Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From Freo - Iain Murray Updates on America's Cup

America’s Cup Race Management CEO and Race Director Iain Murray can’t seem to get enough of international yacht racing, it seems. He’s racing in the Star class at the 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championship in Perth but took time out early on Day 5 of the World Championship to fill us in on some on some of the events that have transpired in the America’s Cup since San Diego a few weeks back. He's realistic about his chances this week...and going forward.

“It’s nice to come against a lot of the old foes - get the Star out and dust it off. I’ve done absolutely no training so there’s no real expectations but nice to go for a sail here in Fremantle where I lived for three years.”

Commenting on how he perceived the third World Series event recently held in San Diego, Murray said his major concern going into San Diego was going to be the light breezes and holding the races on time given the early sunset that they wouldn’t run over time. But, fortunately that situation didn’t transpire.

“We probably had better breeze than we anticipated - for a number of days the breeze came out of the south and was actually quite strong - we had 16 knots of wind on the final day with two speed trials and set a new speed trial record for ourselves of 26.9 knots over 500 meters which is something I don’t think we would have ever expected to do.”

Numbers were disappointing especially on the final Sunday, with a count of 9-10,000, according to Murray, compared to some 17,000 the previous Sunday, probably attributable to the crappy weather for a good part of the week.

He pointed out how noticeably stronger the competition was, particularly with Energy Team (FRA), who did well in all their racing and Aleph (FRA), with different, younger guys on board were also very strong.

“It was noticeable when teams like NZ were recalled. Keep in mind the recall procedure in San Diego was tiny compared to what it had been where you did have to completely return to the start and go back, effectively putting you out of the race. In Cascais, NZ did that and still went on to win a race.

Now, by taking just a small penalty to go to the back of the fleet, by the first mark NZ struggled to sail through to 4th or 5th place. We saw that with a number of teams - they really struggled to get through the fleet - the way people sail their boats and the level of competition has really come up between those who’ve had time on their boats.”

Murray used Darren Bundock (Oracle Racing) sailing Russell’s boat for the first time as an example, “When he got his nose in front and could sail the boat the way that he wanted to which was to typically a bit lower and faster, he sailed away from the fleet but when he got behind he sailed backwards through the fleet - indicative of him not having to the time that others have had in the boats.”

But, what we all really want to know, with the recent resignation of America’s Cup Event Authority CEO Craig Thompson, has the Event Authority imploded, or if not, what the heck is going on?

“What’s happened is that we’ve become more efficient and understand what it is we actually need at these events, how we deliver and spend less money. There’s probably been a duplicity of resources in the logistics of what we do and it’s been decided that we probably have some spare capacity and therefore rather than have effectively two event teams, we’ll have one. There’s just been a change in direction," Murray explained.

ACRM’s role will expand to include more event logistics such as the layout of the Club 45 and any of the other hospitality pieces, while Event Authority has been rekindled “to get their head around the commercial matters of ACTV, the America’s Cup, sponsors and WS events,” Murray said.

There’s no update on who the new challengers will be but Murray said there’ll definitely be more teams/boats at the next event in Naples, with 15 AC45s now having been spoken for. Artemis have got themselves a second boat which they will be happy to use for training.

The outstanding protest by Artemis and Oracle Racing regarding the (brilliant) partnership between NZ/Luna Rossa is still unresolved although the jury has sought submissions, which have been made to the jury. Murray expects a response sometime in the next few weeks.

Dates for the ACWS events in San Francisco in 2012 are August 11-19, and August 27-Sept 2. It was disappointing to learn that the teams will be based miles away down at Pier 80, currently home to Oracle Racing, as the team bases are clearly a huge draw for spectators and a big part of the thrill of the event.

“It was hoped to have the teams at Piers 30-32 but there’s no way that work will be done. We will try to keep the boats in the water down by the Marina Green, and for the teams to have a presence in the Marina Green area.”

The racecourse will be right off St Francis Yacht Club and the Golden Gate Yacht Club. “We’ll have a cross-the-wind start that will put the first mark square in the middle of the St Francis and the GGYC. We will try to finish races close to the shore near the mouth of where you come into the marina by the GGYC.”

The CEQA documents call for the event village to be at the Marina Green and area adjoining the two clubs where there’ll be hospitality. All of those documents are detailed in the CEQA master plan expected to be approved before Xmas.

Murray did not have news on details concerning the proposed Youth America’s Cup other than it’s high on the priority list and that there’s been a lot of discussion on the subject.

“We want to hold it in 2013 and we're trying to hold it in 2012 in the 45s in SF between the other events but it’s not for sure. We need the buy in of all the teams and the use of the 45s. Logistically there’re also plenty of other associated issues,” Murray said.

The wing sail extension (not a permanent fixture but to be used in the light breezes expected in Naples and Venice) is in production and Murray’s hoping that Emirates Team NZ will be able to do some trialing with it soon.

“If the boats can power up out of tacks and jibes and fly hulls, the TV pictures are happier and the crews are certainly happier. There’ll hopefully be a simple and efficient way to bolt onto the existing rig without making any major structural changes or having to take any TV equipment off. We’re also working on a few other modifications while we’ve got things apart up there like how the wind trolleys mount on the front of the mast.”

Overall, the big part of Murray’s equation that still needs solving is reducing the cost of the World Series events. “We’re aiming for a balanced budget in Naples,” Murray said. “Commercially that hasn’t been the case to date, there’s been changes made and going forward we’ll be doing our very best to be as efficient as we can.”

While some staff have been let go between events, Murray expects core numbers wont be significantly different to what they have been come Naples in April. Other areas where efficiencies will be improved will be the number and mix of boats on the water. ACRM tried out its first new course boat in San Diego and expect to have five of those in Naples, which will change the look of the course with fewer boats.

Stay tuned.

Pic: Iain Murray, by Gilles Martin Raget, America's Cup

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