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AC: Now the 2021 Cup gets real – our America's Cup primer, and first take on the just-issued AC7

AUCKLAND – On Friday, August 22, 1851, the Royal Yacht Squadron held a race clockwise around the Isle of Wight (off England's south coast) "Open to Yachts belonging to the Clubs of all nations." Only the USA's fledgling New York Yacht Club sent a yacht, named AMERICA, to compete against the British fleet of 13 yachts (the number is variously reported, given that some yachts entered but didn't start, or started but didn't finish). AMERICA was a radically different design from those of the RYS fleet. Despite a bad start – in those days yachts were anchored at the start – AMERICA proved, by coming from behind over the 53nm (98km) course, to be the fastest yacht in the prevailing conditions. AMERICA won by some eight minutes over second-place AURORA.

For their efforts AMERICA's owners, led by NYYC Commodore and charter member John Cox Stevens, were awarded the "R.Y.S. £100 Cup." The trophy was subsequently mistakenly engraved by the American syndicate as the "100 Guinea Cup" (a guinea is an old monetary unit of one pound and one shilling, now £1.05).

Today, though still engraved as the 100 Guinea Cup, the trophy is universally referred to as the "America's Cup," after the 1851 winning yacht, and is also known, affectionately, as the "Auld Mug."

In 1857 the sole surviving owner of the AMERICA, George L. Schuyler, donated the cup via a Deed of Gift to the NYYC on the condition, among others, that "it shall be preserved as a perpetual challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries." Thus was born the yacht racing event that, since the first defense in 1870, has, like the trophy, also been known as "The America's Cup."

The America's Cup is widely regarded as the oldest trophy in international sport and the pinnacle even in the sport of yacht racing. NYYC managed to defend the Cup against all comers through 24 defenses, until 1983 when the yacht AUSTRALIA II representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club of Western Australia defeated NYYC's 12-metre yacht LIBERTY skippered by Dennis Conner. NYYC's 132-year reign is thought to be the longest winning streak in international sports.

Since 1851 the Cup has been not only a yacht race, but a design and technology competition. This because Cup rules have never required the yachts to be identical or "one-design" as it is called in the sailing world. The Deed of Gift itself is, in part, a Class Rule but with few restrictions (e.g., calling for one-masted yachts not to exceed a waterline length of 90', or two-masted yachts not to exceed 110' feet). The Deed encourages the competitors to agree by mutual consent other rules to govern the event, and almost always such a "class rule" has been agreed that keeps the boats "like and similar" while allowing for some variance in design, engineering and construction.

Only twice – 1988 and 2010 – did the Defender and Challenger not agree to a detailed class rule, giving way to racing under the Deed's very few design restrictions with predictable results. In 1988 a small catamaran raced a large monohull; in 2010 a trimaran raced a catamaran. The design competition was interesting, but the racing, frankly, was not.

Fast forward to June of 2017 when racing was held under the "AC50" class rule that produced speedy, fragile, 50-foot foiling catamarans. While not identical, they were the most one-design of any AC class in the long and storied history of the Cup. Emirates Team New Zealand, representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, defeated the then holder of the Cup, Golden Gate Yacht Club and their team Oracle Team USA. Immediately after RNZYS won, they orchestrated a challenge (as has been the custom for decades) from the their friends at Italy's Circolo della Vela Sicilia and their representative team, Luna Rossa ("Red Moon" in Italiano), sponsored by Prada and led by Prada CEO and keen sailor Patrizio Bertelli.

Last September the Circolo della Vela Sicilia and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron issued the "Protocol Governing the 36th America's Cup." The Protocol is the document that details the "mutual consent" agreements between the two Clubs for conducting next event further to the basic framework of the Deed of Gift, which by law they cannot amend. (You can download a copy of the AC36 Protocol from our Dropbox here.)

For example, the Challenger of Record and Defender ("COR/D" in AC shorthand) cannot change the Deed's requirements that only foreign clubs may challenge for the Cup (i.e., only Clubs from countries other than the country of the club holding the Cup), and that it be a "match race" between only two yachts (as opposed to a fleet race) with "vessels propelled by sails only."

As above, COR/D can agree a detailed Class Rule. Such Class Rules have evolved from Cup to Cup as different Clubs have won it and negotiated agreements with their Challengers of Record. Sometimes the evolution in the Class Rule is more by way of revolution – when there is a wholesale change of the class, not just a refinement of the existing rule. Such is the case for the next Cup to be held in Auckland, New Zealand in 2021, the 36th defense of the Auld Mug – "AC36" in the shorthand of the Cup community.

Earlier today, the first draft ("v1.0") of the "AC75 Class Rule" for AC36 was issued by COR/D. You can download a PDF of it from our Dropbox here (easier than the Google Docs link supplied in today's press release). As COR/D promised in their preliminary announcement late last year, the yachts will be foiling monohulls unlike anything the sailing world has ever seen, let alone raced in the pinnacle event of our sport.

To understand the new Class Rule, perhaps it's best to begin watching this brief (1m52s) video news release issued today along with the new rule...

Our friend Richard Gladwell, New Zealand editor of, was among the first to get a read of the new rule and has posted a nice piece on it here. An excerpt with the key points, without the Kiwi cheerleading:

Highlights of the AC75 Class Rule include:

- Strict limitations on the number of components that can be built including hulls, masts, rudders, foils and sails, thus encouraging teams to do more R&D in simulation and subsequently less physical construction and testing

- Supplied foil arms and cant system to save design time and construction costs

- Supplied rigging

- One design mast tube

In addition, the ‘soft wing’ mainsail concept that has been developed for the AC75 Class Rule is expected to have a trickle down effect on sailing in the future.

The crew size is restricted to 11, without any quota specified for female sailors.The sailing crew must average 90kg with a maximum weight of 990kgs. There is provision for a "guest racer" who can weigh in at 100kg maximum.

The new [AC75 Class Rule] has extensive provisions about the specification of materials allowed to be used in the hull construction, which is an attempt to control costs of construction and eliminate the use of exotics materials and processes.

Overall hull length must be between 20.600 and 20.700 metres [67.6 feet, but with its bowsprit the LOA will be close to it's official "AC75" name –TFE]. Maximum draft (with the foil arm lowered to maximum cant angle) is 5.00metres [16.4 feet].

All control systems must be operated by the crew by either using a control surface or a control system. It is not permitted to receive "feedback" from a yacht state - ie a sensor or other control on the yacht.

Crews can only use hands as the primary "force input devices" [bikes/cyclors have been banned -TFE]

Foil Cant Systems may only be driven by battery power. Batteries will be supplied [as SAILING ILLUSTRATED reported months ago –TFE]

The hull will feature [water-tight] sections which the crew will not be allowed to enter.

Below are some screen grabs your Ed. thought our Dear Readers would find interesting when doing a cursory speed-read through the rule....

Does the new AC75 Class Rule create a foiling nightmare of a yacht (one our Dear Readers texted this morning, "The boat looks like a bad mechanical sex doll"), or is it the sexiest sailing machine ever? Somewhere in between? Time will tell; under the Protocol teams may splash the first of their two new AC75 yachts a year from now. In the meantime, we shall look forward to the reactions from yacht design experts such as our friends Ron Holland (CAN), Bruce Nelson (USA), and Brit Ward (USA), and to your comments as well.

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