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the new ac – a bad joke?

Anarchist David, our occasional Down Under correspondent, recently filed an extended analysis for Afloat magazine of the recently released Class Rules for the AC75 yachts to be used in the 2021 series. Here’s a condensed version of his thoughts:
A distinguishing feature of the Trump Era has been how quickly a weird policy proposal or outlandish public statement becomes the ‘new normal’. No matter how preposterous the notion, after an initial day of media anguish and ferment what seemed way out of left field yesterday somehow drifts into the middle ground by today. Tomorrow it will be accepted as reasonable, if not inevitable. Nobody seems to have the courage to stand up and yell, “Stop! This is batshit crazy!”    
This reluctance to confront arrant nonsense has now infected just about every area of human endeavor, and sailing is not exempt. Here’s a case in point: when the New Zealand holders of the America’s Cup and the Challenger of Record published their joint new class rules for the 36th America’s Cup the boat they envisaged was like nothing that exists in the sport. They dreamed up a bizarre foiling monohull with no keel that has never been built, let alone sailed.
Those new rules were released on March 31 – just 24 hours before April Fool’s Day –  but did anyone say, “You’ve got to be kidding”? Nope. We accepted this drawing-board fantasy as yet another triumph of sailing technology and didn’t bother reading the fine print.
Well, the AC75 rules are all fine print. The document runs to 62 pages of very small type. There are 304 distinct rules, plus their many sub-sections. They range from specifying the extent of allowable foil cant angle to the electrical actuation of drive clutches. There are at least a thousand cited limit values on length, weight, diameter, area, volume, strength, thickness, density and pressure. Everything is tightly controlled – down to tolerances of +/- 2mm – for fear that some cunning designer or computer whizz might stumble on an advantage that puts all other entrants out of the competition from Race #1.
The levels of detail driving this control mania are astonishing. The nominated restrictions include:
* only eight permitted brands of surface paint
* an allowable variation in hull length of just 10 cm
* 13 separate rules governing hydraulic control circuits
* nine rules (plus detailed diagrams) to regulate electrical and electronic systems
* 10 rules to govern the foil cant system
* a formula with eight components to limit mainsail girth
Not surprisingly, the rules document concludes with no less than 100 separate definitions of the terms it includes.
The end result is that the fleet of AC75s who will race from Auckland in 2021 are likely to be virtually identical. It was much the same with the foiling catamarans in Bermuda last year. The only notable physical difference was the quartet of cyclists on the New Zealand boat. (The new rule even puts an end to that wrinkle: all crew power “must primarily be transmitted through the crew’s hands”.)
So, what will be the point of all this huge expenditure of money, effort and expertise? Why such extraordinary degrees of complication and control? If the America’s Cup is to become a pure test of yacht racing skill then we may as well sail it in one-designs –  Etchells, or even Lasers. At least the ordinary sailor might then feel a genuine connection to the event.
There is, however one part of these new America’s Cup rules that should be a comfort to us all. Rule 27.1 states that the crew “shall all be human beings”. Good to know.