America's Cup: Middle East tension triggers security concerns at Saudi Arabia preliminary regatta

Emirates Team New Zealand are eyeing revenge against rivals American Magic at the second America's Cup preliminary regatta in Saudi Arabia later this month - if the US team take to the water.

The holders of the 'Auld Mug' are back on home waters, but the familiarity of the Hauraki Gulf is a luxury they won't enjoy at Jeddah.

"Just excited to get back out racing," confirmed helmsman Peter Burling.

Team NZ put their AC40 through its paces off Auckland.
Team NZ put their AC40 through its paces off Auckland. Photo credit: Photosport

It's the first time a sailing event of this significance has been staged on the Red Sea and the nation is embracing the milestone, despite nearby Middle East tension and security concerns at the venue. 

Earlier this year, the New York Yacht Club asked to be excused from the regatta, after travel warnings from the US State Department, but that request was dismissed by the independent arbitration panel.

There were also reports Swiss Alinghi may also pull out, but Team NZ chief executive Grant Dalton is quick to quash them. 

"Well, Alinghi is already there with two boats sailing, so I don't think they've got any intention of doing anything else but sailing," he said. "All of the teams have paid their entry fee, all are on the ship."

Team NZ crew also hope for the chance to avenge their narrow defeat at the first regatta off Spain in September.

"We always enjoy that rivalry with the Americans," said Burling. "They obviously got the better of us in Vilanova, so we hope they are there for sure.

Team NZ head out onto the Hauraki Gulf.
Team NZ head out onto the Hauraki Gulf. Photo credit: Photosport

Dalton says they're concious of the security situation, but are monitoring it closely. 

"What's happening in Israel and Gaza is terrible, there's no doubt about it, but we have daily security briefings from a reputable world security company," he said. "At the moment, everything is all go."

The countdown to the 2024 Cup continues.