It was the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius that said: ‘Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference,’ and judging by the response to the America’s Cup Protocol, it has landed not with joy, not with enthusiasm, but with the very worst human emotion of all – indifference. The uninitiated would say it’s the right Protocol but for the wrong time. It’s so good, so professional, so into the detail that it has written itself into irrelevance if the mood around the Cup is to be believed.
The feeling I’m sensing from everyone from the experienced to the mildly curious is that the Cup is like a patient lying at the side of the road in Versace clothing. Personally I think it’s bunkum. Do I really care whether Ernesto Bertarelli or Patrizio Bertelli enter? No. Am I devastated that Tom Slingsby, Pete Burling, Terry Hutchinson, Jimmy Spithill and others will be in the dole queue come 2024. Nope. Do I want to see a British victory at all costs? Yes. Am I bothered that this could be just a one on one match against New Zealand? Not in the slightest.
I’m talking my book of course from the very selfish standpoint of someone who has seen so many ‘plucky British challenges’ fall by the wayside with the result being an empty trophy cabinet and the dream that one day things will be different. That day has come. I’m sick of coming second. I’m sick of reporting on failure. I’m bored of in-fighting, slow boats, bad builds, cliques, second-best, so near yet so far.
Let me be clear – I want to see the Cup in the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes and I want to see a regatta on the Solent. I want to see Britannia ruling the waves at the apex of our sport. What Jim Ratcliffe has done is raise the bar not only of entry and participation but shut the door on a whole load of variables that could scupper the Ineos march to success. And that’s to be applauded. Who cares what the reaction is.
Starting from the lowest base of all after a truly shocking campaign in Auckland this year, the details of which are just coming to light and are even worse than we scribes could possibly have imagined, Ratcliffe has been surgical in his execution of a game-plan to win the damn thing. The entire marine industry and accepted practices are on watch. Sacred cows have been well and truly slaughtered.
Everyone and everything, every process, every nuance, every corner has been scrutinised. Lessons have not just been learned but acted upon. It’s a miracle that anyone has survived to be honest but Jim’s backed his correct hunch about Britain having the ‘Usain Bolt of sailing’ in Ben Ainslie gleaned from that infamous pub meeting when BAR was hanging by a financial thread, spotted that in Giles Scott we have genius and built a structure that is now a racing certainty for success. Ratcliffe creates odds he likes and cares little for the collateral damage. Thank goodness.
Bringing Mercedes in is a masterstroke. That alone cost him the fat end of £300m and when you look at the privateers like Luna Rossa, American Magic or Alinghi, they may as well just pack up now and stay at home. I actually hope they do. I care little for the success of the event in 2024, the spectacle, the engagement, the reach, all I would like to see is Britain’s name on that trophy. I’m indifferent to everything else.
And I totally buy Grant Dalton’s line that the America’s Cup is not something where we want twenty boats and parity. To hell with that. This is about a one on one to win the oldest prize in sport. It isn’t fair. It isn’t pretty. It costs mega money and if you don’t like it, go and do something else.
And the cleverly managed media messaging, in particular from James Allisson the now Technical Director of Ineos Britannia, was beautifully calculated to scare the horses. Not just scare but terrify into non-competition. Allisson was on full transmit last night detailing the scale of the engineering and technical challenges with a brilliantly veiled and delivered lengthy and clearly well-practised statement of intent that must have had even Dan Bernasconi – a minor player in the Formula 1 world as opposed to the genius and success of Allisson – quaking in his boots. Great, make them uncomfortable. Make them doubt. That’s the game.
Ineos Britannia have deemed to win this regatta come what may. Grant Dalton can say what he likes in his ultra competitive way, which I absolutely love by the way, but be under no illusion that he’s in the cross-hairs to be crushed under the Ineos wheels, with a legacy to be utterly tarnished and left for dead on the roadside. This challenge is mighty. This Protocol is designed to preclude and create the clear pathway to success that Ratcliffe has set. As a British supporter, this is everything. This is the best chance since 1851 of a shot at the one trophy that has alluded.
And let me come back to the event itself. The ‘Sail for the Grail’ docu-series is a sideshow. It’s fly-spit. The shared recon is nonsense. The cost-savings aren’t cost savings, they are there to stop Ineos from spending £500m to win – or more.
But the cost of entry is still absolutely eye-watering. Believe that you can be clever and win with $60m and you believe in fairies, leprechauns and tales that begin with “once upon a time…” It’s all PR and it’s all nonsense. This regatta is Tyson Fury against Deontay Wilder. It’s probably more Mike Tyson versus Tyrell Biggs and we all know how all those fights ended. Ineos is a marauding ball of muscle in black shorts and ankle boots. Team New Zealand are wearing Gucci robes and sold sponsorship on the soles of their boots. This has one ending and one ending only.
Cancel the statue in the Viaduct. Nathan Outeridge is about to be the new Dean Barker. The Cup is going from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and they may as well un-bolt it now. The nut is already loose. Book the seat at the front of the jumbo for 2024 and pack the trophy in a Belstaff carry case.
And what about that indifference? Well, for once it’s a positive. Get used to it. The giant thud that was the Protocol announcement, and the stage-managed presentation akin to a wolf in sheep’s clothing, are just the start. This is a very different Cup cycle to anything we’ve seen before. It excludes, precludes and is no-nonsense. It’s a one on one in all but name for the main prize and it’s not playing nicely. Women and Youth are shoved off to the sideline – again collateral to the main focus. It’s not trying to appease. It’s not trying to attract. It’s passively aggressive.
Don’t like the tone? Don’t watch. I love it. This is the British challenge we’ve dreamed of and we’ve got it lock, stock and two smoking barrels.
Pretty it ain’t, effective it is. Enjoy the ride.