For most of us, the sights and sounds of the AC75s have us absolutely in rapture. Quite simply, they are the most awesome machines ever imagined. Who would have thought twenty years ago that we would be witnessing boats flying out of the water and travelling at speeds in excess of 50 knots – and what’s more, that they would be match-racing? At that time we were starting to see International Moths rising from the surface and that was spectacular enough. We knew that the mad French were playing around with hydrofoils on speed runs and there was talk in the multihull fleet about creating lift but never did we imagine that boats of such size would actually rise and fly. And we simply couldn’t imagine monohulls doing it. Nowadays, if you’re not flying you’re not trying.
But whilst the foiling revolution was going on and the speeds increased commensurately, there was a group of sailors looking on going “so what?” To them, 60-100mph was a regular weekly occurrence. It was something you did to pass the time on a Saturday afternoon and they were, and still are, having the times of their lives doing it. Step forward the absolutely bonkers ice yachting fraternity.
I first heard about them over a curry, listening to Peter Harken regaling us with tales from the ice. “When these guys have a coming together, you don’t go out and see if you can help, you just call an ambulance,” was one of Peter’s comments that stuck with me. It was another world he was describing and it was fascinating. My next encounter with ice yachting was sitting in the front of a car as a passenger going at break-neck speed to the airport desperately trying to catch a flight with my wife driving on a Sunday lunchtime in Italy after a Star Worlds. Sid Howlett was in the back going into the fine intricacies and marginal gains of ice boat foils. He was hooked and it was a damn sight more fun than tuning up Ben’s Finn or Iain’s Starboat.
Speed focuses the mind and captures attention. In motorsport you get called a petrolhead. In various sports you get called a speed demon. In terrestrial sports, you simply get called fast. In the America’s Cup, for so long it has been a slow grind in, admittedly, gracious vessels until the foiling generation crashed the party. Like a bottle of tequila in a punchbowl, foiling has taken this pursuit stratospheric and they are now at speeds that have the sailing world agog. The ice yachters still say ‘meh’ at the Cup speeds but even they admit that what they do is a ‘stupid sport’ – have a look at Peter Harken’s take. It’s fascinating.
So the Cup is in hibernation mode. It’s like a tortoise that’s been put in its box for a couple of weeks. The Cup community is pausing for breath after a pretty thrilling few weeks of racing. The sailors left in are back at it today after a break for Auckland Anniversary Day and it’s 5am starts as they try to squeeze every drop out of the time remaining.
Dean Barker meanwhile has been on a PR campaign around the news stations, revealing very little that we didn’t know already and hedging his bets with his views on who will win and why. It’s a tricky place for Dean at the moment. Most likely, despite the desperately shallow pool of talent at this level, his Cup helming days are over. And he’s probably a bit relieved at that as a father of four who has dragged them all over the world to pursue the dream.
I would suspect that either an advisory role to an incumbent Chinese challenge or a managerial role awaits – perhaps even the America’s Cup organisers will take him on for future Cups. He has experience at the highest level and is highly respected within the inner sanctum – which is different from how the public perceive him. I’ll trust in the pros on this one. Deano definitely has a future in the Cup world and his calm persona is probably what we will need in the future. I thought his press conference at the end of the racing was solid and in the interviews I’ve listened to, I get a sense of the disappointment but I also feel the desire to still be involved. At his core, he’s a good man that’s dedicated his life to the sport and I’d personally like to see him involved going forward.
Dean to China – you heard it here first.
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