MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club will push to ensure the next America’s Cup does not boil down to a “race of money” with Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA, but will fight hard to woo the country’s top sailing talent back from the defender.
Hamilton Island, owned by wine magnate and sailing enthusiast Bob Oatley and run by his son Sandy, was confirmed by the Golden Gate Yacht Club as the Challenger of Record for the 35th America’s Cup late on Monday.
The 34th Cup that wrapped up last week had only three challengers, with the costs of the campaign, which was raced in super-fast AC72 catamarans, put in excess of $100 million and cited as the main reason why so few teams went to San Francisco.
As the Challenger of Record, Hamilton Island will help shape the rules for the next regatta with Oracle, whose software tycoon owner has also talked of the need to contain costs after being criticised for the complexity of the hi-tech AC72s.
Sandy Oatley praised Oracle and the beaten Team New Zealand for putting on a thrilling regatta in San Francisco Bay after raising the technology stakes but said lower costs would help attract more challengers for the next incarnation, set for 2016.
“It did cost a lot, the technology, but I think they’ve taken it into the next realm of sailing,” he told Reuters in an interview by phone from Sydney.
“I think the way they’ve developed it in this case has made it very exciting and all the people who were able to watch it were absolutely amazed.
“I think (overseas competitors) are all welcoming the fact of trying to contain the costs.
“My father Bob was saying, for a sailing race, we’re trying to get the emphasis 100 percent on sailing, with 50 percent on the sailing expertise, 40 percent the boat and 10 percent in technology and development.
“We can put some boxes around the boats and the sails so it doesn’t become a race of money.”
Forbes has ranked Oatley, who made his fortune first as a coffee trader and then as a vintner, as Australia’s 25th richest with just under $1 billion. Ellison is the world’s fifth richest man with $43 billion.
Backed by NZ$36 million ($29.98 million) in public funds, Team New Zealand were overhauled by Oracle after storming to an 8-1 lead in the first to nine-points regatta, as the defenders worked over-time to glean extra speed from their boat in the final week.
While Bob Oatley has entered a series of successful super-maxi yachts in the Sydney-to-Hobart long-distance ocean race, one of the world’s most testing offshore challenges, ensuring funds to compete with Oracle will be paramount.
Sandy Oatley said the Australian challenge was yet to sign any corporate backers, and like Team New Zealand did, would seek support from government coffers.
“We’ll be talking to (the government),” he said. “I’m sure it will be of keen interest to them but we haven’t spoken to them yet. I think they’ve got bigger things on their mind right now.
“We’re talking to (potential corporate sponsors), but we weren’t really talking (before) because we weren’t really sure what was happening,” he said.
“That’ll happen in the next couple of weeks. We’re looking for a great Australian challenge with some Australian corporates and great Australian sailors.”
While concerned about costs, Oatley said the challenger’s preference would be to see some version of the high-speed catamarans retained for the next series and more fleet racing in the leadup.
“It was very exciting, the racing, and anyone that saw the America’s Cup would know that you’ve only got to make one little mistake and suddenly you go from first to last,” he said.
Hamilton Island’s challenge comes 30 years after Australia II’s 1983 victory over the Dennis Conner-skippered Liberty, which ended the 132-year-old U.S. chokehold over the famous sailing trophy and sparked huge celebrations Down Under.
The 35th America’s Cup will be the first time Australia has had an entry, however, since Oracle captain James Spithill skippered ‘Young Australia’ in the 30th edition in Auckland in 2000.
Australian sailors have been in force at America’s Cup challenges since, however, and Oatley said luring the likes of Spithill and Oracle strategist Tom Slingsby, who won a sailing gold at the London Olympics, away from the U.S. team would be a high priority.
“We don’t know contractually how the Oracle boys are all tied up but that will all happen in the future and once we work out the protocols for the 35th race, we’ll see,” he said.
“There are lots of great Australian sailors and Jimmy Spithill’s top of the list at the moment with his recent success.
“(1983) really brought Australia together and it came home to us last week ... It was a great thing what they did and we’re hoping to do the same again for Australia.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury