America's Cup Diary - December 2006

With just a few precious months before the beginning of the Louis Vuitton Cup, Alinghi and the 11 Challenger syndicates are in one of their most intense phases of preparation, launching new boats, doing endless speed tests and practice drills. Every team has the next few months mapped out in intricate detail, at least until the end of the Round Robin series at the beginning of May. At that point seven teams will be packing up and going home, mothballing their boats and equipment until the next time.

Ah yes, the next time. "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when..." was the opening refrain of a song that was popular in Britain during World War II, but it could just as well have been written for sailors in the America's Cup. It's one of the enduring fascinations - and frustrations - that no one knows where the next Cup is going to be until this Cup has been won and lost. Every other major sports event is mapped out many years in advance. For example by July 2005, we knew that London would be the host for the 2012 Olympics. The America's Cup retains that unique quality of bestowing the winner with the right to decide the venue and the timing of the next event. It makes no sense in the commercially driven environment of the modern sporting world, yet it is part of the Cup's ongoing appeal and mystique.

Right now the safest bet is still on Alinghi successfully defending the title but even then the venue for the next Cup remains in doubt. Alinghi have been tight lipped on the subject, and so rumours abound that it could either stay in Valencia, go elsewhere in Europe, or even go to Dubai. The latter rumour has been driven largely by the fact that this is where the Swiss team has based itself for the winter. The team says it is because the wind is so unreliable in Valencia during the colder months that the upheaval in shipping two yachts and associated equipment out to the Middle East is offset by the quality of training time that the sailors will enjoy now that they're there. When asked if Dubai will be the venue for the 33rd America's Cup (provided Alinghi wins, of course), the team has denied it, but that hasn't quashed the rumour mill. Valencia paid handsomely for the right to host the 32nd America's Cup, but Dubai's spending power could outpunch that of any city in Europe, or the USA for that matter.

As for what any of the other teams might do if they won, well only recently the Challengers held a meeting to discuss that very matter. BMW Oracle Racing has said it would favour holding a Cup very soon after this one, perhaps in 2009. Larry Ellison commented at a recent match racing regatta in San Francisco, the Allianz Cup, that he'd like to see the Cup "follow more closely what they do in Formula One [motor racing]. We'd have a regatta in Cup boats in San Francisco every year, one in Newport, one in Germany, one in Italy; regattas that people and sponsors could count on, to have some regularity." Certainly the Louis Vuitton Acts of the past three years have been a Swiss innovation that have been received with almost unanimous praise. It seems unthinkable that any future winner of the Cup would want to move away from the travelling roadshow concept.

The other big decision available to a winning team is what to do with the boats, to change or to stay as they are. Alinghi, which has also indicated that it would favour an early date in 2009 for the next Cup, has said that if it wins the ACC class will remain in place. Emirates Team New Zealand, on the other hand, has hinted that it wouldn't hold the next Cup until 2011, which begs the question why such a gap between events? Perhaps the Kiwis would prefer to launch a new type of yacht for the America's Cup. With sail numbers in the ACC class rapidly approaching the 100-mark (the latest sail number allocation was ITA-99 for Mascalzone Latino), that would be an awful lot of hardware consigned to the dustbin of history. On the other hand the ACC boats are beginning to look long in the tooth compared with the latest swing-keeled Maxi yachts. As ever, difficult decisions ahead for the future winner, whoever that may be.