The sport of watching bored rich people at play in sailing is, and always has been, an utterly compelling spectacle. True character is exposed. You could even argue in a perverse way that’s it’s more entertaining than the actual sport. And as we count down the days to the venue announcement, it’s a popcorn movie moment in New Zealand as we shuffle in, hand over our tickets, settle into the comfy sofas and watch the trailers.
Quite what those trailers are proposing is both questionable and debatable but isn’t that the art of a good trailer? They are enthralling, draw you in and make you want to watch the movies play-out. Even the bad ones are good in snippets.
One such trailer imagines a doomsday scenario where Grant Dalton is removed and unceremoniously dumped from all control and power. Another suggests in a farcical rom-com that deep-pocketed home-grown benefactors are just itching to throw money at Team New Zealand. Whilst the thriller shows investment banking, finally, in a good light as swashbuckling financiers ride to the rescue of the heroic national sailing team. There’s even a horror movie trailer where ghosts of the past come back to haunt the Cup. As viewers we are certain now that the price of admission was well worth it.
Overnight the temperature ratcheted up a notch as Auckland’s movers and shakers make a late bid to host the Defence and I would expect nothing less. I would argue until the cows (Cowes?) come home that it’s absolutely the right and proper place to hold the 37th Cup. The infrastructure is there. The fans are there. Hell the Cup is even there in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Hard won. Utterly earned.
The Kiwi public deserves the regatta – and after what it’s going through right now with Covid lockdowns, a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel would be so welcome. The America’s Cup could happily be the galvanising hope that many sailing-mad, sports-mad, proud Kiwis hold on to. It certainly was for us in the Northern Hemisphere last winter. And why should they be denied? They are the holders. It’s their Cup and they’re being mugged down an Arabian alleyway for a fistful of dollars. It’s not nice to be told ‘sorry, thanks for the fabulous support but we’re off because you can’t afford us anymore.’ Not nice at all.
And so, in New Zealand, some guns are starting to be fired. The smell of legal action is relentlessly hanging in the air. The New York Yacht Club are being courted to lend weight – although with the Commodore in his final year and firmly into legacy-building-mode we can expect a giant fudge on that one. Big characters, money-men, Knights of the Realm even, are out in the open briefing and counter-briefing the media with lines suggesting that Dalton be removed as the blocker to an avalanche of Kiwi cash riding in at the 11th hour.
It’s rhubarb and everyone knows it but it sells newspapers and raises the temperature. At the end of it, the simple matter is that Grant Dalton and his loyal lieutenants who have won more Cups than is reasonable, have a very fair inkling of just what is ranged against them and know that the only way to match fire is with fire. They have to take the Cup overseas to secure the sponsorship dollars. It’s as simple as that.
Perhaps things would have been simpler and more innocent if the Ineos billions weren’t sitting across the table. Jim Ratcliffe played his cards close to his chest after the last Cup and played a blinder. A couple of downplayed, friendly interviews cleverly portrayed him and the team as newbies to this curious world of the Cup. Wide-eyed even. It was all an act played by a clever, ruthless and highly shrewd politico who could see the collapsing tower of finance before him. Securing the Challenger of Record status was the masterstroke and gave Ratcliffe the command he needed. Now he sits with the aces and everyone around the table is at his beck and call. Nothing passes without Jim’s explicit consent. Ben is at the fringes – a mere employee – and he knows it. Jim is in total control – just as he likes it.
And for now, the Defender is the one running around making the headlines. They are the ones in the firing line being distracted and having vital resources and time sucked away on spurious political machinations and fantasies. Ineos remains absolutely focused on the goal of winning and are full-steam ahead down the design and team structure paths. Everyone else, the Defender included, is in the dust right now and firmly in the dark. By the time the Protocol is published in November, Ineos will have stolen a march of eight months on the all-comers. It’s been a brilliantly veiled campaign so far. Britain is so far ahead now that the engravers may as well start crafting the new plinth and etching the Royal Yacht Squadron on the silver.
What the film stars of the many trailers being played in New Zealand right now fail to grasp is the wide-angle perspective unfolding before them. Grant Dalton, the finest director of all time, can see it clearly. Dalton knows what’s coming but as with all visionaries they see it long before the rest of the world wakes up. It’s a horror show building to a sailing bloodbath in 2024 – one that New Zealand sailing may never recover from and it’s all happening in plain sight.
Taking the event overseas to secure the sponsorships immediately gives Team New Zealand a fighting chance against the Imperial Death Star that lays currently in the next galaxy. To defend will take every ounce of guile, nous, sailing brilliance and design know-how. Ditching Dalton now, as is being suggested, would hand the Cup to Britain on a silver platter with a red, white and blue bow tied around the bustle.
The players in the Kiwi movie trailers need to think long and hard about the final scene. The trailers for keeping the Cup in New Zealand look compelling and politically correct but I worry about the ending. The best one, perhaps the only one worth watching is the Dalton production with its cast of A listers – and that’s the cliff-hanger that everyone wants to watch. In truth, it’s the Kiwis only hope.
Buy your ticket, suck down a hot dog, revel in that bucket of popcorn. The America’s Cup is the best show in town and it’s just getting started.