37th America’s Cup – The Spying Game

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37th America’s Cup
THE SPYING GAME

In John Bertrand’s seminal tome ‘Born to Win’ that brilliantly documented Australia II’s dramatic win in Newport, Rhode Island in 1983 to end 132 years of Cup dominance by the USA, there’s a line about spying: “…there was an uproar down at our dock just as the crew was awakening. Our guards caught an underwater cameraman in a wetsuit photographing the keel of Australia II. Phil Judge, our tender skipper, jumped into the water fully clothed, dragged him out, and turned him over to Newport police. We dropped charges when the film was handed over and we had assurances that there was only one diver. But there were in fact two, and much later we found another film of our keel in the Canadian house.”

Spying in the America’s Cup has been far more than a recent phenomenon, documented even as far back to racing in the 19th Century, but for modern teams it has been a significant budget drag with ever more sophisticated technology being deployed to measure, capture and record everything from outright speed through to manoeuvres, sail plans, wing design, onboard control systems and aero packages. Drones, trackers, submersibles even, have been rumoured as syndicates vie to get crucial data that could mean the difference between winning and losing.

As Matteo Plazzi, a member of the Recon Management Panel for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli commented: “Recon has always played an important role in AC campaigns. You have an event every three or four years and during this period you design and develop your new boat; understanding and knowing in which direction your opponents are going is crucial. The more info you have, the more simulations you can run in-house and get a feeling of where you are compared with your competitors.”

At the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland, the situation on the water was, at times, bordering on dangerous with multiple team spy vessels following and tracking individual AC75s as they went about their training schedule. Incidents of near-misses were recorded and all the teams agreed that the situation was unsustainable and needed addressing.

So, for the 37th America’s Cup, buried deep in the Protocol Document (it is Rule 41 in Part F) is a new and highly significant rule aimed at curbing the expenditure, reducing the frustration that teams have traditionally experienced of being spied upon and opening up the event for spectators to get a consistent view of developments and techniques that all the syndicates will be honing, in this cycle.

The ‘Reconnaissance’ rule is both broad and comprehensive putting spectators right in the heart of the action with stills, video and analysis that will be available to view publicly on www.americascup.com but equally forming a valuable, cost-saving service for all the teams.

Architect of the new initiative, Dan Bernasconi, from the all-conquering Emirates Team New Zealand, has been pining for change in this area for a while: “We started thinking about a shared recon programme a good few years before the last Cup and really it was all about making it safer on the water by reducing the armada of chase boats but also, it’s about opening up the America’s Cup to its fanbase. We watched as a number of new technical websites and YouTubers sprung up to analyse Cup designs and it just felt that it was the right time to formalise an approach to open up the sport and give the media and fans direct access to recon data, analysis and commentary so they can track the developments as they happen. That’s a big part of the whole fascination with the America’s Cup and this time fans will be in the box-seat as the AC40’s start sailing before the AC75’s splash in 2024.”