Could Australia return to the America’s Cup?
On 26 September 1983 Australia II completed what was then one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history, winning the America’s Cup from 3-1 behind.
It was the first successful America’s Cup challenge in 132 years.
30 years on, Oracle Team USA, skippered by Australian James Spithill, completed another remarkable comeback from 8-1 behind to successfully retain the cup from the challenger, Emirates Team NZ.
On the same day Bob and Sandy Oatley, owner of multiple Sydney to Hobart winner ‘Wild Oats XI’, submitted the paperwork on behalf of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club to the Golden Gate Yacht Club to become the ‘Official Challenger of Record’ to Oracle Team USA for the 35th running of the event, which is most likely to occur in 2016.
Australia has not had a challenger in the America’s Cup since 2000, when Syd Fischer led the unsuccessful Young Australia syndicate, coincidentally skippered by a young James Spithill.
So why make a challenge now? Simply put, the Oatleys love sailing and in particular high performance sailing.
And, as Sandy Oatley himself stated recently, with Australia’s success at the 2012 London Olympic Regatta and the number of Australian sailors on both participating yachts in the recent event, the timing is just about right.
It will however, be an expensive exercise. It is estimated that Team NZ spent between 80 and 85 million US dollars in their challenge.
If you think the Sydney-Hobart is a race for millionaires then this is an event for billionaires!
So what happens from here? As the official Challenger of Record, the Oatley syndicate will take the lead role in negotiating how the 35th challenge will eventuate.
Up for negotiation will be the location of the event, types of yacht to be sailed, racing details and rules.
This should all be completed by mid 2014, to allow challenging syndicates time to prepare their teams.
The Oatleys are reportedly keen to use similar yachts to the ones we have seen in the latest challenge, and to use a similar format, as it has produced exciting racing and is spectator friendly.
However they are keen to have the budgets limited, to allow more challengers to participate.
So will we see a majority Australian crew in the Australian syndicate?
That depends. In past years each challenging nation has had to have their boat largely designed, built and crewed by its own nationals.
Australia II faced a potential legal challenge to the winged keel when it was reported that most of the work had been done in The Netherlands.
Nowadays professional sailors are ‘guns for hire’ to the highest bidder so crew nationality, where and how the boats are designed and built will all form part of the negotiations between the defending syndicate and the Challenger of Record.
I for one, would love to see an all Australian crew, but it is quite possible that all of our recent competitors in the event may still be contracted to their various syndicates for the foreseeable future.
Even though many of us will ever get near an America’s Cup challenge, there is a way that we can all contribute – the Oatleys have a great range of wines!
Enjoy responsibly, and you will contributing in your own small way!