When you hear an America's Cup rumour once you dismiss it as just another conspiracy theory. When you hear it twice, you think the myth is spreading fast. But when you hear it four or five times from very reliable sources, you start to think it may be true.
Therefore, mad as it may sound, I now believe that the six America's Cup teams are working together for the long-term good of the iconic event.
At a media conference in London at which the six skippers appeared, there was constant talk of a new spirit of co-operation. It was confirmed by reliable sources, including some of the people closest to the action.
Here's what seems to have happened:
When Team Australia pulled out as the Challenger of Record, citing the impossibility of raising corporate sponsorship when no venue had been announced, the other challengers started talking seriously to each other.
Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rosa have been good friends since the Kiwis supplied the Italians with their design package at the 34th Cup, but in San Francisco Artemis had been seen as puppets of the defender, Oracle USA, and conspiracy theories flew thick and fast. Ben Ainslie was part of Oracle Team USA, the hated enemy of ETNZ, and of course no-one trusts the French so Groupama would normally have been on the outer also.
But no-one counted on Luna Rosa skipper Max Sirena. Apparently, Max pointed out to the other challengers that they were all in the same boat, if you'll excuse the pun. He convinced BAR and Groupama that it is very rare for a first-up team to win the Cup (it's been done just once), and told them they needed continuity in design and rules if their first foray was to pay dividends in the following event.
He spoke to returning challengers Artemis and ETNZ and said they needed to work together for the long-term good of the event. And despite his fiery attacks on Oracle during the 34th Cup, he convinced Oracle boss Russell Coutts and skipper Jimmy Spithill that it was in their best interests to have a unified outlook on life and to work with the challengers to ensure a commercially successful and sustainable event.
The result has been quite remarkable. Sailors from the six teams are meeting regularly to discuss the venue, the protocol and the design rules. The aim is to provide continuity, so that time and money invested by teams during the 35th Match is an investment for the 36th.
“We need to work as a group,” Sirena told the media conference. “We need to make decisions sharp and quick. We need to work with the defender for the long-term good of the Cup.”
It hasn't been announced yet, but Luna Rosa will be the official Challenger of Record for the 35th Cup. However, the challenger committee, which comprises all teams, will meet on a regular basis to keep the event on track.
As defending skipper Jimmy Spithill said, there is a lot of wisdom among the skippers of the six teams and it makes sense to tap into that.
“The sailors are accountable for the success of their teams and therefore have to be involved in the discussions,” he said. “The goal is to make the America's Cup the best event possible.”
Commenting on another rumour, that the AC62 announced in the 35th protocol would be down-sized, Spithill said that the committee of sailors was discussing everything but “right now we have an AC62”.
Incredible as it may seem, all six teams are working together to ensure some of the farces of the past are not repeated. Individual agendas will undoubtedly be pushed, but weight of numbers means that only those things that are in the common interest will appear in the final protocol.
My God! Can this really be happening in the America's Cup?
– Roger McMillan