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Oracle Racing to help build expensive America’s Cup boat

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San Francisco Bay will soon make history as the site of the largest and fastest boats ever raced in the international America’s Cup regatta. But that also means competitors will need the biggest-ever wallets for research, design and construction of the $8 million, 72-foot catamarans — dubbed AC-72s — that will be used in the 2013 finals.

One French team has already dropped out of the competition due in part to the high costs, although another French squad is looking to take its place — but only if local team Oracle Racing tells them how to build the boat first. As defenders of the Cup, Oracle is setting down the rules and boat specs for the final competition.

The “technology transfer” deal brokered between Oracle and the French Energy Team was hailed as a positive development for the sport, but the information sharing represents something of a departure from the traditional engineering aspect of the competition.

The move lends itself to a new push by race organizers to create a more television-friendly, action-packed race filled with crashes and mayhem. For that, Oracle Racing will need competition, which hasn’t come easily.

While seven teams from nine countries are currently racing the smaller, $1 million AC-45 boats in an America’s Cup World Series event in Naples, Italy, only four teams have signed up for the fall 2013 races here. The deadline to pay the $200,000 entry fee is not until June 1, but interest has been lax compared to years past.

Both sides of the information-sharing deal hailed it as a “historic” move that creates “time and budget savings.” Financing generally comes from company sponsors or wealthy benefactors, and total team budgets can range between $25 million and $100 million, according to the America’s Cup Event Authority.

The covert world of America’s Cup sailing — often the target of waterborne spies with binoculars — has traditionally considered boat construction as part of a team’s worth, as it is in car racing. Even so, Energy Team CEO Bruno Peyron said the sport is changing for the better.

“We now have everything we need to enable us to succeed, and maybe even pull off a major surprise,” Peyron said.

Stephen Barclay, the America’s Cup Event Authority’s CEO, said other teams are also looking to purchase the construction plans, which could make them “competitive from Day One.” Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts said the technology transfer will help Energy Team sailors continue their “fantastic exploits.”

“The next America’s Cup is all about the best sailors, the fastest boats and an achievable business model,” Coutts said. “This agreement hits all three targets.”

In January, Team New Zealand and the Italian Luna Rossa team agreed to collaborate on building two AC-72s — one as a stripped-down device to measure against the other’s modifications — to save on development costs. But both teams plan to construct their own catamarans for the final races.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

Regatta watercraft

AC-45
Details: 45-foot yachts used in America’s Cup preamble events
Cost: $1 million

AC-72
Details: Previously unseen 72-foot yachts to be used in America’s Cup finals
Cost: $6 million to $8 million

Source: America’s Cup Event Authority