Delayed eight months due to COVID-19, four America’s Cup crews finally get to face off against each other in their fantastical-looking boats that fly across the tops of the waves on hydrofoils.

Defending champion Emirates Team New Zealand and challengers American Magic, INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team of Italy will race in the America’s Cup World Series Auckland and the Prada Christmas Race on Thursday through Sunday, New Zealand time, on the Hauraki Gulf.

It will be the only warmup regatta prior to the start of the 36th America’s Cup in January. The Prada Cup for challengers will run Jan. 15-Feb. 22, with the winner advancing to face Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup match March 6-21.

The teams should have had plenty of racing experience by now in their 75-foot foiling monohulls, but two ACWS regattas scheduled in the spring in Europe were canceled after the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The teams continued to train at their home bases before the challengers relocated to Auckland and went through quarantine. All four teams are now sailing their second-generation boats.

The teams have only recently faced off against each other in practice sessions.

Losing the earlier ACWS regattas was a setback, but the teams have responded well, said Terry Hutchinson, skipper and executive director of American Magic, which is backed by the New York Yacht Club.

“From a sailing perspective and a racing perspective, it’s impressive to see all four teams really straightaway sailing at a high level,” Hutchinson said at a pre-regatta news conference. “So you can see the work that’s been done behind the scenes coming to fruition even though the boats haven’t been on the water."

New Zealand’s government was able to get a handle on the pandemic via strict measures.

“Obviously we feel lucky to be here in New Zealand,” Hutchinson said. “As a team we were incredibly appreciative to the work and the efforts that went on behind the scenes when we put all of our gear on a boat in Pensacola, Florida, with really no guarantees to get into the country. And as it all played out, it all worked to a certain degree, and having come through the managed isolation, having come through to this point, you couldn’t have come across nicer people to help you through a really difficult time."

The first three days of racing will be a double round robin, with four races per day. On the fourth day, the Christmas Race will be made up of two knockout stages. The pairing of the Christmas Race semifinals will be decided by the results of the ACWS double round robin.

The opening pairings on Thursday are Emirates Team New Zealand against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, and American Magic vs. INEOS Team UK.

This will be a visual America’s Cup.

The AC75s blend the tradition of monohulls with the modern advancement of foiling, which is all the rage in sailing. The boats use twin canting T-foils to lift the hull completely out of the water in order to increase speed. In the normal sailing mode, the AC75 will skim above the waves on the leeward foil and rudder, with the windward foil arm raised out of the water to reduce drag.

From some angles, the AC75s look like giant nautical insects or beasts as they speed across the water, with the foil arms raising and lowering during tacks and jibes.

With each of the teams interpreting the AC75 design rule differently, there are marked differences between the four boats and an anticipation to see them race for the first time.

“They’re certainly not the kind of boat that you take people out for a joyride,” said Sir Ben Ainslie, a former America’s Cup champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist who is the team principal and skipper of INEOS Team UK. “They’re full on. They are incredibly exciting. I think for a very privileged few, and for us as sailors who get to sail on these boats day in, day out, it is an amazing experience."

American Magic’s helmsman is Auckland native Dean Barker. He sailed for Team New Zealand in four regattas, including a soul-crushing loss in 2013, when the Kiwis blew an 8-1 lead and lost to Oracle Team USA.

Luna Rossa plans to have two-time America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill, an Australian who has a primary residence in San Diego, share the helm with Italian Francesco Bruni.

Emirates Team New Zealand remains in the hands of skipper Peter Burling and flight controller Blair Tuke. They led the Kiwis to a rout of Oracle Team USA in the 2017 America’s Cup and together have won Olympic gold and silver medals in the 49er class.


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