With the greatest respect to the venerable denizens of the New York Yacht Club and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, I disagree with their desire to put the AC boats back in the water. I think this kills the Cup stone-dead. It would take it from the pinnacle to ‘just another regatta’ on the circuit and despite their vision that the boats would be magnificent at 80-100 feet, again I just don’t see it.
Personally I think these AC75’s have the wow factor and now that we can see that they are not just master-blasters but boats that can actually race against each other, my view is that there is no going back. And more, I gauge engagement by the reactions of non-sailing friends and even family members who just marvel at these things. They are click-bait for the modern generation and do more than just fine for the purists.
I want to see top level sport being something that requires professionals at the very peak of their athleticism. In sailing I want to see something that astounds me with speeds that I haven’t even hit in a motor boat. How many of us have actually been 50 knots? Downwind, downhill on the Col de Madone on my bike with my heart in my mouth maybe, but on water? That’s awesome. And the new sailing lexicon of aero over hydro is fascinating and it’s providing more intrigue than we have seen in the Cup since 1983. This Cup cycle is head and shoulders over any event of the last thirty years. Personally I haven’t been this excited since Stars & Stripes in 1987. It is a brilliant event in the perfect location at the perfect time in world sport. Please let’s not knock it and drag the event kicking and screaming back into the dark ages.
Pull up an old IACC race on YouTube or even a 12 Metre race from pre-Fremantle (that was extraordinary, okay I get it) and it looks like a snail race. Furniture racing. I can go and watch the J-Class and get that fix – and they are truly magnificent pieces of classic architecture. But they are not this. This is better than Formula 1. This is better than anything that the sporting calendar will show us in the next five years. Embrace the foiling generation and marvel at the boundaries of physics being pushed. I cannot name a single sport that will come anywhere close to the America’s Cup in New Zealand in 2021.
Sure, I would argue that costs need to be addressed and I’m on record as saying that I think grinding hydraulic oil is akin to North Korean-esque slave labour and should be replaced by battery power. Didn’t Ineos Team UK have electric winches during their Covid training period? I’d like to see this adopted. I’d argue that crew numbers need to be down to five per boat – helmsman, trimmers, flight control and tactics. That’s all we need. Build the narrative around superstars. I’d like to see even more one-design elements – perhaps even down to actual foil design – to cut down development costs. But I’d like to see an increase in electronics packages – fly by wire almost as this would keep deltas super tight and the racing even more electric. I get that $100m or $140m is not right for the times right now so cutting costs from the boats and the huge teams required to support every facet of the package is necessary and is perfectly achievable. But don’t put the boats back in the water. Please.
Sport at the very highest level ultimately rests on human interest – success and failure. The two imposters. It’s what drives the narrative and keeps the public coming back for more. Whilst we acknowledge that Mercedes is the stand out car in Formula 1, it’s Lewis Hamilton that gets the plaudits of being the driver of his generation. The America’s Cup is precisely in the same bracket. Team New Zealand may well win this event with the best design package but it will be Pete Burling on the wheel who will get the plaudits. Or if the New York Yacht Club win, it will be Dean Barker whose stock will rise the most. Sure there are plenty others in both teams that I could point to: Hutchinson, Goodison, Ashby, Tuke, Dalton but it’s the rockstars that take the glory in the eyes of the media. We have to acknowledge that as a sport.
Whilst it’s healthy to have the debate and it’s great that issues are raised by senior people in the game, I feel strongly that they are on the wrong path and are getting airtime because of who they are rather than what they are saying. Fine to review this after the event but the early data from the viewing stats and the global social media engagements would point to this being the most successful event perhaps of all time.
Going backwards now would set the Cup on a dangerous, potentially ruinous path and I would suggest that displacement boats at 100 feet would see costs escalate exponentially. Don’t do it. We have the most incredible platform in these AC75s right now and we have a white-hot competition in the most fabulous setting imaginable to enjoy. Save the conversation to a later date.
Displacement is not the way forward.
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