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America's Cup 34 Protocol and Boat Announced

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In a long-awaited America's Cup 34 press conference today in Valencia, the Cup Defenders represented by BMW Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts and Golden Gate YC Commodore Marcus Young joined with official Cup Challenger Mascalzone Latino CEO Vincenzo Onorato and Club Nautico di Roma Commodore Claudio Gorelli to announce that America's Cup 34 will be sailed in 2013 in 72-foot catamarans with wing sails and an 11-member crew to be called the AC72 Class. A new Youth America's Cup was also announced.

The venue will be announced before the end of the year. An America's Cup World Series will begin next year starting in Europe and then other venues around the world.


Image: Onorato, Gorelli, Young, and Coutts present the agreed and signed Protocol for America's Cup 34 (Photo credit: Gilles Martin-Raget / www.americascup.com)

This is "the fairest Protocol in the history of the sport," Coutts said. Their research shows more teams would be interested in sailing in catamarans, easier and less expensive to dissamble and transport by aircraft, and that match racing would be more exciting, especially with course adjustments to allow lead changes, such as a shorter windward leg and a reaching leg.

A second class of smaller, 45-foot wing-sail catamarans will be called the AC45 Class. It is a one-design class built by a single builder in New Zealand to be used as a quick ramp-up for World Series sailing in 2011. The AC45 Class would also be used for the Youth America's Cup.


Image: The new AC45 and AC72 catamaran designs from Morelli & Melvin will be the official classes of America's Cup 34 (Photo credit: www.americascup.com)

Multihall yacht designer Pete Melvin outlined the new design classes, which were created by his firm Morrelli & Melvin Design and Engineering with assistance of US SAILING. An animation and description of the new AC72 class is available at http://bit.ly/ac72for34thAC.

The new Protocol -- available at http://www.americascup.com/official-documents/ -- takes pains to rebalance the cost-benefit equation for syndicates. In cost terms, there are smaller teams, less expensive boats to build and transport, more racing, limits on testing, changes, and equipment. For benefits, the World Series provides a dozen races over three years, more branding, and more viewers through more exciting racing packaged in better media format.

Coutts, who has fielded numerous questions about breaking with the monohull tradition, took conscious jabs at the old-guy and traditionalist image of the Cup, referring to it at one point as the Flinstone generation and at another as participants who average 40 to 50 years old seem like the "senior tour" rather than the pinnacle of the sport.

At least one reporter in the audience felt the 2013 timing signalled a strike against San Francisco, and many SF fans may have felt the same. In fact, in an August telephone interview I had with San Francisco project manager Kyri McClellan, she had said the city might not be ready by 2013. However, that interview was prior to the city's more detailed vision of the Cup Village and recent agreement with environmental groups that resulted in commitment of support for expedited permit approvals.

I reached Kyri for comment this morning. She had obviously been up for the press conference, and responded immediately. She said, "We have confidence that the facilities included in the City's proposal would be ready in 2013, especially since the structures at both the team base and the live site at 30-32 would be temporary. We walked Mr. Ellison through a schedule late last month that showed the environmental review completed in late 2011 and the infrastructure work being done and completed at the key sites by late 2012, early 2013."

She also noted that there were several exciting elements of today's announcement that city will take into consideration when finalizing the term sheet for Board of Supervisors approval.

Coutts held a separate telephone press conference this morning for writers unable to make it to Valencia. The group included locals such as myself, the Marin IJ's Michelle Slade, and Latitude 38's Rob Grant, as well as writers such Bernie Wilson for the Associated Press. When pressed on venue questions, as in a point-blank question I levelled at him, Coutts stuck with the line that they are under confidentiality agreements with the other venues under negotiation. However, on multiple occasions he offered San Francisco as an example of how a venue is ideal. For example, highlighting the requirement for a "fantastic harbor" he said "we figure these boats could make it around the bay in three laps during a race" with iconic visuals such as Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and downtown. In a later question about handling the wing masts under heavy winds when docked, he went out of his way to mention that Pier 50 is relatively protected.

Obviously, it's easy to read a lot into remarks. However, it seems as if San Francisco is still a top choice and is officially the only one Coutts and team are willing to talk about.

Further news and analysis in my San Francisco Chronicle column: http://www.sfgate.com/columns/onthewaterfront

Updated 09-13-2010 at 11:06 AM by poliva (Follow-up private press availability with Russell Coutts)

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