France and SoftBank Team Japan) or in whole (Oracle Team USA) will not likely challenge for AC36 – at least not in their current corporate configurations.

Obviously Artemis and Landrover BAR had a vested interest – intellectual property and physical assets – in continuing with foiling multihulls and wing-sails. But their extensive resources and smarts will allow them to make the transition back to monohulls and stay in the game, perhaps with success. In particular, never count out Ben Ainslie.

One question the foregoing begs is could the monohull have a wing-sail? In your Ed.'s view not likely for any number of technical and practical reasons. But it is possible. Another question is whether the the hulls will be one-design a la the Volvo Ocean Race, and perhaps built in the same (New Zealand) facility as a cost cutting measure? This we think is much more likely than a wing-sail.

And to those counting out Mr Ellison out for AC36, this is never wise. He could decide to enter AC36 at the proverbial drop of a hat, or not. Until any prospective team reads and digests the final AC36 Protocol (the ground rules governing the next edition of the Cup agreed between the Defender and Challenger of Record, promised now by both ETNZ and Prada at the end of September) they cannot make a firm decision on moving forward.

Regardless, as far as all of us at Sailing Illustrated are concerned, this is all very good news for the Cup, and the sport of yacht racing. With only four teams for AC34 in San Francisco (AC-72 catamarans) and six in Bermuda (AC-50 catamarans, three of which were backed by Mr Ellison so one could argue there were only four independent teams in Bermuda), the Cup was a shadow of its former recent self – there were 10 or more teams during the Cups held in monohulls in 1983, 1992, 1995, 2000, 2003, 2007, and fully 17 teams (four defenders and 13 challengers) at Perth in 1987.

The confirmation by Mr Bertelli of a strong nationality rule, again as we long ago reported on Sailing Illustrated, is welcome news to many, including your Ed. It will bring renewed interest to the oldest trophy in international sports from the general public, media, and hence sponsors, which in turn will attract more teams and nations to 36th edition at Auckland in 2021 – we say 10 at a minimum teams.

My first cut at a list of AC36 challengers: AUS, ESP, FRA, GBR, ITA (2), USA (3) and SUI. Plus NZL as the defender. Total of 11 teams. Other possibles: CAN, CHN, DEN, GER, JPN, RUS, and even a second team from AUS.

As to the actual yacht, we suspect it will look less like an IMOCA 60 foiling monohull and more like a TP52 or Pac52 on steroids, at perhaps 62' LOA, as suggested by the esteemed naval architect Bruce Nelson on our Facebook Live show last Tuesday. Regardless, as Sail-World's Richard Gladwell reported earlier today, "The move to monohulls has obsoleted the fleet of six AC50 wing-sailed catamarans which had had a racing life of just five months. Also jettisoned is a fleet of around 15 AC45S – test platforms – with some teams building up to four of the catamarans said to cost around $5million each."

Mr Gladwell will be my special guest on tomorrow's SI Facebook Live show "Tuesdays with TFE," live via Skype from Auckland. Of course we will discuss and debate this AC36 news and much more.

Patrizio Bertelli (ITA), team principal of Luna Rossa, Agostino Randazzo (ITA), president of the Yacht Club Sicilia; and Steve Mair (NZL), Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron commodore after Emirates Team New Zealand beat Oracle Team USA to win the 35th America's Cup at Bermuda in June. Photo: Getty Images.

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