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Australia returns to challenge for America's Cup

Oracle Team USA sails against the city skyline against Emirates Team New Zealand during Race 3 of the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race
Oracle Team USA sails against the city skyline against Emirates Team New Zealand during Race 3 of the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian wine magnate Bob Oatley's Hamilton Island Yacht Club has been confirmed as the Challenger of Record for the 35th America's Cup, organizers said on Tuesday.

Oatley and his son Sandy issued the challenge to the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) minutes after Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA beat Team New Zealand in a winner-takes-all race on San Francisco Bay last week.

"We're very proud. We've been watching the 34th America's Cup and watching the catamarans racing around San Francisco Bay and seeing some of our fellow Australian sailors participating and seeing what a shame it is that Australia doesn't have a team to compete in this arena," Sandy Oatley told Reuters by phone.

"It's always been on every sailor's wish-list to compete in the America's Cup.

"Dad always wanted to do it, we just went last week to the 30th anniversary of Australia II winning the America's Cup from Liberty and so its sort of been building for a while."

The GGYC confirmed Hamilton Island Yacht Club's (HIYC) challenge late on Monday, two days after Reuters reported that an employee of the Oatleys had delivered the challenge seconds after Oracle crossed the line to seal victory on Wednesday.

As the Challenger of Record, the club will help shape the rules for the 35th America's Cup along with the defender. Additional challengers are expected to emerge as the next competition takes shape in the coming years.

SAILING PEDIGREE

Bob Oatley made a fortune first as a coffee trader and then as a vintner, and bought Hamilton Island, an idyllic resort in Queensland state's Great Barrier Reef, in 2003.

A long-time competitive sailing enthusiast, Oatley's series of super-maxi yachts, all named 'Wild Oats', have won multiple times one of the world's most challenging offshore challenges - the Sydney-to-Hobart long-distance ocean race.

"We are delighted to have Hamilton Island Yacht Club and the Oatleys leading Australia back into the America's Cup for the first time since 2000," GGYC Vice Commodore and America's Cup liaison Tom Ehman said in a statement.

"Hamilton Island's challenge was filed on the day Australia was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Australia II's historic win in the 1983 Americas Cup off Newport, Rhode Island, which ended New York Yacht Club's 132-year reign as the Cup's defender."

Ehman said both parties would work together to establish the protocols for the next regatta, while the GGYC would choose the next venue with the details finalized by early 2014.

"Both clubs are keen to have multiple challengers, as has been the norm since 1970, and to cut campaign costs for all teams," Ehman added.

The 34th America's Cup had only three challengers, with the costs of the campaign, which was raced in high-tech, super-fast AC72 catamarans, put in excess of $100 million and cited as the main reason why so few teams went to San Francisco.

SPONSORS POSITIVE

Forbes ranked Oatley as Australia's 25th richest with just under $1 billion. Ellison is the world's fifth richest man with $43 billion.

Sandy Oatley said the team was yet to confirm sponsorship arrangements for what has become an exorbitant undertaking but had received "very positive feedback" from potential Australian backers.

"We're looking for a great Australian challenge with some Australian corporates and some great Australian sailors.

"I think it's more getting Australia back in the arena and I think they're all welcoming the fact of trying to contain the costs."

The 35th America's Cup will be the first time that Australia has had an entry since Oracle captain James Spithill skippered 'Young Australia' in the 30th edition in Auckland in 2000, despite the country's strong sailing tradition.

Yachting Australia (YA) hailed the challenge, coming after the 30th anniversary of Australia II's win with an innovative winged keel, one of the nation's proudest sporting moments.

"We look forward to working with the club to create a pathway for Australia's young sailors to compete at the top level," YA CEO Phil Jones said in a statement.

"This challenge will help to inspire Australia's next group of champion sailors as the dream of racing for the America's Cup on a boat with an Australian flag will now be within reach."

(Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ken Ferris /Greg Stutchbury)

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