Iain Murray, an Australian former pro sailor, has been spending a lot of time in San Francisco lately, keenly aware that he’s got a full plate over the next few years as the America’s Cup and its entourage roll into town. As Regatta Director and CEO for America’s Cup Race Management (ACRM), the logistics arm of the world’s largest sailing event, Murray is undoubtedly the man for the job.
His resume is awe-inspiring; suffice to say in recognition for his achievements and meritorious service to sport and community, the 52-year old was presented in 1992 the Order of Australia, AM, an order of chivalry established by Queen Elizabeth II.
With an illustrious sailing career and great success as a real estate developer and businessman under his belt, the prospect of what lays ahead for Murray in the America’s Cup 34 is both overwhelming and thrilling. “It’s exciting but there’s a lot to do so it’s a little daunting at this stage - there’s a lot of process in this thing and we’re right at the beginning,” Murray said.
He’s not losing anytime getting to business for ACRM. Shortly after San Francisco was announced on December 31 as the venue for the 34th America’s Cup, he met with City Hall and the Port of San Francisco to start planning some of the next steps forward. “We’ve got an agreement in place and now we’re getting down to the working part of what we need,” Murray said. “We’re meeting with architects, engineers, the Port, starting the CEQA environmental process – all to find out how we’re going to plan the structure and layout of this event.”
Working together with America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA), the commercial arm of the America’s Cup, ACRM is charged with multiple responsibilities: for putting on the races, controlling the rules, providing the power boats, the staff, the judges, administering the races and communicating with all the athletes or the teams. Additionally, for the first time in an America’s Cup event, ACRM will manage the World Series (a new precursor event to the Cup) and as part of that, all of the logistics from breaking down and shipping the AC45s, the catamarans that will be raced during the World Series, to building the event villages at each location along the World Series tour. “We pull them down, we move it all,” Murray said.
A huge element of putting on a sailing event of this magnitude is the volunteer effort that will be required to simply get the show off the ground. Murray’s team will be reaching out to Bay Area Yacht Clubs for their assistance. “Those relationships will develop, probably through the Principal Race Officer (PRO) who will be out there with his team to attract the necessary people,” Murray said. “We very much want to source locally if we can and I am sure there will be an involvement of all the clubs around the Bay.”
Much of the role of interaction with local clubs will be the responsibility of the PRO, who with his team will also take charge of starting the permitting process. Said Murray, “We’ll have a core team then there’ll be similar teams in the different locations for the World Series with supplementary people, some being professional and some being volunteer. They’ll also have to manage approvals and permitting in their venue.” Additionally, there’s a rules division where there’ll be a need for umpire boats, umpire staffing and judges.
Sailors are clearly curious about the racecourse, especially with the traffic challenges on San Francisco Bay. According to Murray, the course is essentially going to be from the top of Treasure Island, probably a mile west of the bridge to the shore, back to Treasure Island, or back to Angel Island. “It’s going to be in that body of water, “ he confirmed. Discussions about the course are taken up regularly with representatives from the challenging teams in the competitors’ forum, he added. Regardless, it’s all going to happen in the city front, and effectively there’ll be just one course. Murray said, “If we’re running match races, we may have a race at 11am, noon, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm and so on, but because of the television requirements, the equipment, the boundaries and so on, we really just want to use one course area. It’ll be a lot more specialized than it has been in the past. And the wind is a lot more reliable right there too.”
Regardless, the target time to get the boats around the course in the World Series events at least is 45 minutes, a time that is basically television driven - it could be that the America’s Cup is a longer race but it could also be a 45-minute race. Murray says it’s too early to tell.
Fleet racing will dominate the World Series events, and according to Murray, it’s possible that some of the challenger selection series will also be fleet racing, but he assures that THE match is match racing. “There is a desire I think by a lot of people to have fleet racing, more than match,” he said. “This will be ironed out in the competitor’s forums. We’ve got to get near the end of the entry period and see how many competitors we have first. We have six today.”
Entries are slowly coming on board, although key teams like Emirates Team New Zealand have been dragging their feet. Murray thinks there’ll easily be ten teams. “Even with our six signed on who will be in the World Series, which is great, it’s still a step up from that from the 45s to the 72s in the America’s Cup – that’s a big jump. The fact that they’ve entered is no guarantee that they’ll get there. But it is all good, especially compared to AC32 where there weren’t many early entries, this is surprisingly good. The majority of the teams we’ve got are strong.”
Essentially the decision comes down to Murray as to how the umpiring will be run. While it’s not yet been announced, a manager of the umpiring process has been appointed, apparently a world champion sailor from California. The jury has been selected and sorted out through ISAF who’ve been charged with a lot of the responsibility that’s probably taken place in the courts in the past and very much wont be in the future, said Murray. “The jury and umpiring of how this is done will be quite different to what’s been done in the past. As fast as these boats are going to go, it’s not really possible to chase them around in 30-35 knots – you’re just going to kill people.”
As has been well publicized, this event is going to see plenty of electronics, television and, says Murray, military grade GPS involved in the umpiring of the boats, with trials having gone on in that equipment for some time.
Murray is clearly turned on by what the television prospects are going to be for AC34, or at least the vision. “The technology that we’re talking about is technology that’s come from this country – Stan Honey, Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, has taken his race-car technology to new levels. Trials are indicating that it’s going to be good. It’s all about putting the vision out there to the masses, enhancing the television.”
The vision, according to Murray, is to make the races short and sharp with strong competition and close races, lots of opportunities, and young athletic crews.
“They’re going to have to be real athletes to sail these boats – prevailing in the end to teams to be the ultimate winners in close races, and all of that brought to people on high quality TV with the latest technology, tight shots, tracking the boats, showing who is in front – sailing’s a difficult sport to capture and understand. So we’re doing a lot of things – we’re writing America’s Cup specific rules – within ISAF we have our own rules for racing these boats. All of that stuff is happening right now.”
Regardless of what it’ll look like on TV, the views shore-side will be thrilling. Murray said, “These boats are just going to burn up the race course. They’re going to be forced to do multiple laps. If you consider that they’re going to go about three miles, effectively from the Golden Gate bridge down to the other side of Alcatraz, in only six minutes, get your head around that because that’s what they’re going to do.”