Sailing is cool again. Everywhere you look there’s bright spots of participation, technology, and innovation. Walk around a boatyard, and just look up and marvel at what’s before you. Go to a dinghy park and find Waszps, Moths and fully tricked-up dinghies of all description laid on their trolleys like instruments of war replete with carbon and aero-space tech. Even Lasers look Gucci.
Look at the sailors. Look at the gear. Cool is everywhere. Quite what happened to the red-trousered brigade in the yacht clubs is anyone’s guess – now it’s all tech-tops, sailing trainers, hi-tech wetsuits and cargoes. Tectonic plates have shifted. The previously time-poor are rich in minutes. Sporting choice is limited and people are back to doing what they love. Amazing what enforced lockdown has done to reset agendas and highlight priorities. It’s a boom and it’s loud, it’s real and sailing looks set to be a winner.
Technology is here and now. As one that recently transferred to electric engines to power my 28 footer, I can testify that a Torqeedo is the coolest piece of kit that I’ve bought in 30 years – and they’re not paying me to say that (I wish). I’ve bought the environment ticket and feel pretty good whenever I strap it on the stern and silently potter away to the startline.
When Blair Tuke or Pete Burling challenge me to their #LiveOceanDip – look it up on Instagram – I’ll happily run into the sea, immerse myself for 30 seconds and emerge to nominate five Cuppers (Chairman Tom Ehman, Ben Ainslie, Shirley Robertson, King Kenny and Grant Dalton) safe in the knowledge that I’ve done my bit in reducing my boat’s carbon footprint and thankful to have ditched petrol for good.
And last night, the Cup world came out with their new hydrogen-powered foiling chase boats which again, are pretty damn cool. Double ticks on the cool wall. Team New Zealand is leading the promo backed up by the Ineos and American Magic gangs who are all committing to going hydrogen for not only the support boats but also, as the press release says in the very final line: “Elements of the hydrogen innovation will also be assessed and developed into how they can potentially be utilised in the functions of the next generation of AC75’s also.”
This is a key development, worthy of a slot higher up the press release, and one that surely must be pursued to its nth degree. Increasing dramatically the stored power on the AC75’s opens the door to gender diversity and consigns the He-Man grinding pedastals to the dustbin of history. Making the boats touch-controlled puts the emphasis on the technical art of sailing, tactics, trimming and flight control whilst levelling the playing field to encourage more female athletes to gain their place on sheer merit and smash the glass ceiling at the pinnacle event of our sport forevermore. Hydrogen power is the gateway elixir to a more commercial, relevant, popular and sustainable AC and one that we will look back at in years to come and wonder why on earth we didn’t bring it in earlier.
The drive to carbon neutral by our sport is not going away. It needs to be relentless and it is an unstoppable movement. Russell Coutts is high on the ticket pushing Sail GP to be fully sustainable, despite the agonising photo shoots of tree-planting, and all-credit to him. The Vendee Globe sailors are bang on the money throughout the fleet. 11th Hour Racing is making huge strides for sustainability – and not just in the sport of sailing. World Sailing has its own Sustainability Agenda 2030 marrying into the IOC’s agenda with 11th Hour’s support and I wonder just how long it will take for bodies like the RORC’s IRC certification regime or other rating bodies globally to start actively penalising diesel and petrol engines and awarding rating credits to those adopting clean technology. You can guarantee a shift to electric engines in a nano-second if it meant five points off your rating certificate. What’s stopping them?
All round, sailing is recognising its responsibility as a sport and playing its role. We can go further and we can go harder by driving from the grass-roots up and we must. The days of empty words are over and it’s the same across all facets of our lives. Sailing should be no different. It’s the fight of our times, uncomfortable as that may seem to many.
Sustainability and diversity will be the hottest topics in the next AC and it absolutely needs to reflect the sport that its exulted position affords. Neither goal can be swept under the carpet any longer and the event will be squarely held to account if it fails to deliver. Failure is not an option now. And I have every reason to suspect and believe that as the new Protocol is formulated, those with the power will squarely address the critical issues of our time. Female athletes on the boats for the next Cup is non-negotiable in my book. So to is a firm commitment, cast in stone, to a carbon zero event. The foiling hydro chase boats is a great first sign of progress. And they’re cool.
At least the Cup is on the cool ticket. Long may it stay that way…