America’s Cup 2021: The Secret Sailor – Inside the Prada Cup final stoush, and why there could only be one winner

The Secret Sailor is an internationally acclaimed yachtie with a strong history in the America’s Cup.

OPINION:

The stoush between America’s Cup Event Ltd (ACE) and the Challenger of Record (COR) over the resumption of racing in the Prada Cup final is growing uglier by the minute – but one party is clearly in the wrong.

ACE wants racing to be delayed by a week – officially to limit the loss that spectator restrictions under Covid-19 alert level 2 would have – while the COR are strongly opposed to any delays, citing Cup rules that state a winner has to be declared one way or another by February 24.

But this is more than just the latest squabble in an event which has seemingly hardly gone a day without some off-water drama.

This is what happens when the America’s Cup Defender has too much power.

Historically, the Challenger has been in control of their own destiny but with the event authority (ACE) effectively being run by Team New Zealand during this Cup, that is not the case.

In fact, in no other America’s Cup that I have been involved in, has the Defender had so much control over the challenger series.

Further muddying the waters, is the relationship between Team NZ and Ineos Team UK.

It is an open secret that they are discussing protocols – with the Brits the favoured COR for the next regatta should the Kiwis defend the Auld Mug next month. I can’t help but wonder if this is, at least in part, a move designed to help Ben Ainslie’s team find a way back into what has so far been a lopsided Prada Cup final.

Remember, Luna Rossa – the Italian syndicate who are the COR in all but name – are only three victories away from securing a place in the Cup match and any delay would helped no one but the British.

In terms of pure boat speed, Luna Rossa are about a knot faster then Ainslie and Co upwind, and possibly have a slight edge downwind, too.

For the Brits to pull of a comeback they would have to pray for continued stronger breeze or some sort of silver bullet in setup or design that they have overlooked previously.

It’s a big ask and, with the latter, would require the one thing they don’t have. Time.

Team UK were so far off the pace during the World Series in December that everyone thought they would have gone home by now. Yes, they made some radical improvements to their boat but the big reason they were able to fight back during the round robin series, is the fact that Ainslie and Giles Scott were sailing superbly.

To some extent, this masked the issues they clearly still had and that Luna Rossa have been able to expose in the first four races of the Prada Cup final.

At this late stage of racing there’s nowhere to hide for Ineos. The teams have all played their cards and the Brits have a weak hand.

All of the teams signed up to the rules years ago and ACE should not be allowed to cherry pick which rules are worth keeping. If, for example, there was no wind for a week or more, there would be no extension of the finals series and the team leading on points would advance.

Why should racing with no spectators be any different?

In their press release on Wednesday, ACE highlighted “these uncertain times” as the reason for asking for a delay.

Well, in these uncertain times, why would you not want to race when you have the opportunity?

To me, the answer is simple.

One team is 4-0 up and looking really good in the finals series. The other is your new best friend.

If you were Team NZ, who would you want to face for the Cup?

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