Fast cats, fair rules coming to America's Cup

New champion BMW Oracle Racing of San Francisco and an Italian syndicate that represents challengers on Monday unveiled the AC72, a 72-foot catamaran with a wing sail that will be used in the 34th America's Cup in 2013.

The venue won't be decided until the end of the year. Whether the boats sail on San Francisco Bay, off Valencia, Spain, or near Rome, spectators can expect shorter, sharper and more spectacular racing.

"It will be racing that meets the expectations of the Facebook generation, not the Flintstones generation," BMW Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts said during a news conference in Valencia.

Instead of heavy sloops burying their bows in waves and straining to accelerate, the next America's Cup will feature AC72s sprinting across the water as fast as 30 knots, their windward hulls flying out of the water.

"We need to have the best sailors in the world racing the coolest and fastest boats in the world," said Coutts, a three-time America's Cup winner as a skipper who went on to become a key figure in BMW Oracle Racing's stunning victory with a radical trimaran in the 33rd America's Cup in February.

Coutts said fair rules, the new class of boat and better TV exposure are critical to the future of an event that began in 1851.

"These will be cool boats. I think they'll be boats that young kids will look at and get excited about," Coutts said during a conference call. "When you look at the state of the America's Cup before today, you really had quite a few sailors that were in their 40's and 50's. It really had the appearance of a senior tour than a pinnacle event. I think this will bring a lot more of the sailors that have been brought up sailing skiffs and high performance boats, people who like speed and also like to race."

The image of the America's Cup was severely damaged when BMW Oracle Racing and two-time champion Alinghi of Switzerland were locked in a bitter, 2 1/2-year court fight over rules for the 33rd America's Cup.

BMW Oracle Racing prevailed in court, then swept Alinghi in two races in giant multihulls off Valencia in February, returning the oldest trophy in international sports to the United States for the first time in 15 years.

BMW Oracle Racing, owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison, has been working with Italy's Club Nautico di Roma, the Challenger of Record, on rules and other details for the 34th America's Cup. The protocol unveiled Monday has been called the fairest ever. Among other details, it calls for neutral, independent race management.

Organizers had independent rule writers create new classes of monohull and multihull boats in order to have a choice. BMW Oracle Racing also spent four days off Valencia testing how racing can be better portrayed on TV.

While stressing that a venue hasn't been chosen, Coutts used San Francisco as an example of what spectators can expect.

"If the course can run past landforms like Alcatraz, these boats would rip around that harbor very, very quickly," Coutts said. "I calculated that they can do three laps of the bay in about 45 minutes, reasonably comfortably. If you saw the recognizable features such as the Golden Gate Bride, Alcatraz and the cityfront, I think that would make compelling TV."

The switch to catamarans hasn't been universally well-received. Britain's TeamOrigin has said it might not compete if the next regatta is sailed in catamarans.

"I think a lot of them had plenty of concerns or questions answered today," Coutts said. "No doubt some of the existing monohull teams prefer we stay in monohulls, but it's our belief that good monohull teams can become good multihull teams if they wish."

The key to BMW Oracle Racing's victory in the 33rd America's Cup was a 223-foot wing sail, which resembled an airplane wing and dramatically improved the speed and maneuverability of the 90-by-90-foot trimaran.

The wing sail on the AC72 will be approximately 131 feet (40 meters) tall. The catamarans will be able to sail in wind ranging from 3 to 33 knots, eliminating delays that have dogged recent America's Cups when there was either too little or too much wind.

Organizers believe the AC72, which will be 46 feet wide, can regularly exceed 30 knots. By comparison, the America's Cup Class sloops that were used from 1992-2007 sailed upwind at about 11 knots and downwind at 12-13 knots.

The AC72 will make its debut in 2012. It will be sailed by a crew of 11, down from 17 aboard the ACC sloops. Onboard cameramen will add to the broadcasts.

Sailing the 34th America's Cup in 2013 will avoid conflicts with the Winter Olympics and World Cup in 2014.

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