Bold Protocol | Reconnaissance

The America’s Cup has always been rooted in a design race, and part of that contest is understanding what the competition is doing. This has led to some ruthless espionage tactics in past events, but for the 37th edition, the Protocol took a different approach. INEOS Britannia sailor Dylan Fletcher, who leads on the recon programme for the British team, talks about the new joint recon rule. 


“Previously, the reconnaissance programmes have all been teams doing it individually. This is the first time that we've had a joint reconnaissance programme. It has its pros and cons, but certainly for the sailing fans it has opened up all this footage for broadcast, which I think is fantastic for the media side of the America's Cup and getting the fans involved. 

“The history has the reconnaissance going back a long time and one of the key stories was the winged keel of the Australians [in 1983]. It was shrouded and kept secret, so teams were sending divers down to try and take photos and see what was going on. Nowadays the rules don’t allow shrouding, or individual reconnaissance for most of AC37.   

INEOS Britannia AC40 Athena and Athena Pathway AC40 Sienna two boat testing in Barcelona.
© Cameron Gregory

“This was a change in the Protocol, previously, for AC36 and before that, teams ran their own recon programmes. We would send people around the world to follow other teams and see what they were getting up to. Whereas now, each team has a centrally organised reconnaissance team following them; so that's two people, a photographer and a reporter. 

“Every day that a team goes sailing in either an LEQ 12 – so that’s T6 or a modified AC40 for us -- an AC75, or with two AC40s then we have to have a recon team following us. Ultimately, their job is to provide recon for all the other teams so that we don't all have to follow each other. They're here from the moment the boat rolls out of the shed, to the moment the boat goes back in, at the end of the day. 

INEOS Britannia's LEQ12 test boat, T6
© Cameron Gregory

“Once they're here on site, they're on our apron; so outside of the shed. There's a minimum distance in the rules that they must be from the yacht. So, when the boat's on our apron and we're rigging up, the recon team cannot be kept any further away than 25 metres, so we have a set point on our apron where they stay to take the pictures. And then when the yacht gets lifted into the water, we have another place on the dock that is within those 25 metres.  

“They take as much photography and video of everything as they want. Then we go sailing, we provide them with a chase boat and they follow us around. There are rules around exactly how close they can get, it's 50 metres, but this is drastically reduced from previous Cups where it was like, 200 metres. The join recon teams get much closer than previously allowed on the water. And then once we get back ashore, the team provides a sailing or shore team member or designer for a three-minute interview, and then they video the boat coming out of the water. 


“All the content from the joint recon programme then gets uploaded to a SharePoint drive and every team has access to that. There's also a group of journalists that have access, so you can see some of the content on YouTube, people pick and choose what they think is interesting. 

“Internally, it's certainly very useful to have access to all this recon and it has certainly reduced the CO2 impact from everyone flying around the world. For example if there wasn’t this change in the rules to joint recon and Team New Zealand went sailing in their new AC 75 for the first time. There would have been five teams sending their own recon teams to New Zealand to cover. They would all have flown from wherever in the world down to New Zealand. Then use five chase boats on the water all chasing around one AC75. The teams would also need someone else in another country, following another team, someone else in another country following another team… and so on. It’s costly from a time, money and also CO2 perspective. So the new joint recon rule has been great in terms of reducing the cost for each team and reducing our impact on the world.  

© Cameron Gregory

“Outside the joint recon rule, the teams are very restricted in terms of what we can do. We're not allowed to take any photos or video of another team, other than a casual photo from shore of another yacht. We're actually more restricted than the general public on taking photos of one of the other teams. 

 “The joint Recon programme runs up till two months before racing starts in the Final Preliminary Regatta. And from that point we go to a different set of rules, and we will be allowed to go and follow the other teams. The difference being that we are all here in Barcelona so ultimately, we're all going to be on the water anyway. It will get interesting, and we'll be outside the bases when they're rigging up with our long lenses looking at all the detail and seeing what we can. But the flip side is that by two months before the racing starts a lot of the decisions have been made, and it's really just the small details from that point. 

“Another aspect is that before we’d have these 75-foot chase boats all looking to get the right photo of a 75-foot yacht that's travelling at 40, 50 knots. So, it's certainly a step up on the safety side just having one joint recon boat following each team, and with the team able to communicate with that one recon boat and ensure that they know what's going to happen next. They can ensure they don't get in the way too often. 

INEOS Britannia AC40 Athena and Athena Pathway AC40 Sienna two boat testing in Barcelona.
© Cameron Gregory

“Ultimately, the recon is used for a number of things within our team. It starts off with basics around foils and sail shapes, and what we think are the directions the teams are taking. Then the other side is the sailing team perspective, where we're looking at how are they choosing to sail the boat from a playbook. So, what is the helm doing? Is the helm just steering? Are they trimming the jib? Are they also trimming the pitch?  

“And then the final piece is the two-boating and the match racing, and being able to look at what the other teams are doing in that respect. We want to see if there's anything that we need to be picking up on, or something new that they might be trying. And of course, they are watching us. It's quite an interesting one, not being able to hide too much, but obviously needing to be able to put your own playbook into practice.  

“The new joint recon rule has been an awesome update for the Cup, it’s created more engagement for fans to get the constant updates on what all the teams are up to and it has also provided all the teams the technical and performance details they need on their competitors, it's been a huge benefit”.