Barcelona – The rapidly re-vamping Port Olímpic, a short and pleasant stroll down the palm-lined promenade that stretches the length of Barcelona’s waterfront, is set to be the stunning new base for the future stars of the America’s Cup to begin their journey to winning the Holy Grail of world yachting. With wide-open boulevards, stunning architecture – and in the shadow of the famous Golden Fish ‘El Peix’ Frank Gehry sculpture that welcomes visitors at its entrance – the Port Olímpic ticks every box in terms of sustainability and accessibility, with promise of being a lively, youthful, vibrant heart of activity with direct access to the racecourse just yards off the beach.
The Women’s and Youth teams lucky enough to be selected will experience a regatta simply like no other placing them in the epicentre of the America’s Cup crucible of competition. Picture the scene as thousands watch from the beach and galleries dotted along the shoreline, millions more catching the free-to-air broadcast around the globe and helicopters circle above capturing the white-hot intensity of sailing in one of its purest forms, at its finest. This is the big time for sure.
As a stepping-stone on to AC75 teams post-2024 and a shop-window beyond comparison, the future of the America’s Cup will be showcased like never before. It’s the experience and opportunity of a lifetime to compete against the very best in the world in the brand new AC40 yachts and hone skills that will determine the future direction of the America’s Cup for decades to come. The importance of the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup regattas is not to be under-estimated.
Running sequentially, the Youth America’s Cup starts on Thursday 19th September 2024 and the Women’s America’s Cup on Thursday 3rd October 2024. Mark those dates. Both series begin with a week of practice for the teams before the fleets are split, where possible, into two with the confirmed AC Teams competing in one group and all the invited yacht clubs from around the world competing in another. Once racing begins in earnest, each group will race a Qualifying Series of fleet races, consisting of three races per day over three days to produce the top three podium teams from each group.
Those successful teams will then move forward to a ‘Final Series’ of four fleet races on one day to produce the top two teams who will advance on to the respective Youth and Women’s America’s Cup Single Matches to determine the respective winners.
With the pressure on, and the eyes of the world firmly focussed on these Single Match Races, it will be an entrée into the high-pressure world of America’s Cup racing with no margin for error. No second chances. Fleet racing will be replaced by one-on-one Match Racing and winning the Youth or Women’s America’s Cup will be an achievement of the highest order rewarding those teams that can bring a big game mentality and the ability to switch effortlessly between the very different disciplines of fleet and match racing.
And the scheduling announced by the organisers is set to ensure the maximum media coverage with the Youth America’s Cup Single Match Race being run on the same day as the showpiece America’s Cup Challenger Final on Wednesday 2nd October 2024 – and will be raced in-between the Final flights – whilst the Women’s America’s Cup Single Match Race will be held on Wednesday 16th October 2024, the date scheduled for two America’s Cup Match races and again between flights. The pressure will be at an intensity that only the America’s Cup can produce with teams thrust into the bright limelight at the business end of AC37. To be a part of it will be something else.
By design, this is set to be a global spectacle with national entries being restricted to one per country and as already stated by Sir Ben Ainslie of the INEOS Britannia team, they will be fielding a mixed Youth team for the regatta to further promote gender diversity and equality. It is hoped, but not explicitly implied, that others will follow suit. Each of the confirmed Teams for the 37th America’s Cup are required to ‘arrange for a team to be entered’ but this opens the door for prospective teams to liaise with the confirmed Competitor as to the selection process for who represents that Competitor’s yacht club.
Gillian Williams, Vice Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Chair of Sailing said, “We are thrilled to have a women’s team and a youth team, as well as ETNZ, represent RNZYS against the premier yachting nations of the world. The promotion of youth, diversity and excellence in yachting is very exciting.”
In addition, America’s Cup Event Limited, (ACE), the organising body for both series are intending to invite up to seven teams representing yacht clubs from countries other than those represented by a Competitor in the 37th America’s Cup. And again, it’s a strict criteria with ACE only accepting one entry per country in the Youth America’s Cup or Women’s America’s Cup, so competition for places looks set to be intense.
Already a local team has been created, representing the Real Club Náutico de Barcelona, Sail Team BCN, which will represent the city, the region and the country in both the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup 2024. The team, that will be managed by professional sailor Guillermo Altadill and international teams’ director Stewart Hosford, received the approval from America’s Cup Management (ACE) and Emirates Team New Zealand to be the Spanish challenge in the 2024 event.
Excitement is already building with the stunning launch and early commissioning trials of the Emirates Team New Zealand AC40 which was delivered to Auckland and within days, hit the water producing some impressive out-of-the-box performance characteristics.
The challenge for Youth and Women’s America’s Cup Teams will be in getting up to speed with monohull high-performance foiling and grand-prix racing in these new boats as soon as the sailing period begins. Production and logistics are now at maximum capacity to complete and deliver the remaining hulls, in strict order of entry to the America’s Cup, from McConaghy’s in China whilst the Emirates Team New Zealand North Shore facility in Auckland is working round the clock to build and deliver the foil arms, rudders and elevators for the fleet.
Not unreasonably, the bar will be high for all teams to secure an invitation to compete and prior to the first practice at these events, all competitors will be required to undergo safety training and a period of AC40 simulator training. ACE are insisting via the Notice of Race and subsequent entry conditions that all teams must ‘provide plans and/or details as to the skills and experience that the prospective team has to be able to fund, prepare, and race AC40 yachts in a high level of competition.’ With the crew limits being four per boat and sailors sat in designated pods wither side, it is intended (and written in the Notice of Race) that two helmspersons will be deployed, one for either tack – whilst the powered sail controls will be managed via crew members in their respective aft pods. Interestingly, as we have seen with the first AC40 launch, the layout places the helms in the forward pods, similar to single-seat racecars, and with the flight control fully automated, the premium will be on effective crew communication and co-ordination through manoeuvres alongside sail-trim to power up and depower for optimum speed over the racetrack.
The notion of ‘One Design’ as mentioned earlier, is abundantly represented in the official Notice of Race with corrector weights being deployed to standardise crew weight differences and an explicit requirement that ‘Yachts will be provided and will be configured by ACE to be of equal performance. Teams will not change the configuration of a yacht without the specific approval of ACE.’ And this is key. The intention is to produce desperately close and competitive racing where talent, sailing skill, foiling ability, racecraft and consistency is rewarded over big budgets and training time – indeed prospective Youth and Women’s teams are not permitted to even sail on an AC40 together between the date of publication of the Notice of Race and 30th June 2023.
That date will come soon enough and for the Cup world, anticipation and aspiration is quickly giving way to perspiration as squads of Women and Youth sailors start to form with skill-sets being identified and training schedules confirmed.
Already we are seeing nascent programmes such as the Athena Pathway Programme in the United Kingdom coming to fruition, casting a wide net to attract the next generation. Across Europe, America and New Zealand similar programmes are being replicated with talent identified and nurtured through multiple sources and different classes of foiling yachts at both local and national levels. It’s a great time for that talent to rise and come to the fore, and never before has there been such a well signposted pathway through to the America’s Cup – the world’s greatest, most historic, most compelling sailing competition.
Prospective entries will be invited to submit Initial Information Documentation from the 1st November 2022 running through to the 30th June 2023 with the organisers intending to publish a full entry list by Wednesday 1st May 2024.
The clock is ticking. The countdown has begun. AC37 is set to transform the apex of the sport and deliver a truly global, inclusive spectacle the likes of which has never been seen before with Youth and Women right at its epicentre in the heart of Barcelona at the Port Olímpic.
Don’t miss it.