America's Cup competitors voted to use 45-foot wing-sailed catamarans in both seasons of the new AC World Series, saving the 72-foot version of the fast boat for the main events in 2013.
Organizers said a recent test period in the AC45 in New Zealand provided spectacular racing and television images for spectators. The move also will help hold down upfront costs for teams, some of which might be struggling to raise the large amount of money needed to compete for the oldest trophy in international sports.
The 72-footers, to be designed and built by each team, can be launched beginning July 1, 2012. They will be used for the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers and the America's Cup match, both to be held on San Francisco Bay in 2013. Teams will be testing their 72-footers while continuing to sail the 45s in AC World Series regattas.
The original plan was to switch to the AC72 at the start of the second season of the AC World Series in August 2012.
"After we put the AC45 through its paces in New Zealand, we knew we had the right boat for the next era of America's Cup sailing," said Iain Murray, an Australian sailor who's the CEO of America's Cup Race Management and the regatta director.
"The AC45s are ticking off all the boxes for a great event package," Murray said. "The sailors have found these cats to be fast and fun to race. They are challenging, they are exciting and when the best sailors in the world get their hands on them, they produce close, tight racing."
Since the AC45s will be shipped all around the world, Murray said logistics and overhead will be significantly reduced by using them for all ACWS events. That will give teams a better time frame to design, build and test their AC72s.
The AC World Series begins in Cascais, Portugal, on Aug. 6. The other regattas this year will be in Plymouth, England, Sept. 10-18, and San Diego in either November or December.
Organizers are trying to round out a schedule for the first season. The second season is supposed to begin in San Francisco in August 2012.
The fast catamarans replace the plodding sloops that were used from 1992-2007.
The fixed-wing sails will replace traditional soft-sail rigs. Oracle Racing used a radical, 223-foot wing sail on its 90-by-90-foot trimaran in the 2010 America's Cup and routed Alinghi of Switzerland in two races to return the silver trophy to the United States. The wing dramatically improved the trimaran's acceleration and maneuverability.
The number of entries will shake out this month. Teams must sign an AC45 purchase contract and pay a 50 percent, nonrefundable deposit by June 10. Each AC45 costs just more than $1 million.
Teams that make the cut will be introduced at a news conference scheduled for June 15 in San Francisco.
Organizers said 15 teams from a record 12 countries, including defending champion Oracle Racing of San Francisco, met the March 31 entry deadline. At the time, officials were checking two of the entries against qualifying requirements.
Italian syndicate Mascalzone Latino withdrew last month, saying it wasn't able to raise the money needed to be competitive. Mascalzone Latino represented the Challenger of Record, Club Nautico di Roma. The Royal Swedish Yacht Club has since become the Challenger of Record, meaning it represents the interests of all challengers in dealing with the defender.
According to americascup.com, there are 12 challengers entered, including four undisclosed, plus Oracle Racing. That means another challenger besides Mascalzone Latino either dropped out or was rejected. Organizers have said all along they expected some challengers to drop out, and that a field of eight to 10 would be good given the weak economy.
Murray said organizers planned for 10 syndicate bases in San Francisco and only 10 AC45s will be available for the start of the AC World Series.
"Now, if we need to find more spaces, we'll do it," Murray said. "If it's eight, that's a good result. We thought 10 would be an exceptional result. We planned for that to be the max. We'd like to be proven wrong."
As another enticement, organizers eliminated the first performance bond for the AC World Series and replaced it with a $100,000 entry fee. They also will allow for late entries, if Oracle Racing approves.