Hydraulic actuators. Pneumatically actuated locks. Interchangeable rudders. Gingerbread biscuits. The Oxford English Dictionary. And when is a bowline a strop? Goodness me the measurement committee have it all on to try and keep the America’s Cup teams in check and there’s been a slew of new Class Interpretations that make fascinating reading on the official website. And if, like me, you are wondering what on earth ‘gingerbread biscuits’ have to do with all of this – no, it’s not me trying to be funny – it’s to do with the definition of fairings apparently. Read for yourself here. I’m still none the wiser.
But if you’re like me and sail by the seat of your pants with the wind in your hair and find speedos and depth gauges, even compasses let alone advanced electronics, an almighty hinderance and annoyance to getting in tune with the wind and the waves, then the America’s Cup lexicon is quite simply another world.
And you start to see why the New York Yacht Club Commodore Chris Culver is angling for a simpler sport at a lower price point. The big cost in these teams is people and the Class Interpretation postings are testament to his argument that costs have got just a bit out of control. You have super-intelligent people, who would otherwise be designing the Mars Rover, poring over every detail of the ruling to such a degree that Oxford English Dictionary definitions need to be relied upon. It’s nuts. The designers and engineers are hired to find minute advantages and all that research comes with a hefty price tag. The Cup organisers have tried their hardest with the FCS and rig detailing to have an element of one design but at the margin, all the teams are pushing the rule to the outer edge of the envelope. And that’s where the costs go through the roof.
With Ineos nailed on now to be the Challenger of Record – unless of course Prada wins and then it will all get very ugly – keeping the costs down is going to be very high on the agenda. Getting the sailors back to racing and out of the design department would be a step forward. Getting rid of electronics completely would probably be a step backwards – but what a laugh that would be. All you’re allowed is a windex, cottons and a digital watch. Robin Knox-Johnston and us armchair admiral’s of a certain vintage would be delighted. Ain’t happening though.
Understandably from a keep-the-show-on-the-road perspective, the wind limits have been chopped from 23 knots to 21 knots. From a spectator standpoint that’s a rough deal in my book. Sport, in my view, should be about leaving the viewer dumbfounded and with the cast iron belief that they just couldn’t do that.
I don’t want to watch a skeleton bob and come away thinking “that looks easy” and I don’t want to watch basketball and see the hoops doubled in size and lowered and think “hey, I’m 5ft 7 – I can do that now.” Equally I don’t watch the Vendee for the tactical battle up the Brazilian coast in 8 knots of breeze – but I know many that do – the Southern Ocean rollers and rounding Cape Horn in a hurricane is what interests me.
Lowering the wind band in the AC is robbing viewers of seeing the boats and sailors on the ragged edge at the very limits of their ability. Whisper it quietly but sport is at its best when there are mishaps – not that we would admit to it – but it’s absolutely true. Us viewers are callous, ruthless, over-entertained voyeurs that are so watch-hardened to 24/7 sport that you’ve got to try very hard to keep our attention. AC75’s in 23 knots of breeze is far more interesting than the tactical battle and one degree of VMG that has the sailing fraternity animated. Click-bait moments is what makes modern-day sport for the masses – sad as that is to say.
But the AC has to try its absolute hardest to keep three boats upright, as what a disaster it would be if we had another American Magic incident. Can you imagine if the Cup were won by default? What would be the reaction if after race one, it was all over and a boat was written off? That’s the nightmare scenario for the organisers and who’s to say it still couldn’t happen. There’s a fine line between development of a new class, pushing the envelope to the nth degree and actually getting around the racecourse.
As Robin Knox-Johnston said to Alex Thomson before he set off on the Vendee Globe: “To finish first, first you have to finish.” It’s worth bearing that in mind.
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