The countdown is on for the The America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta, presented by NEOM with the Red Sea city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia getting ready to host the world’s finest foiling sailors all eager to sail in the pristine waters from the 29th of November through to the 2nd of December 2023.
Hosted by the fabulous Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina, truly one of the finest yacht clubs in the world, racing will once again be in the pure one-design AC40 class – the most exciting new foiling fleet on the planet. The format will see the competing teams contest eight fleet races, starting on Thursday 30th November before the top two teams will contest a winner-takes-all one-on-one Match Race to be crowned as champions and give the winning team an incredible boost going into 2024 when Barcelona will host the 37th America’s Cup for real. Let’s look at the possible and probable line-ups team by team:
Emirates Team New Zealand
Winning is a habit that the Kiwis are accustomed to and sewn into their DNA, so the disappointment around the team’s one point loss at the first Preliminary Regatta back in September in Vilanova, is hard to disguise. The team’s summer training in Barcelona was angled predominantly towards the AC75 and the various testing of full-scale componentry but several recorded sessions were conducted on their pure one-design AC40 to keep their eye in. We are unlikely to see any crew changes with Peter Burling, Nathan Outteridge, Blair Tuke and Andy Maloney being a very tight and consistent unit, but they will have the ever-present option of Josh Junior to call on if required. The team that everyone is watching on the start-line and around the racecourse, there’s a sense of unfinished business for the Kiwis who will want to round off a great year in style.
The British have worked hard since Vilanova to improve their outright reliability in the AC40 and definitely feel that they have made steps forward. A solid block of AC40 training and a first-class session on the team’s repaired LEQ12 has brought some confidence back into the team and they will be looking to post a much-improved result in Jeddah. Concentration on boat-handling, sail trim and manoeuvre technique sees the team quietly confident ahead of the regatta and Sir Ben Ainslie, the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time, can never be counted out. Ainslie and Giles Scott are almost certain to helm but Dylan Fletcher-Scott is ready to step in if required and has been fast in training. The British have a wealth of talent to select on the trimming front with Leigh McMillan and Bleddyn Mon, the crew in Vilanova, possible ahead of Luke Parkinson and Iain Jensen. Getting the balance and the weight limit right is key here but the British will have the hammer down in Jeddah and could surprise.
NYYC American Magic
The winners at Vilanova, American Magic have talent to burn in all departments and have found speed in their AC40 having spent all summer two-boat foil and aero testing in their two LEQ12 moded AC40s ‘America’ and ‘Magic.’ A recent re-commission of their AC75 ‘Patriot’ in Barcelona has switched focus for the team as they test systems controls at full scale but with Tom Slingsby and Paul Goodison likely to be the helming duo, depending on Tom’s family commitments as his wife is due to give birth soon, they are a talented partnership with no less than five International Moth world championships between them. The team has depth in the helming department and either Lucas Calabrese or young superstar Harry Melges IV could easily step in if required. Trim is very likely to be Riley Gibbs and Michael Menninger who have clicked well with the helms and regularly find beautiful trim around the course. The team to watch.
Alinghi Red Bull Racing
The first team to sail AC40s in Jeddah, the Swiss had a thrilling training block at the beginning of November where they encountered the whole gambit of conditions that the Red Sea can offer. In two-boat training they looked imperious and put in long afternoons, regularly sailing through to dusk with quick-fire races at a very high intensity. Arnaud Psarofaghis and Maxime Bachelin are the likely starting helms although the fast-driving Nico Charbonnier is waiting in the wings if needed. Bryan Mettraux and Yves Detrey are the probable trim team and sailed in Vilanova, but Nicolas Rolaz is available should he be required. Expect Alinghi Red Bull Racing to light up the racecourse with great boat-handling and technique. This is a team that will win races, for sure, and will be eyeing the podium.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
Perhaps the most fascinating of the AC40 fleet, the Italians have a helming conundrum to solve with four ultra-talented helms vying for the wheels. The senior duo of Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni are the probable helms, but Marco Gradoni and Ruggero Tita were doing starting practice and race-training shadow-boxing at a very high intensity at the end of the summer training block in Barcelona and could well be given the opportunity. If so, it would throw a whole new dimension into the regatta as Gradoni and Tita are un-tested at this level but have sailing CVs to die for. Trim will be a three-way choice between Umberto Molineris, Vittorio Bissaro and Andrea Tesei with any combination well-suited to the one-design requirements of the AC40. Super talented team all round, they will be eyeing race wins and a podium finish.
