How much would it cost to have a competitive challenger in the 34th America’s Cup? It depends on who you ask. Sir Keith Mills, principal of the now-defunct America’s Cup hopeful Team Origin, had stated that he needed 100 million pounds (120 million euros) for the British potential challenger to mount a successful campaign. Russell Coutts stated last September that the “smallest teams could operate on a budget of 40 million euros”, which means the big competitive teams should have a considerably bigger budget. Finally, Iain Murray, CEO of America’s Cup Race Management, told the media in Dubai on Thursday that approximately 20 million euros could be enough.
Our colleague Michele Tognozzi, editor of FareVela, talked to Silvio Arrivabene and asked him to give his expert opinion on what the costs are in this edition of the world’s oldest sports trophy. Arrivabene knows what he’s talking about having done two America’s Cup campaigns with Mascalzone Latino, the most recent one as the operations manager, while in the 33rd America’s Cup he was the construction and planning manager of Alinghi 5. If there’s somebody that knows a thing or two about building big catamarans, it’s Arrivabene.
Here’s what Arrivabene had to say about budgets and the 34th America’s Cup:
FareVela: Iain Murray talked about 20 million euros to participate in the 34th America’s Cup. Does this figure seem plausible to you?
Silvio Arrivabene: First of all, we need to agree on what “participate” means. If one wants to be there without any ambition to succeed, then it could even be a conceivable figure, for one AC45, one AC72, one wing and a basic group but nothing more. Something similar to China Team in Valencia in 2007. No possibilities at all and a presence that will pass unnoticed. If, on the other hand, as it would seem logical in an event of the significance of the America’s Cup, one has the ambition to win, I think it’s a figure absolutely undersized and nothing remotely close to what instead we will need to spend.
FareVela: We are obviously interested in the second case, that of a team with the ambition to win. Can we enter into more details?
Silvio Arrivabene: I start by saying that I have carried out a study of the Protocol for some potential projects that had been conceived and as a result I rely on objective data. In summary, a team that wants to try to win must already have a couple of Extreme 40’s for training, then a couple of AC45’s (US$ 600,000 each just the boat), two AC72’s and a development plan that foresees up to 8 wings (the maximum allowed by the rules), about 10 rudders and daggerboards (in a catamaran you always think in pairs) and a development of soft sails. For the aerodynamic research we assume a couple of engineers for the AC45’s, a team of 3-4 engineers dedicated to the AC72’s and the wings, in addition to the people directly involved in the construction.
FareVela: How much would all that cost?
Silvio Arrivabene: We suppose it’s a new team with the maximum ambitions and a tested boat yard, such as Green Marine, with which I collaborated up to a couple of years ago. For the wing on USA17, 64 meters high, BMW Oracle has declared 100,000 hours of work. With a shared knowhow and an AC72 wing, 40 meters high, I think we could envisage 15,000 hours of work at an hourly rate of approximately 50 euros. I’m only referring to the boatyard cost, excluding materials, people and research. As a result, just for the construction of one piece it would be around 750,000 euros. We are talking about just one wing.
A big team needs 8 wings at 15,000 hours each, 4 hulls at 3,000 hours each, 4 rudders and 4 daggerboards. Just the hourly cost, with a calculator in hand, can reach 6 million euros, to which we need to add engineering and development, research and the people to do it. For an AC45 we would need approximately 21,000 hours of work. Just one wing corresponds to two thirds of an ACC Version 5 yacht.
In fact, it seems to me that if you aren’t BMW Oracle you will find it difficult to build 8 wings, given the fact they have an advantage of at least two years in the sector in addition to unlimited resources. During AC33 they had no budget limits, now I think they also have prudent people internally, that care about that issue, for example I think of Murray Jones, but undoubtedly they are in an enormously advantageous position.
3D simulation of an AC72. Video copyright America’s Cup
FareVela: Any other expenditures?
Silvio Arrivabene: We shouldn’t underestimate material costs. There are pieces that need a lot of carbon, for example the daggerboards, the rudders that can cost up to 80,000 euros each. We have to keep in mind that just having the money will not be enough, but specific knowledge is also required that you either have it or you build it. To do that you need time with competent people available for two years and the possibility to test and develop. The America’s Cup is not a one-design race, on multihulls speed is everything and the experienced people in that sector count for much. Such specialists are expensive.
