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Australia to be AC35 Challenger

Love him or hate him, Larry Ellison put on a spectacular show on the Bay.

© Gilles Martin-Raget / ACEA

Having won the Cup two times in four attempts, a champagne-splashed Ellison told the press that he had already received a challenge for the next America’s Cup. He declined to say who it was from, but the next day’s rumors had it coming from Australia. According to trusted waterfront sources, the plan to insure this outcome was put in place even before conclusion of the last race, as Golden Gate Commodore Norbert Bajurin was reportedly sequestered aboard one of Larry Ellison’s boats Wednesday so that no one could serve him with an official challenge before the Australians, who did so shortly after Oracle Team USA’s win was confirmed in AC 34’s 19th race. 

Our sources did not tell us the name of the Aussie challenger, but American and Australian news sources claim the challenge came from Hamilton Islands YC of Queensland, Australia. The island is reportedly owned by wine industry multi-millionnaire Bob Oatley, 82. This would be the first Aussie challenge since 2000, although Australia, of course, was the first nation other than the U.S. to capture the Auld Mug. Thirty years ago the Aussies, funded by business mogul Alan Bond, defeated Dennis Conner’s Liberty with Australia II (distinctive due to its revolutionary wing keel), skippered by John Bertrand. That effort was Bond’s fourth AC attempt. 

Australia II was the first team to wrest the Auld Mug from America’s grip.

Australia II
©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Oracle Team USA’s frequent spokesman Tom Ehman, who is vice commodore of the GGYC, would neither confirm nor deny that an Australian campaign will be the next challenger, but he did confirm that a challenge has be received. The challenge also raises the question of whether key Oracle Team USA crewmen Jimmy Spithill, Tom Slingsby, Kyle Langford and Joey Newton will stay with the team, as all are Australians. Will a fat Oracle paycheck trump national loyalty as it has for New Zealand-born OTUSA CEO Russell Coutts? 

Meanwhile, Ellison acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges of the next America’s Cup will be to "get more countries to participate while keeping the event as spectacular as it was this year." At first glance, it would seem that the easiest path to that goal would be to go with one-designs, or at least have most of the more critical and expensive parts be one-design, and eliminate the wings in favor of soft sails. We’re not against wings in principle, and the technology is already there. The problem is that they require so many people — 30 to 50 in the case of the 72s — to step and unstep each day. Suddenly the team payroll becomes astronomical. While MOD70s trimaran — or something similar — might not be quite as fast or quite as thrilling as the AC72s, they can certainly be a lot less expensive to build and maintain.

In the right wind conditions, 10 knots to about 22 knots instead of 5 knots to 33 knots as originally planned, the AC72s proved to be spectacular boats. The fact that they are unsustainably expensive to maintain and difficult to sail means it’s unlikely that were going to see anything quite as spectacular anytime soon — although a source inside the Oracle camp told us they will be shipped, along with five years of spare parts, to Ellison’s island of Lanai. What he would do with them there is beyond us. But we are going to miss seeing them streaking across San Francisco Bay.

Ellison’s other challenge is with the city of San Francisco. While Mayor Ed Lee has stated he wants the America’s Cup to come back, a lot of San Francisco officials and residents have such hatred for the ultra-rich that they’d cut off their noses to spite their faces. Like Ellison or not — he said he doesn’t take it personally if local sailors supported the Kiwis, as many did — the America’s Cup brought a lot of people, good publicity and tons of money to San Francisco. If the next Cup has 10 syndicates or more, we believe it would attract a lot more people and superyachts, the latter being another attraction that people love or love to hate — it would be a great thing.

The current status is that Ellison will discuss the site of the next America’s Cup with senior members of the team, and with local government officials. He says he personally would like to see it stay on the Bay, if possible. He cited the beauty, the great sailing conditions — and the fact that he has a home here. But honestly, having seen these spectacular sailing machines match racing and reaching speeds of up to 47.57 knots where everyone can see them from shore, how could the America’s Cup be held anywhere else?

But now is not the time to worry about such things. Let’s just savor the incredible sailing spectacle that we were lucky enough to be able to experience — with a giant assist from Stan Honey and his LiveLine team — and the incredible comeback on the part of Oracle Team USA. It truly was one for the ages.

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