Orient Express Racing Team
After winning the first ever official race in the AC40 class in Vilanova, Orient Express Racing Team from France are the dark horses in Jeddah. In Quentin Delapierre and Kevin Peponnet on helming duties, they have serious sailing skill coursing through their veins and in Vilanova they worked out early that a port tack start could minimise the number of tacks upwind and give them an edge. Time after time they headed out to the starboard boundary and more often than not, it paid. Time training in Barcelona in the AC40 in strict one-design and extensive simulator training, means that have flown under the radar in the lead up to this regatta but recon snippets taken by other teams has shown them to be nailing their boat-handling and pushing on. Hard to bet against them again performing well in flashes but do they have enough to take the fight to the big teams? Time will tell.
For fans and spectators in Jeddah, The America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta, presented by NEOM, will be the most accessible sporting contest with Jeddah’s famous ‘Corniche’ playing host to the Race Village and Fan Zone to catch all the action on jumbo screens in real-time whilst enjoying the various activations and restaurant pop-up facilities. The Race Village is open to the public at no cost, with all the racing streamed on the big screens and entertainment on the main stage.
Furthermore, spectators will be able to watch the thrilling action right up along the Corniche, as the AC40’s pass by the shore at speeds of up to 100 kph, flying above the surface of the water on foils. The racing is tactical and close with all the boats equalised to ensure that the most consistent and skilful team wins and with the America’s Cup event now under a year away, every team wants to put in a top performance. Nobody wants to be last and in the America’s Cup where, famously, “There is no second,” this is a chance for the sailors to stamp their mark on the event and set the tone for the year ahead.
With the America’s Cup coming to Jeddah and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it is an important activation for the Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina facility which is one of the most active clubs in the world with a youth programme that encourages some 40 children a day to come and try sailing. To date over 2000 children have passed through the Jeddah Yacht Club Academy system and with near-perfect weather for sailing on a daily basis, it is a programme that is getting widespread attention in the Kingdom.
Mohideen Nazer, Senior Vice President at Sela, the company behind Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina proudly stated: “We have invested in these amazing facilities at The JYC Academy because we are committed to the growth of water sports throughout Saudi Arabia. We have built a world class training centre in Jeddah that will inspire people new to the sport to come and try it and will provide elite sailors with the best opportunity to develop their competitive skills. We want as many people as possible to enjoy water sports – young and old, newcomers and elite alike – and we have built a centre that is inspirational.”
Grant Dalton, CEO of America’s Cup Events, visited the yacht club in October and was impressed with what he saw, saying: “The Jeddah Yacht Club and Marina facility is undeniably one of the finest clubs in the world and we are really excited to be bringing the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta, presented by NEOM, to the Kingdom. Our motivation is to inspire and assist the Jeddah Yacht Club and the Saudi Sailing Federation, in their mission to make the sport of sailing accessible to all and their academy is a lesson in how to do it right. We are very grateful to the yacht club for their support, and we look forward to sailing on the Red Sea in the perfect conditions that the region offers and inspiring generations of young Saudi sailors to participate in the sport.”
All the racing will be shown free-to-air globally on YouTube whilst locally the Saudi Sports Channel will also be streaming the races live on MBC’s Shahid platform. Entry to the Fan Zone and Race Village is also free and tickets can be obtained through the America’s Cup website.
Wednesday 29 November: Official Practice Race Day
Thursday 30 November: First Day of Racing
Friday 1 December: Second Day of Racing
Saturday 2 December: Third & Final Day of Racing and Prizegiving
- 8.00am – 12pm: Local Academy sailing activities and on/off-water exhibitions.
- 11:00am – 11.45am: Introducing the teams as they take to the water in the daily ‘Dock Out Show.’
- 1.00pm: Race Village & Fan Zone opens to the public.
- 1.00pm – 1.30pm: America’s Cup Show begins on main stage with live hosts, followed by racing previews.
- 1:30pm – 3.30pm: AC40 Racing – live coverage on stage and big screens.
- 5:45pm – 6.30pm: Post-race interviews with athletes on main stage.
- 6:00pm – 7.00pm: Public entertainment on main stage and screens.
- (FINAL DAY 2 Dec) 4.45pm – 7.30pm: Final prizegiving with winning team and closing speeches.
- 10pm: Race Village & Fan Zone closes.