Returning to the waters where it won the America's Cup, BMW Oracle Racing of San Francisco plans to spend four days next week conducting trials off Valencia, Spain, that will help it determine whether the next regatta will be sailed in multihulls or traditional monohulls.
The trials will be conducted with two pairs of X40 catamarans and RC44 sloops. The syndicate will test whether to have downwind or reaching starts rather than traditional windward starts and will experiment with 3-D and high-definition TV production.
Syndicate CEO Russell Coutts, a four-time America's Cup winner, said BMW Oracle Racing is challenging accepted standards of America's Cup racing and looking for the most compelling television production.
"We are testing many different concepts," Coutts said in a statement. "Would making the first leg downwind instead of upwind be better? Can you have exciting boat-on-boat action with multihulls? Are there alternative race course formats which might provide more overtaking opportunities?"
Multihulls have been paired in the America's Cup only once before, when BMW Oracle Racing's trimaran routed a catamaran from Alinghi of Switzerland on the Mediterranean in February. While there were some exciting moments, there are varying opinions whether multihulls can mix it up in close proximity to each other or whether they offer the boat behind more opportunities to pass.
The only other time a multihull raced was in 1988, when Dennis Conner's catamaran routed New Zealand's big monohull in two races off San Diego.
If multihulls are chosen for the 34th America's Cup, they'll be smaller and less costly than the 90-by-90-foot monsters used in February. Those multihulls were the byproduct of a bitter, 2½-year court fight between BMW Oracle Racing and Alinghi.
The specific class will be chosen by the end of September.
Coutts co-designed the RC44 class of high-performance sloops. Jimmy Spithill, the Australian who steered BMW Oracle Racing to victory in February, will be at the helm of one of the two yachts. They will race short-handed, eight-person crews to see if that adds a level of drama to boat handling that would be compelling for television.
"Only by reviewing the accepted wisdom can we decide if there are smarter ways to challenge crews and excite fans," Coutts said.
Roman Hagara of Austria and Murray Jones of New Zealand, a former Alinghi crew member, will be among those skippering the X40s. Hagara is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the Tornado class and Jones raced multihulls extensively in the buildup to the last America's Cup.