Gulfstream

Coming into a hectic leeward mark with the joys of dropping the kite, clearing the gear, gybing and then rounding up, and well within two lengths, we suddenly noticed a cheeky move about to be pulled. Down on the inside, coming in hot, barging in, was a slightly faster vessel that had clearly had a poor first beat and was making moves on the fleet.

Being a relatively adept lot, we aced the drop, the foredeck shouted ‘all clear,’ we went for the gybe, hailed ‘no water’ and watched mayhem unfold as the faster boat loaded up their kite to avoid us and a cat’s cradle ensued on deck. ‘Try Golf’ was my skipper’s cry to the complaining, rather posh team behind. Little did we know that they were hosting Royalty that day onboard, the patron of our club at the time, who had come out for a jolly good blast around the cans. Oops. Funny though.


©Studio Borlenghi

And it seems like today, a different kind of royalty is actually trying golf. The news that the Saudis have moved in on the sport in a massive way, offering the likes of Phil Mickelson $100m or Ian Poulter, (yes Ian Poulter), $22m has got the gentlemen of the Royal & Ancient reeling at the blindside. The clubhouse at Augusta is positively disgusted. The PGA have threatened players with lifetime bans. It’s just not cricket.

No, it’s modern day sport and the sportswashers are in town with eye-watering suitcases of cash as West Texas Intermediate spikes above $90 a barrel. Anything above $80 and it’s all systems go on those long term visions for the Gulf to live beyond oil. With the books balanced at $66 a barrel, and 12 million barrels of the black stuff produced per day, you can do the maths on the excess. It’s a lot.


©Studio Borlenghi

And so my interest was piqued yesterday on social media with the news that the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez had an audience with Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the de facto ruler of Dubai, to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Spanish investment group COFIDES in the presence of the Mubadala guys who have just signed up for SailGP in San Francisco.

Now I’m not drawing any dots here to sailing (I’ll let you do that) but with the Spanish sitting in pole position to scoop the next America’s Cup at any number of venues, the tricky problem of how to find a cool $100m could be solved at the swish of a sheikh’s pen. On paper it looks like Spanish investment from a finance firm but the fast cash is from abroad. I could be miles off on this but tell me I’m wrong. High finance is an opaque onion of eye-stinging layers. Look too close and they water but keep peeling and eventually you get to the core.

Our very own brandy-splutterers stamped their feet at the thought of the Cup in the Middle East and it has even been suggested that two of the most venerable clubs on the planet used their influence to ensure that it wouldn’t be held in the Gulf. The sailors have been vocal too with the likes of Burling & Tuke wanting reassurances before signing anything. The Gulf perhaps doesn’t fit the modern day sailors’ broader agenda but they’ll all be there in Dubai in November for SailGP – how does that square?


©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

Whatever, sailing is going to find it hard to duck the lure of the Middle East. We simply can’t get away from the fact that at the top level it’s an eye-wateringly expensive niche sport and we are at a cross-roads, or should I say the early foothills, of development in terms of foiling craft.

To continue on the development path and in order to pay for the ever-increasing wage demands of the top flight contenders, crews, shore crews and the whole media approach, money has to be sourced. It’s all very well relying on the largesse of very rich patrons but as history proves, when they win or don’t win, they can pull the plug in an instant. Finding a sustainable and acceptable path for the very apex of our sport is a giant omelette and we may have to accept that eggs need cracking.

And so I come to The Ocean Race and a very interesting video that a highly informed reader sent to me. It’s quite a hard watch. There’s an air around the race that it perhaps has seen better days, that the sport has moved on, but I thoroughly admire the organiser’s guts and determination in trying to get it away. Covid hasn’t helped one jot and nor has the shift in public perception. Once upon time, fully crewed round the world races were the pinnacle. Nothing came close. Legends were chiselled from it – Dalton, Blake, Walker, Dickson, Conner, Kostecki, Caudrelier, van Rietschoten, Cayard, Grael, Sanderson, Pean, Burling, Slingsby and Cammas to name but a few. Every pro-crew worth his salt sold a kidney to get on any boat going. It was a rite of passage in the pro ranks.


©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

Today it’s a murmur. The big money and the media profile is elsewhere. Round the World is done by foiling cats with big stories to tell against the clock and the public latches onto and laps up the sheer endeavour of single-handed in the Vendee Globe. Fully crewed sounds like a cop out or a pay day – and anyone who’s sailed knows that’s simply not true.

It’s still the ultimate challenge whatever boat in whatever race is sailed. I’ll follow The Ocean Race until the life-support machine is turned off. I really do hope it’s a success with a new interesting route and a first class management team and I sincerely hope that the Spanish come out in droves to send them off. But I have an eerie feeling that this edition could be one too far. I hope I’m wrong.



At the moment, all roads in sailing are leading to Spain and good luck to them. They’ve swooped in on sailing in a positive manner. The climate is good. There are incredible sailing areas with guaranteed wind and the government at all levels is making the right noises, signing the right deals and squaring the funding circle any which way they can. The facilities are good. The global travel connections make sense and the domestic market is receptive to our sport. I’ll be surprised if the Cup doesn’t end up there – just don’t look too deep into how it’s all really funded.

Golf is right at the cross-roads on this issue. Sailing has been there for a while and is navigating the traffic. Many other sports crossed the road a long time ago. As sailors we can usually tell which way the tide is going. I’m afraid it’s faster than the Bristol Channel in full flood at the moment but we might just escape the inevitable through clever accounting and backroom deals on this next Cup cycle. But Middle Eastern money will be there, it has to be, for sure.

The often mis-represented, apocryphal story of King Canute holding back the tide should be seen in the light he determined when telling his courtiers that secular power is but vanity compared to the supreme power of the Almighty. The Gulfstream is coming whether we like it or not.

Some could argue it’s already here.


One thought on “Gulfstream

  1. Do we necessarily know that Pete and Blair would be there if the event was held in Dubai, though? We saw a lot of alternate helms throughout this season, and while Arnaud is otherwise engaged, it seems that they are perfectly capable of sitting out an event and having alternates step in. (Whether ANYONE should be there or not is another story.)

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