The America’s Cup teams vying to win the 37th edition of the oldest continually contested trophy in international sports may have vast resources, but the one commodity they can’t buy is time. And the clock is ticking. The countdown has begun.
We are now into the final push. It’s exactly one year until the talking stops, the training and testing and the Challenger Selection Series are over, and the ultimate Challenger has been decided to line up against the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, for Race One of the America’s Cup Match. It’s the most anticipated day of every America’s Cup cycle.The pressure building on all the teams in this cycle is palpable, with big decisions having been taken in terms of hull profile design but even bigger ones in terms of foils, systems, sail designs, crew protocols, and racing playbook styles still very much up in the air. Through the summer in Barcelona, the teams have been working hard to familiarise themselves with the unique conditions they encounter daily off the La Barceloneta seafront with its swells, the chop, and all manner of conditions from flat calm to full-on. It’s an ultimate sailing challenge but even more of a design conundrum.
Some parameters are set in stone for the racing, with lower and upper wind limits set out in the Protocol governing the 37th America’s Cup. Some of the componentry onboard the AC75s is also set to pre-ordained designs and standards, but the race in a developmental battle with thousands of variables remaining for the world’s best designers, engineers, mechatronics experts, AI developers and computer technicians to delve into to find the winning edge.
For the sailors, the years of training have all been about data gathering and proving out the computer simulations to find accurate baselines and prove assumptions in a real-world environment.
For the cyclors, it has been about endless hours on their road bikes and static bikes, crunching out the miles, climbing impossible hill pathways and hitting wattage numbers that Tour de France ‘puncheurs’ would be proud of.
Now, everything is getting serious. The America’s Cup competition is coming fast. The countdown clock is relentless. The time for ideation is over. Decisions have to be made. Build schedules must be completed. The point of ‘now or never’ hangs over every competitor like a sword of Damocles.
Whilst the sailors and teams prepare, so too do the people of Barcelona and its vibrant society who have taken the America’s Cup to their hearts with recent events, including the opening of the 37th America’s Cup Official Exhibition Centre in the Port Vell, which also hosted the Opening Ceremony of the 61st Barcelona International Boat Show, and a ‘Reception for the Teams’ organised by the City Council in the presence of all the administrations.
The glittering opening of the America’s Cup Experience was attended by nearly 300 authorities and guests, including Jaume Sabater, representative of America’s Cup Experience, Anna Erra, President of the Parliament of Catalonia, Víctor Francos, President of the Spanish Higher Sports Council, David Escudé, Sports Councillor of Barcelona Regional and City Council, Marta Domènech, General Director of Tourism of the Government of Catalonia and Lluís Salvadó, President of the Port of Barcelona.
This was followed up by the City of Barcelona hosting a lavish reception for all the teams taking part in the 37th America’s Cup in the gardens of the Palauet Albéniz and was also attended by the President of the Government of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès and the President of the Spanish Sports Council, Víctor Francos, among many other authorities and personalities.
“We are ready to sail with you,” the Mayor of Barcelona assured, whilst the Head of the Catalan Government thanked the organisers and the teams taking part in the competition. Aragonès emphasised the: “unquestionable uniqueness of the America’s Cup” and stressed that it is a: “great opportunity for our country and to showcase Catalonia to the world.”
The President of the Spanish Sports Council further observed: “The first time I was told that Barcelona aspired to host the America’s Cup, I had doubts as to whether it could come, but now what I want is for it not to go away. First of all, I want it to be a success and to give us the necessary prestige,” and further underlined that: “when the public and private sectors go hand in hand, it is a success.”
This time next year, we will know the winner of the Challenger Selection Series. Whoever that may well be, they will have endured one of the hardest competitions of their sailing lives, and with so little to choose between all of the challengers, it will come down to who can keep their pace of development going through the round robins and who can handle the white-hot pressure of competition at the very highest level in the crucible of the America’s Cup where famously: ‘There is no second.’ Every Challenger has a case that could be made in their favour, but the winner will be the one that delivers on the greatest stage right when it matters most. No place for the faint-hearted.
But with the Challenger selected, the pace of the competition changes, the world’s media descends on Barcelona, helicopters buzz in the sky, superyachts arrive, and the atmosphere alters and fizzes with a competitive electricity as the only certainty of the 37th America’s Cup Match hove’s into view – Emirates Team New Zealand. What the Kiwis will deliver on that start-line against the battle-hardened Challenger as they go for an un-precedented three-in-a-row wins by a team in the greatest sailing competition on the planet is the great mystery of this unique competition.
And then comes the moment that commentators and scribes for decades have described as the point where “we know” as the gun fires at the start of the first race of the America’s Cup and the two goliath AC75s, at the very pinnacle and cutting-edge of development, head off upwind. Who has the speed edge? Who is pointing higher? Who will hit the boundary first and force the tack? These are the questions that will be early indicators of the outcome and destination of the most famous trophy in sailing.
But hold on. The America’s Cup in foiling yachts that have optimal design windows for specific conditions, could well see major surprises and upsets and with Barcelona in the autumn capable of delivering conditions that can be at either end of the spectrum or bang in the middle with a variety of sea-states, wind directions and swells, this could be the hardest America’s Cup in history to call. We could see the closest contest for the ‘Auld Mug’ since 1983. A gambler’s folly. A commentator’s nightmare.
The great winner will undoubtedly be the beautiful city of Barcelona, with its cosmopolitan outlook, world-class infrastructure, dynamic history, outstanding architecture, culture and vibrancy. Barcelona is a must-visit destination, and for the thousands of spectators that will make the journey to support their team and witness history unfolding, it promises to be sensational.
The Official Race Village will be the beating heart but stroll along to the Port Olímpic and the vibe of the Youth & Puig Women’s America’s Cup events in the AC40 class – the world’s most exciting new foiling monohull class – will be in full flight. This time next year we will know the Youth America’s Cup champions with their deciding Match to be held during the Challenger Selection Series Final and their pathway to the America’s Cup will be set.
Waiting in the wings for the glory will be the finest female athletes competing for the inaugural Puig Women’s America’s Cup – a highlight of the 37th America’s Cup and a further pathway to the very future of the competition – with the Final being held between races of the Match.
For spectators in town, a visit to the AC Experience immerses, educates, inspires and enthrals both those with a deep knowledge of the America’s Cup and those who have never experienced it before. Located in the Port Vell next to the aquarium, it’s the must-see visitor attraction of 2024. And for fans of past editions of the America’s Cup, the J Class (yachts from the 1930’s) will be hosting their World Championships in Barcelona and the 12 Meters (Cup boats from 1958-1987) will be in town competing at the 17th Regatta Puig Vela Classica regatta. The Port Vell will be a lively and engaging spectacle for all to enjoy.
The eyes of the world are set to be trained and intensified on Barcelona in the coming twelve months. What we know for sure is that the city is ready and has a history of executing world class sporting events from the Champions League to Formula 1 to even the Olympic Games itself.