Sky News (UK) is reporting that Sir Keith Mills the driving force, and longtime backer of Sir Ben Ainslie, is involved in the British arm of the Foiling 50 circuit being bankrolled by US software mogul, Larry Ellison.
It is reported that one of Sir Keith’s entities, Origin Sports Group will be a major player in the UK event which is tipped to be held in Portsmouth.
In the lead up to the 2013 and 2017 America’s Cup, the Golden Gate Yacht Club, through its marketing arm, America’s Cup Events Authority ran a series of America’s Cup World Series regattas using one design AC45 wingsailed catamarans. In the first Cup cycle, these were sailed by a variety of teams said to be keen on an America’s Cup entry.
In the 2016/2017 Series only teams which had entered the America’s Cup were permitted to compete. The events carried points into the Qualifier stage of the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda, where Oracle Team USA, the Defender competed against the five Challengers. The US team won that series by a single point and carried that bonus into the America’s Cup match which they lost to Emirates Team New Zealand winning only one of the nine races sailed.
It became very clear soon after the conclusion of the 35th America’s Cup that Emirates Team New Zealand and the Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa did not favour using the AC50 class again. That meant an end to the arrangements entered into by five of the Challengers for the 35th America’s Cup which agreed that they would use the AC50 for the 36th America’s Cup regardless of which if the five signatories won. Unfortunately for their aspirations, the team which won the America’s Cup was not a signatory to the so-called Framework Agreement.
Since then a project has been running to set up a circuit known as the Foiling 50’s using one design versions of the AC50’s which contested the last America’s Cup.
All of the venues for the week-long ACWS regattas attracted crowds usually numbering into six figures even though the racing was compressed into just 2-3 days of a long weekend.
It would seem that the Foiling 50 circuit will attempt to revisit those venues with a re-jigged event format in up-scaled boats, and pull the same fans who flocked to the ACWS events.
Long-time America’s Cup Challenger Selection Series sponsor Louis Vuitton is also tipped to be involved in the Foiling 50 circuit following the sponsorship of the CSS for the 36th America’s Cup Regatta by Italian fashion house and rival Prada.
The Foiling 50 circuit is said to be starting in Sydney, Australia in February before going to San Francisco and then onto Portsmouth, with European and maybe a Japanese component. Bermuda was also mentioned in the early days of the rumours surrounding the new circuit – which started a few weeks after the conclusion of the 35th America’s Cup.
Sky News says that the circuit will consist of events in five countries in 2019 going to ten events in 2020.
The makeup of the teams has not been disclosed with four of the helmsmen from the America’s Cup in Bermuda now moving to teams entered in the 2021 America’s Cup. That leaves just Nathan Outteridge (AUS) who sailed for Artemis Racing in Bermuda, and Franck Cammas of Groupama Team France who last month said in an interview that he was trying to garner support for another tilt at the America’s Cup.
Sky News says a launch event has been scheduled for a venue on the River Thames early next month. That announcement is expected to be echoed by the other venues.
Sir Keith Mills along with Sir Charles Dunstone were the foundation backers of the Sir Ben Ainslie skippered Land Rover BAR team which represented the Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd in the 35th America’s Cup. That exercise which had a budget in excess of UKP80million. Ainslie claimed the team had for sponsor commitment for the same amount at a media conference to mark their exit from the 35th America’s Cup. The British team were beaten by eventual Cup winners, Emirates Team New Zealand in the Semi-Finals of the Louis Vuitton Trophy.
In an unexpected move early in the 36th America’s Cup cycle, Ainslie put together a new sponsor group led by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the richest man in Britain, under the banner of his petrochemical enterprise INEOS. The new group bought out Ainslie’s former backers as part of a deal worth UKP110million, the biggest single sponsorship in sailing history. INEOS made an eye-watering profit of UKP7billion last year prompting Ratcliffe’s quip that “even INEOS would struggle to spend that amount”.
Eight old and new AC50’s are said to be under construction for the new circuit and are being built at the Larry Ellison owned Core Builders Composite facility in Warkworth about an hour’s drive north of Auckland. With little value as other than a museum-piece, five existing AC50’s could have been acquired for the new circuit.
The AC50s from the 2017 America’s Cup are being modified to become complete one-designs. With three new platforms being built. Each will also have two wingsails (which were one-design in shape, but not control system), plus new daggerboards.
Core Builders Composites fortuitously adopted the approach of building a full set of tooling for the AC50 program. They built complete boats and wingsails for Oracle Team USA and Softbank Team Japan as well as supplying a varying amount of componentry and tooling to all teams. That tooling will have saved a lot of time with the new building and modification program.