FareVela: What about the sailing team?
Silvio Arrivabene: We have been told that the AC45’s have a crew of 5 and the AC72’s a crew of 11, but in order to have two AC72’s you will need 22 sailors and you can’t expect having the best without making a “reservation”. They are called “retainer” contracts, a basic way to lock on to some sailors while you wait until you can use their services on the water, and have to be added to the 11 monthly salaries you would pay the sailors you hire right away.
In addition, on multihulls it won’t be possible to have muscular neophytes fresh out of the gym or from rowing that accept a minimal 2,500 euros per month because they wish to be there. You will need experienced and skilled sailors with abilities and technical knowhow, unless you want to take some skilled kid out of the 470 and train him, but that will not be the case with our hypothetical team, that has the ambition to succeed. Between the design, sailing and shore teams, costs will rapidly increase for a 2-year campaign, the minimum if you hope to just be close to the Defender’s abilities.
FareVela: What about the logistics?
Silvio Arrivabene: As far as transportation in concerned, it seems ACRM will have a ship where all equipment will travel, but every team will have to take care on its own of the international shipments and the construction of new pieces. You shouldn’t think that there isn’t always a new bow or rudder that has to be shipped to San Francisco or wherever the event or pre-event takes place. With two and a half years until the event, scheduled for September 2013, that’s the reality, obviously excluding BMW Oracle.
FareVela: After we do all the calculations what figure do we get?
Silvio Arrivabene: I think that a plausible figure is around 100 million euros, in any case much more than the 60 million Coutts and Onorato were talking about. The 20 million euros conceived by Iain Murray are, I repeat, for a team that is only interested in participating, without any ambition.
FareVela: It goes without saying that in the America’s Cup winning is the only thing that counts. Who can spend those figures?
Silvio Arrivabene: I repeat, it’s not just an issue of having the money or not, it’s also the experience and the people that count in order to achieve it. You may have the budget but still not be able to get through to the real challenge against BMW Oracle.
FareVela: Given the fact the strongest potential challenger, Alinghi, has just announced it won’t be taking part in the America’s Cup under these conditions, are we already heading towards a final between Coutts’ BMW Oracle and Paul Cayard’s Artemis?
Silvio Arrivabene: It’s too early to say but instead of Artemis I always think it will be the Kiwis. Emirates Team New Zealand, if they ever decide to enter the America’s Cup, have the right people even in the design team that has been strengthened with skilled people. Grant Dalton’s own statement that ETNZ won’t take part in the Cup unless they are able to win it, seems to be addressed at BMW Oracle so that, if within 6 months there are few teams taking part, they facilitate the participation of the kiwis. It counts having Emirates Team New Zealand in the event, there is no doubt.
FareVela: And the so promised show?
Silvio Arrivabene: These days we have seen in Dubai how the close encounters, the fights and the battles are the essence of match racing. We didn’t miss the show in the Louis Vuitton Trophy. Speed alone doesn’t bring any show, going at 25 knots all alone in the middle of the sea isn’t so important, unless you are in the Volvo Ocean Race, I can assure you about that. I’m just back from a season on Esimit Europa 2, a 100-foot supermaxi. We rounded Sicily in the last Rolex Middle Sea Race fighting against the watch and giving our best, but we were all alone out there, that’s the truth. If there’s no fight, boredom comes quickly, can you tell me what’s so spectacular in watching a Formula 1 car going at 300 kph by itself in a straight line? When I think about spectacular sailing, the Volvo Ocean Race and the TP52’s come in mind, and for sure not the AC33 last February. You can go as fast as you want, even at 30 knots, but if there’s no close fighting there will be no show and anyone that sails knows it.
FareVela: What are your personal plans?
Silvio Arrivabene: As I said, I sailed this season on Esimit Europa 2, as the navigator. It’s a very complex boat with lots of technology and many systems so my role implied lots of work. We are now preparing the 2011 season. In addition, I’m involved with engineering consultancy in various fields. I’ve done three America’s Cups, so I’m not interested in doing it just for the sake of it but an interesting project can always be stimulating.