The slave trade and piracy, politely called privateering, were no strangers to Bermudan shores either, and the maritime economy was further boosted by the export of salt, a mainstay for more than a century, as was whaling. Modern-day yachties have heard of “Bermudan-rigged” sailboats, and indeed the nippy little Bermuda sloop was adapted for service by the Royal Navy. One of these, HMS Pickle, is reported to have carried despatches of the British victory over the French and Spanish fleets at Cape Trafalgar near Gibraltar in 1805, and of the death of its commander, Admiral Lord Nelson.

Quite how this British tradition will manifest itself in the 35th America’s Cup come May and June 2017 remains to be seen. Bermuda is at 32°N. The islands are warmed by the nearby Gulf Stream, and are in the hurricane belt, although this is not the season. In October last year, Hurricane Nicole made a direct hit. Generally, in the early summer, temperatures are about 22-26°C, the humidity is rising, and average winds are a fairly mild 12-13 knots, gusting higher at times.

The contestants will of course optimise for however they see the conditions, keeping their preparations carefully under wraps, and will not make the same mistake as the Kiwis in San Francisco, when competitors realised that their foiling ability was inferior, just in time to catch up.

“This is the heart of the America’s Cup”, say the organisers. “Teams designing and building their own boats within a set of rules that presents scope for individual design genius, but which creates a relatively level playing field that maximises the competition between them.

“One major difference between the AC50s and AC45s, apart from the AC50s carrying one extra crew, is how they are powered. Both boats need grinders aboard. For the uninitiated, grinders provide the muscle. They are supremely powerful athletes capable of sustained bursts of energy that is used to operate sails of lift daggerboards.

“Well, that is until the AC50s came along. Now a grinder’s role is to build up hydraulic reserves that are used by the skipper and afterguard to operate the primary systems. In short, the grinders are the engines. Their ability to generate power will directly influence boat speed, and boat speed gives the tacticians what they crave, the power to make decisions and act on them faster and more effectively that the competition.

“This change in how race boats are operated is monumental. It
is helping to increase the speed of boats exponentially, hand in hand with a vastly more intelligent understanding of hydro dynamics and the optimal use of foils, boat aero dynamics and a whole related world of science that is translated into pure sporting heaven for the fans.

“The boats are going to be spectacular. The racing will be awesome. The athletes will be supreme, and the eyes of the world will be watching. Now comes the era of the AC50 boat, and fast may its reign be”.

Jimmy Spithill is again skipper of the defenders, Oracle Team USA, reprising his 34th AC role in San Francisco, but long-serving Dean Barker has moved to Softbank Team Japan, making way for Glenn Ashby to take over at ultra-strong contender Emirates Team New Zealand.

Sir Ben Ainslie, having helped Oracle Team USA win in 2013 is now, in another of the endless twists and turns that exemplify America’s Cup racing, a leading challenger as skipper of the British Land Rover BAR Team.

Australian Olympic gold medallist Nathan Outteridge is skippering the well-sailed blue and yellow Swedish challenger Artemis Racing, and he has another medallist, Briton Iain Percy, in the afterguard. Last but hopefully not least is Franck Cammas skippering Groupama Team France, the first French challenger of the multihull era, a form in which the French have excelled.

Only America, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland have ever won the America’s Cup. More than US$100 m is needed for a successful campaign. Looking ahead, five of the six teams have agreed a new protocol to hold the 36th and 37th America’s Cups only two years apart in 2019 and 2021. The cost of the 36th AC is hopefully put by Land Rover BAR at US$30-40 m per team, but experienced campaigners say the outlay will be more like US$60.

This year looks like Britain’s best chance for a long time. As the AC50s started hitting the water in January and February, when this preview was written, developments aplenty doubtless lie ahead. Dark deeds may still be afoot, along with the exhilaration of being aboard or watching, in Bermuda or on TV, the world’s fastest sailboats in another fascinating contest. For the very latest news, check out the websites below.

The Red Bull Youth America’s Cup is scheduled 12-21 June in AC45s. This involves up to 16 teams of 19-24 year old sailors, from whose ranks it is hoped the next generation of America’s Cup contestants will emerge.

An America’s Cup J-Class Regatta takes place 16-20 June. Only 10 J-Class yachts were ever built, and two of them, Shamrock V and Endeavour, raced in the America’s Cups of 1930 and 1934. It is hoped seven Js, including Shamrock V, will compete this year.

The America’s Cup Superyacht Regatta for super sailboats has been set down for 13-15 June. It was not clear at our deadline how many qualifying vessels would turn up in Bermuda. Adela won the last event in San Francisco.

The famous 635 nm Newport-Bermuda Race, akin to the China
Sea Race and the Sydney-Hobart, is biennial, and does not take place in 2017. Last year the first Chinese entry was the chartered J44 Spirit of Noahs skippered by Dong Qing. This Shanghai-based group has become active at many such events.

Charters and Superyachts

Options that have crossed Yacht Style’s desk recently include the 58m or 190’ Illusion V and the 47m or 154’ Rhino. Contact Camper & Nicholsons. Both are available from the LVAC Challenger Playoffs onwards.

Yacht Charter Fleet suggests the 28m CNB cutter Savarona, not to be confused with the 136m vessel of the same name in the Bosphorus, and the 33 m or 108’ Marae built by New Zealand’s Alloy Yachts, which is asking US$59,000 a week plus expenses.

Or there is the 46m Palmer Johnson Pioneer which was at the Antigua Charter Show in December but is apparently voyaging to Bermuda. This vessel had an extensive refit in 2015 and is listed at US$120,000 a week. Contact Y.CO.

Other substantial agents such as Burgess, Fraser, Northrop and Johnson, Edmiston, Ocean Independence, Yachtzoo and others can be tried. Obviously offerings may be limited by the relatively remote Atlantic location of Bermuda, and for that reason available vessels could be quickly booked.

Checking out Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, one of the world’s oldest royal clubs, is recommended too. Larger yachts visiting can contact a variety of marinas and wharves for suitable berths.

This articles was first published in Yacht Style.

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