Core Builders Composites has one of the best composite engineering facilities in New Zealand, and internationally, and is said to have in excess of 100 people working on the eight boat project.
Once completed at the Core Builders Composites facility, the F-50’s are expected to be assembled and test sailed from Marsden Cove, near Whangarei about an hour’s drive north of Warkworth.
The fleet will be maintained by a central support team in the same way as the Volvo 65’s were supported and maintained over the course of the last two Volvo Ocean Races.
How the new circuit sits alongside the AC75 and America’s Cup World Series will also be watched with interest. Artemis Racing’s skipper Iain Percy (GBR) said during an interview at Hamilton Island Race Week that the former Swedish America’s Cup Challenger would be “sitting on the fence” for both the upcoming America’s Cup and Foiling 50 circuit.
Percy along with Ben Ainslie and 1983 America’s Cup winner Grant Simmer were all key members of the original Team Origin when it was formed after the 2007 America’s Cup. But it ceased campaigning in 2010 due to the 2012 Olympic commitments of Percy, Ainslie and Sir Keith. The prospect of having to go from the IACC class of which they had purchased a training boat from Alinghi, to the AC72 foiling catamaran was always going to be a stretch for the fledgeling team and its other commitments to a home Olympics.
Now Ainslie and Simmer are back together in INEOS Team UK. It would seem that likely that Team Origin will have a dual role – that of event organiser for the UK Foiling 50 event, and to compete as one of the teams on the Foiling 50 circuit. Whether Iain Percy hooks up again with Team Origin remains to be seen.
One of the Oracle Team USA afterguard is expected to skipper an Australian flagged team in the Foiling 50’s.
The makeup of the other teams is not apparent at this stage, however, one would be expected from Japan, and probably from those who can’t raise the wherewithal to mount an America’s Cup Challenge.
There are plenty of crews from the Youth America’s Cup events staged in Bermuda in 2017 and San Francisco in 2013. Equally, there are the GC32 and Extreme Sailing Series that can also be a talent source.
While the AC75 is expected to be faster than the AC50, it remains to be seen if the America’s Cup teams will release individual sailors to compete in what is likely to be considered to be an “ambush event” in the context of the 36th America’s Cup.
Yet to be explored is how the Foiling 50 event will sit alongside the America’s Cup which has ambitions to establish a similar regatta circuit – mainly in Europe – ahead of the 36th America’s Cup and to be sailed in the new AC75 foiling monohull class. The Protocol for the 36th America’s Cup provides for events to be sailed in 2019 and 2020, ahead of the Christmas Cup in which all teams will compete in Auckland in December 2020.
Part of the Protocol for the 36th America’s Cup, which has attracted three “Super Teams” as Challengers with two more expected, places limitations on teams participating in a so-called “Ambush Regatta”.
The Protocol effectively says that a Competitor must have the prior written approval of the Challenger of Record and Defender [Cor/D] before they participate in any “non-Event” regatta that is perceived or presented in any way “to be an ambush of any Event [America’s Cup or ACWS] or infringes the trademark rights” of the America’s Cup holders.
The chances of the Foiling 50’s being favourably sanctioned by CoR/D is unlikely after a media rights spat that has been ongoing since Bermuda.
All video from the 2013 and 2017 America’s Cup Regattas was removed a month after the conclusion of the 2017 America’s Cup – despite being shot on the pretext that it was for the benefits of future America’s Cup and the participating teams. The Protocol also provided that 90 days after the conclusion of the 35th America’s Cup, ACEA would hand over all rights and intellectual property to the new America’s Cup Trustee (Defender) which was to be held in trust for all future Trustees of the America’s Cup.
From content currently available, it appears that parties associated with the former holders of the America’s Cup and organisers of the new Foiling 50’s are yet to hand over still image libraries, video and Youtube content, and some 400,000 social media followers. Whether that is a bid to diminish following the America’s Cup or bolster the new Foiling 50 circuit will become clear over the coming months.
Also hung out to dry by ACEA are the sailing media who included official America’s video content in their reports and are now rewarded with big holes in their reports of the three America’s Cups.
While there has been plenty of boat building activity at Core Builders in Warkworth, construction of the first AC75’s is only just about to begin.
The first boats are expected to be sailing in April/May 2019. A second AC75 can be launched after February 15, 2020.
In the first physical milestone of the 36th America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand moves into its new base in the Viaduct Events Centre in three weeks, and the rest of the bases will be ready for occupation by other teams in 12 months time.