Iain Murray, AC's Cool Head in the Hot Seat
Iain Murray, AC's Cool Head in the Hot Seat
It’s hard to say if Iain Murray, America’s Cup Race Management’s quietly spoken head honcho, will be pleased to see the end of AC34, or whether he almost wishes he could have it over again to make serious amends to a sailing event that has proven to be unpredictable.
I believe in November 2011 teams were given a choice to move forward with the 72, or go to another boat. A unanimous decision was required, and two teams—Artemis and ETNZ—chose not to. Can you comment?
I put all the principals of the teams together in San Diego in 2011 and did ask them that question. It was clear by that time in the year what it was we were doing, and because there were challenges in the financial world post 2008 that the money wasn’t flying like it was in 2006-‘07. Getting teams to be able to step up from the ACWS to the America’s Cup was a lot more difficult than people had anticipated. The options were there and discussed. People had made commitments to designs and were well down the path of the 72 and the decision was to continue.
What did you think of that at the time?
My job is to service the customers, and the customers are all the teams. This was a democratic process, and it was mutually agreed on most parts of what we are doing. In hindsight maybe we should have been stronger and taken the hard pulls early.
How do you keep your personal relationships—and respect—for people intact after some of the incidents that have gone down, for example, Luna Rossa’s refusal to sail?
I think I was hired because they know I’m pretty focused and have a relatively tempered and logical view on most things with a lot of experience in all aspects of yachting, whether it is design, race management, event management, or whatever. I think people respect where I’ve come from and what I’ve done over the years. Generally, if I say something, I’ll be respected for the reason I said it. I don’t really get a lot of pressure to change my opinion. I try to be consistent and try to work with my team to put up the right conclusions for everyone. I haven’t had any real personal issues with any of the teams. There’s not “no talking” with anyone.
The Luna Rossa issue was a big deal, and I was really hurt. I’ve really had nothing to do with Luna Rossa in the past so the people who were making those accusations were generally people I didn’t know. Having said that, I did sell Mr. Bertelli my 12-Metres back in 2001, and I’ve designed some keels and rudders for him. I’ve had a good relationship with him for 12 years. We share a love for the old 12-Metres. I respect what he’s doing, and he respects what I’m doing. I’m not so sure that goes down the line with these guys ...
People are tired of hearing, “It’s the America’s Cup, it’s always like this.” Do you think that’s a good enough excuse for the way things are?
The thing is we have an event, we laid the foundations a long time ago, and it is what it is. Sure, we’ve had some accidents, etc., but if we’ve made mistakes in the foundations of this sporting event, this property, they were made at the beginning. I look back at what we’ve done, and I think there have been some tremendous things accomplished.
The 72s are very cool, but the racing is not compelling, particularly for sailing enthusiasts; how can this change?
I think what’s on most people’s mind, and I’ve spoken to most of the teams, I think people will be looking to pull it much more back toward the 45s, which is a large degree of one-design parts to ensure that the racing and the boats are much more similar, to substantially reduce the costs, which is another part, and of course to ensure that the quality of the boats is there when they go to race. I think what we’re seeing here is a large development thing because the 72s really, in hindsight, have arrived too late. All that was done for cost reasons, but it might have not worked the way it was meant to work. What we are seeing now in the Finals is that people are starting to sail these boats pretty well. Yesterday we saw the Oracle boats out there, and we saw ETNZ drop in on them; they look to be sort of similar [he smiles]. We’ve seen great improvement from Luna Rossa, and we saw huge improvement from Artemis in the limited time they had. When you look back at all that, you have to see that people lost a lot of time, whether it was Oracle capsizing—for one reason or another—as happens in every America’s Cup—they run out of time.
There has to be a silver lining; what is it for this event?
I think the fact that kids are switching on and wanting to be involved. If you look at all those kids on the ramp down at Marina Green with the big boats, there’s kids tuning into YouTube and modern media—all of a sudden sailing has got onto the wish list of kids’ sport. They want to be involved in it. Hopefully we can come out of it with heroes and good guys who kids want to aspire to, like it happened to me when I was a kid. How we communicate that to everyone—the great TV, the modern technology, the fact that we take you on board and people can understand what the racing is about—we’ve simplified our racing with the umpiring and the television system (LiveLine). It’s all about making our sport understandable to the general public. I think there’s been a huge win there.