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Monday, November 21, 2016
We Know Absolutely Nothing About the AC Fleet

Greg Pearson from newshub.co.nz writes now the real race for the Auld Mug heats up.

Itís now a little over six months until Emirates Team NZ joins the other challengers and Oracle Team USA in Bermuda for the start of the Americaís Cup Qualifiers.

Thereís still work to be done by the sailors and more importantly the designers.

The 50-foot Americaís Cup Class catamarans that will be sailed in Bermuda have yet to emerge from the boatbuilders and there will be no gauge over whether a team has got it wrong or got it right until they line up for the start of the Qualifiers.

But with the conclusion of the ACWS there are a few observations worth making.

Team NZ finished the World Series third behind British crew Land Rover BAR and defenders Oracle. The Kiwis performed well out of the blocks but dropped in the standings as helmsman Peter Burling and 49er team mate Blair Tuke focused on their successful Olympic campaign.

In the final World Series regatta in Fukuoka, a few mistakes resulted in costly penalties.

In fleet races like this format, slipping down a place is disappointing. But when it comes to match racing like weíll see in Bermuda next year, coming second in a two boat race could be fatal.

BARís performance in the World Series earned them two bonus points for the Qualifiers. With each team only racing ten times in the double round robin those points are a big leg up into the semi-finals.

The more interesting point from the Qualifiers will be who finishes top, with the prospect of a head start to the Cup Match on offer if that team makes it through that far.

Oracle obviously know they'll be there, and also have a bonus point from finishing the World Series second behind the Brits, so the challengers will be hoping the defenders don't tip the already uneven scales any further in the Jimmy Spithillís favour.

But World Series form can't be taken as an indicator for next year.

As already stated the boats will be different and so will the racing format. As a colleague pointed out when the format was announced post-San Francisco, it's like the NZ Sevens team earning the All Blacks points at the Rugby World Cup.

Once the new boats hit the water after Christmas we will get a clearer picture. Thanks to Oracle, BAR, Artemis Racing and SoftBank Team Japan all being based in Bermuda, it should be easy to measure progress against the other teams.

That leaves Groupama Team France and Team NZ doing their own thing in their respective waters, and so far in the development phase the Kiwis are keeping a low profile.

Perhaps that's a lesson learned from the last campaign when they were criticised for letting the foiling cat out of the bag too early.

Rest assured Oracle spies are a constant companion when the Kiwis are out on the Waitemata, but for the time being Team NZ are very much the rogue syndicate.

And that's a good thing.

The three challengers in Bermuda are happily sailing alongside Oracle, meaning the defenders will know even more about their progress.

More so with the Japanese - Dean Barkerís team bought a design package from Oracle to help jumpstart their campaign.

That's a good foundation to start with but the sense is they'll only be as good as the defenders allow them to be.

So what do we know? What has the World Series revealed about the Americaís Cup fleet?

To be honest, absolutely nothing.

The first day of sailing in the Qualifiers will be the first real indication of which teams are fast and which have work to do.

What we do know is the marathon is turning into a sprint.
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