The Cup in 2021 will return to monohulls, the boats with deep keels that were part of every America’s Cup from 1851 to 2007 and are still the main ride for the Sunday sailor.
The next Cup also will re-emphasize the idea of national teams by instituting new requirements, although not to the degree expected. Above all, the rules for 2021 will re-establish the clear distinction between the defender of the oldest major trophy in global sports and its challengers.
“This is an important principle,” said Grant Dalton, the fiery chief executive of Team New Zealand. “Because it is, after all, the challengers’ job to gang together to try to beat the defender.”
Those lines were getting blurred in the Ellison era. In Bermuda, Oracle became the first defender to sail in the challenger series — and even earned a point that it carried into the America’s Cup match itself. It also trained regularly with the challengers and shared a design package with a Japanese team. The Cup was starting to feel more like a league.
Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa, the Italian challenger of record headed by Patrizio Bertelli, have long been chummy. But Dalton prefers the old defender-challenger divide. So does Bertelli, the silver-haired chief executive of Prada Group who, at 71, has been chasing the Cup without success with his deep pockets far longer than Ellison chased it with his.
Bertelli withdrew Luna Rossa in anger from the last Cup before it began because of a late class-rule change that reduced the size of the catamarans.
“It’s almost a duopoly really, isn’t it, with Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa?” Ben Ainslie, the skipper and team principal of the British challenger Land Rover BAR, said in a telephone interview on Friday.
The new rules even authorize two-boat programs again.
Back to the future? Not entirely. There is a new conflict of interest with Prada becoming the title sponsor for the entire regatta, replacing Louis Vuitton. There is also the matter of the boats.
Dalton is well aware that Ellison and Russell Coutts, his chief adviser and former skipper, were on to something when they chose new-age catamarans that made the sport faster and edgier and forced the crews to become younger and fitter.
It was, lest we forget, the Kiwis who found a way, counter to the intent of the rules, to make those catamarans hydrofoil for the 2013 Cup in San Francisco. That regatta helped spark a foiling craze in sailing that hit new heights in Bermuda, where the catamarans sometimes completed the entire race without touching hull to water.
The competition was spectacular and at times destructive, with Team New Zealand capsizing in high winds during the challenger series and having to work round-the-clock to repair the damage.
Monohulls, which are typically slower and considerably more water bound, will be viewed in many quarters as retrograde. But Bertelli likes the tactics and grandeur of monohulls, and sailing conditions in the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland, the likely site for this Cup, were considered less than ideal for foiling catamarans.
Still, Dalton insisted the new monohull class for 2021 would be captivating in its own right, and not just because the yachts will be big (and expensive) at 75 feet.
“The designers of Emirates Team New Zealand frankly have pushed technology farther than anybody ever believed it would ever be pushed in yachting in the last eight years,” Dalton told The New Zealand Herald. “So now you turn those guns on a monohull, and you wait and see, because I know what is going on, and it’s exciting.
“I’ve got to assure everybody. Trust us. Wait for this boat. You are going to like it.”
Races will be longer than they were in Bermuda — closer to 40 minutes than 20 — with longer prestart sequences and traditional upwind starts.
Ainslie, a former Olympic sailor who was pushing for catamarans, sounded more enthusiastic than resigned about the changes.
“Reading between the lines, I think the boat will end up being really a high-performance monohull and so will lend itself to the younger, extremely fit sailors coming through,” he said. “The fact the crew size is going to go up from six to somewhere between 10 and 12 also gives more opportunities for youngsters to get a shot at it.”
Ainslie said he anticipated a boat that would be able to hydrofoil in certain conditions, much like the new-age Open 60s, which that were used by some sailors in the last Vendée Globe round-the-world race.
“Those boats don’t go to windward very well and are not that maneuverable, so my guess is that these would be a high-performance version of that and would be narrower,” Ainslie said. “They obviously would be more powerful and dynamic because they’ll have more crew to trim the sails and work the boat.”
Details remain elusive because Team New Zealand does not plan to announce the full specifications for the race until March 31.
Ainslie said the six-month gap would give Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa a head start in the crucial design process, since both teams will know what is coming before the opposition.
“I think most people can see that’s a huge competitive advantage,” Ainslie said. “But that’s the trade-off. Those guys won it fair and square. It’s their right to set the rules as they see fit.”
And how many teams will there be? Team New Zealand, which has yet to confirm Auckland as the site because of questions about infrastructure, is planning for seven challengers. That could be optimistic given the cost of a two-boat program and the challenges of new residency rules, which require 20 percent of the crew to hold passports of the nation they represent but mandate that the other crew members must reside in that country for 380 days between Sept. 1, 2018 and Sept. 1, 2020.
Ellison has not stated his intentions, but Coutts has said he does not expect Oracle to take part. The New York Yacht Club, which held the Cup from 1857 to 1983, and other potential American syndicates are exploring their options. So are groups from Australia, France and Germany. Second teams from Italy and Britain are possibilities, but for now the only confirmed syndicates are Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa and Land Rover BAR.
“Talking and entering are two different things,” Dalton said. “It’s a big boys’ game.”