Australian Yacht Club Accepted as America’s Cup Challenger

Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club, led by millionaire winemaker Bob Oatley, was accepted as the official challenger to defending champion Oracle Team USA at the next America’s Cup.

Oatley and his son Sandy filed the challenge shortly after Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in the deciding race of the 34th America’s Cup on Sept. 26, the San Francisco-based Golden Gate Yacht Club said in announcing its acceptance in a statement.

As the challenger of record, the Oatleys will help shape the rules for the next edition along with the defending Golden Gate Yacht Club. The two clubs said they expect to agree on a protocol governing the event, including dates, venue and vessels, in the first few months of 2014.

“The dates, type of boat, format and rules are subject to negotiation between the challenger of record and defender following consultation with prospective challengers, venues, sponsors and other stakeholders,” GGYC Vice Commodore Tom Ehman said in a statement. “Both clubs are keen to have multiple challengers, as has been the norm since 1970, and to cut campaign costs for all teams.”

Team New Zealand spent $100 million, funded by taxpayers and corporate sponsors, on its 2013 campaign. Ellison, the chief executive officer of Oracle Corp. and the eighth-richest man in the world according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, spent more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to win the trophy off Valencia, Spain, in 2010 and Oracle ran another $100 million campaign this cycle. The cost limited the number of challengers in this year’s series to three.

No Ballpark Figure

Bob Oatley, the 27th richest Australian with a fortune of about $950 million according to Forbes, said it was too soon to be able to estimate the costs of competing in the next edition.

“I haven’t got a ballpark figure yet,” Sandy Oatley said today at a news conference alongside his father in Sydney. “Not until we know what the race is going to look like, what the boat’s going to look like. We don’t know.”

Last month’s regatta on San Francisco Bay featured elite sailors racing the world’s fastest boats -- $8 million, 72-foot (22-meter) catamarans with 12-story vertical wings, capable of soaring above the waves on hydrofoils at speeds exceeding 45 miles an hour (72 kph).

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“Racing in San Francisco altered the world’s opinion of these boats,” Bob Oatley said. “Prior to that, a lot of people thought they were a flop. It changed completely last week, which has made a big difference to everyone’s thinking.”

Oracle’s 9-8 series victory over Team New Zealand came after it trailed 8-1. The team skippered by Australian Jimmy Spithill and featuring his 2012 Olympic gold-medal winning countryman Tom Slingsby put together eight straight wins for the biggest comeback in the 162-year-old event.

The previous biggest fightback was in 1983, when Alan Bond’s Australia II overcame a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series against Dennis Conner’s Liberty and end the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year hold on the trophy, the longest winning streak in sports.

Oatley’s succession of yachts named Wild Oats have won six of the past eight Sydney to Hobart races, while he led an Australian team to victory in the last edition of the Admiral’s Cup in 2003.

Australia hasn’t competed in the America’s Cup regatta since losing to the U.S. in 1987 when defending its 1983 title. Australian boats contested the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series in 1992, 1995 and 2000.

While Hamilton Island Yacht Club, based on the Greet Barrier Reef, will negotiate the rules of the next regatta, the Australian entry will still have to beat other challengers before it can contest the America’s Cup.

“The more the merrier,” Bob Oatley said.