Beautiful Distractions

Eking blood from the America’s Cup stone is a lifetime’s work but thankfully the Bacardi Cup and SailGP have come to the rescue this year. There’s so much happening and so much to look forward to that the travails of where the blessed Auld Mug will land, and the nefarious business of money, larger-than-life personalities, back-biting, geo-politics, real politics, local politics and intrigue pale into insignificance when you actually see sailors out there doing the business. The likes of Mateusz Kusnierewicz and Tom Slingsby, the two apex predators of our sport, doing it at such an elite, high level are hugely inspiring. There’s good things going down, everywhere you look, all over the world.

©Martina Orsini

Regular readers will be aware of my fascination with uncovering dark corners of the long-forgotten sailing world (wooden Stars is my latest barn-find) so it will come as no surprise to you that whilst SailGP was setting Frisco alive, I was equally glued to the Soling Brazilian championship where Cicero Hartmann, Frederico Sidou and Andre Renard showed a clean pair of heels in the last of the late summer sun at Veleiros do Sul in Porto Alegre, recording three bullets to win with a race to spare. Top guns.

I like the Soling. It looks right and I have it on very good authority that it sails well. I’m still hunting for that apocryphal, fully tricked-up one that Dennis Conner allegedly parked in a shed in Cowes – it sounds increasingly like a Pier View tale after a few Dark & Stormy’s to me at the end of the evening. But I wish it to be true.

Back to the Cup and everyone’s saying it’s going to Barcelona. Great if true but I do hope it’s not a Jerry Maguire moment. ‘Show me the money’ is a bit late in the day but perhaps the nod from Dalts is a cue for a torrent to spout from the ultimate money-men of the desert way behind the scenes on this one.

Cork is done. Malaga is off the table. Jeddah is a nightmare of a place with Houthi rockets in the sky (what the…?) so it’s sounding like Barcelona has a free run to stump up the cash or we’re all back to Auckland. I like those two choices – either will do just fine but I get the impression that the story ain’t over just yet. The cold, hard cash end of the Cup cycle is where it all happens. The next few days and months will be interesting and we’ll see who’s really holding the aces and who’s swimming naked.

If it truly is Barcelona then what a fabulous place to put the America’s Cup. Great city, great food, wonderful people, vibrant, youthful and plenty of eyeballs to convert to our showpiece spectacle.

The boats will be lighter and faster than we can possibly imagine and the AC40 brigades of Youth and Women’s teams will steal the show. For once, i’m actually looking forward to seeing the sub-events possibly more than the main event – especially as the teams are only allowed to build the one AC75.

37th America’s Cup AC40 render

I think, no I’m absolutely certain, we’re going to see superstar talent coming through those ranks and the generation after the established Aussie trio currently doing the beans in SailGP will be something else.

Could Alinghi though throw a surprise of outrageous proportions what with Ernesto’s determined backing of Swiss youth plus the guiding hands of experience in the chase boats and end up being the story of this Cup? For sure, we’re on the cusp of a new age at the top of the sport. Did Ernesto, the consummate AC genius, spot something that everyone else missed – I wouldn’t bet against it.

©Alinghi Red Bull Racing

What intrigues and fascinates me is the pathways now to the top. Up until oh-so-very recently, you absolutely had to have a gold medal and an Olympic palmares to occupy the real estate at the back of a Cup boat. Two golds seemed like the entry point. But it’s changing.

There are kids out there today, launching from the beach on foilers and learning new tricks so fast, and it’s here where the America’s Cup winners will be found in years to come. I saw it at the weekend as I blasted along totally in/out of control in my Laser Radial in glorious Costa Del Solent conditions when a teenager tramped by on an iQFoil all big hair and cool, leapt about six feet in the air and splashed down in a haze of spray in front of me. The future was right there before my eyes.

©Patrick Hamilton for SailGP

And if like me, you follow the International Moths, well the weaponry that’s being designed and built over in that domain is like something from a Star Wars movie (that’s a sci-fi film about good triumphing over evil to my teenage reader – look it up on Netflix) and you have to think that the Cup scouts will be down at Foiling Week in Torbole this year with a fistful of contracts, chasing sailors around the boat park. They’ll find the talent if they look hard enough and it’s all around the top ten but you’ve got to have talented youth in those AC40s or you’re cooking yourself a recipe for utter disaster.

©Martina Orsini

And looking forward beyond Barcelona 2024, the last hurrah actually on the boats for many in this cycle, it’s the talent that’s nurtured and supported now that will reap the biggest benefits going forward. The green AC40 sailor of this cycle will be tomorrow’s superstars and the elevation from the junior class forward into the works team of AC38, AC39 and AC40 will be one of the fastest gestations in sport.

Peak performance will be sub 30 and that’s the way it should be. I actually think the natural order will shake out at around 25 with plenty of gainful employment roles upstairs in the management positions for the stars of today. That’s the pathway and it’s coming fast. Bring it on. Accelerate it.

Formulaic AC teams are dead. They might eke this cycle but that’s it. The future franchise model is akin to motor-racing and all the teams are getting turned onto this. American Magic is positioning itself with the resurgent US Sailing, Ineos has its tentacles right across the sport in Britain, Alinghi is all-in on bringing the lake superstars into the bold lights, Team New Zealand are on it and Luna Rossa might just surprise us. It’s a good time to be young and talented.

Believe in youth. Encourage, develop and support where you can. It’s all we’ve got.

One thought on “Beautiful Distractions

  1. With all of this talk of local leaders making their own venue announcements on social media before the RNZYS formally says anything… it doesn’t exactly send a comforting message of things being organized or cohesive.


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