One sentence. Just one little sentence. That’s all it took. A few words of hopeful conjecture and the world goes nuts. My inbox filled relentlessly. Messaging apps beeped at me non-stop. Phone calls came in from all over the world. I was wrong. So, so wrong. And wrong to even suggest it. I was clueless. Moronic. Out of my depth. Out of line. There was just no way that was going to happen. And then the messages turned darker. Sinking ships are leaking vessels. People ‘in the know’ started contacting. And the remarkable thing is, for once, they were all saying the same thing and it breaks your heart to read it.
So what was it that piqued so much interest? The Kiwis winning 7-0? Nope not a word, that’s a given. My assertion that the Cup will be won by unseen mechatronics controlling the mainsail camber? Not that, everyone knows that’s right. The Challenger series will be tighter than we expect? Hopeful but nope. American Magic cruising straight to the final? No. Paul Goodison being the MVP of the Cup? Not a jot – everyone agrees with that.
No, it was the line about the Brits doing well enough to get a renewed sponsorship commitment that sent the world banzai. “You are having a laugh,” said one. “Wrong on so many levels” said another. “Ain’t happening” said a text. “He’s absolutely furious” opined another. “More chance of David Beckham getting a knighthood” was the best.
And this was all before New Zealand woke up. And when they did, things turned, as I say, darker. You have to be careful when you run a blog like this as people tell you things with such conviction and in such a compelling manner that sometimes truth is blinding. You look for patterns and then go with what you see and what you believe. It’s a personal viewpoint after all with no commercial objective. It can be a struggle to be 50% right in life let alone in a blog.
But the pattern is clear. The Brits, it would appear, are unhappy campers down in Auckland. At the fringes, team members are, by all accounts, already looking for their next gig. CV’s are being sent. The sailors are showing a united front (as the professionals they are) but around the edges the cracks are starting to appear. To be honest, I heard this weeks ago.
I think it’s probably fair to say that an air of desperate disappointment hangs around the team. An awful lot of hard graft and commitment has gone into this campaign but it has floundered on design and poor management. Fingers have been pointing upwards for quite a while, actually since the start of the campaign, at an over-bearing, know-it-all management that are better at managing upwards than creating a cohesive force. And that shows on the water.
Will this be a dynasty campaign? If my readers are to be believed, not a chance. This is game over in a month’s time. I even got a classic about the base in Portsmouth selling off furniture – what’s that all about? It doesn’t sound like they will be back anytime soon.
And looking at the shots of them on the water yesterday, it doesn’t look like many changes have been made despite eight days in the shed. A bit of combing to hide the grinders (since corrected by eagle-eyed reader ‘James’ – they haven’t even updated these) and, as expected, the work has gone into the system controls. The foils looked agricultural. On both sides. The boat is still pitching and stable flight looks a long way off.
I hope everyone’s wrong. I hope they come out on the 15th January and smoke the fleet. I hope I’m being played. I hope they’re doing the mother of all sandbags. I doubt it. Highly. But I would love to see them do well and would love to see a continuity for the campaign. I remember interviewing Larry Ellison after the 2003 Cup when those Oracle IACC boats looked like weapons but performed like donkeys and it was his steely determination that was almost frightening. He had a bigger picture of how to play this ‘game’ and was absolutely determined to bring the event to San Francisco and have the public sat on bleachers in the Bay watching racing. His enthusiasm, even in the darkest moments, was infectious. To Larry, a few hundred million was, and still is, chump change. He was going to win it, no matter what and the history books now tell their own story. It became an obsession. Wouldn’t it be great to see that kind of determination in the British? Take the beating. Get mad. Get furious. Get even.
The problem with British challenges is always the politics. We never get it right. Echo chambers and cliques form and by the time it’s acknowledged, it’s way too late. But you can see it from a mile off – literally miles off. The cliques start with a coterie of sailors who all do the circuit together. Nothing too wrong with that but it’s a virus that spreads fast. A design echo chamber follows swiftly and then a management overlaid that’s seen better days and believes its own hype. And then comes a clueless communications strategy that can’t resist talking about “bringing the Cup home” and the death spiral starts.
Expectation is always set way too high. It’s the killer of all British campaigns and we just can’t help it. A pervasive sense of entitlement devoid of strategic thinking and long-term purpose. Building the team around individuals rather than a team. It’s the same story every cycle. And as for truth, well that’s only discovered on the water and in this Cup, surely being lapped, breaking down, can’t tack, can’t gybe, no point, no VMG, no design, the list goes on…is all you need to see to know that fundamentally we’ve got it wrong from top to bottom.
I’m unlikely to ever be a billionaire so I don’t think like one but if I had more money than can possibly be spent in several lifetimes, common sense tells me that I would set my compass at the Cup with a long-term strategy and vision. I would then read the bible, no not that one, but Dennis Conner’s ‘No Excuse to lose” and I would set a goal of winning in three cycles. The cyclists did this with Team Sky. Sir Dave Brailsford was almost laughed at when he said that he would put a British cyclist on the top step of the podium in the Tour de France within five years. He did it in two. Famously it was about marginal gains. Gains all around. Small percentages here and there with the best in the business on hand to deliver performance. That’s the blueprint. Cut out the flim-flam and the politics. Cut the communications nonsense and commercial teams to the core. Engage properly and concentrate on winning.
DC spoke about the commitment to the commitment – his crew said they should be committed for their commitment to the commitment afterwards. That’s what it takes to win. And every ounce of me wants to see a British victory. Sadly, I fear, the wait goes on.
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