The Cup Spilleth Over
The Cup Spilleth Over
The 33rd America's Cup was a spectacle once it got underway, but let's hope its current caretakers do it justice next time around. The Jobson Report from our April 2010 issue
As I write, there are many questions to be answered about the 34th edition. Ellison should learn from the experience of the San Diego YC in 1987. The club waited to name the boat, venue, and date of the next match, and this inaction opened the door for a rogue challenge. New Zealander Michael Fay walked in with his challenge and we watched a bizarre event in 1988. At the time I thought we would never see that again. Well, we have, and hopefully, we are done with Deed of Gift matches, lawsuits, court hearings, and bad behavior.
Looking ahead, Ellison, his manager Russell Coutts, and their team now have a blank sheet of paper to create an America's Cup protocol that will generate "friendly competition between foreign countries." The Challenger of Record, Club Nautico di Roma, was announced immediately after the last race. Now the Golden Gate YC and Club Nautico di Roma should review the past, and decide what is best for the future.
I have a list of ideas for them on how to maximize interest while adhering to the spirit of the Deed of Gift. The Deed says the match shall take place on the waters where the defending club holds its annual regatta. This means San Francisco Bay, a natural amphitheater with generally reliable wind and a long tradition of sailing. If San Francisco Bay is not suitable because of shipping traffic, there are many other suitable places in the United States to hold the Cup. Both San Diego and Newport, R.I., are worthy venues. Regardless of what city hosts the 34th America's Cup, it must be sailed on U.S. waters.
The next item on my list is to increase participation. The cost of competing now is so high that few teams could mount credible campaigns. A serious look at how to reduce costs would be a first step. A few ideas would be to limit the number of boats that could be built, create a salary or expense cap similar to other professional sports, limit the time allowed for training and competing, negotiate favorable leases for shore side facilities with the host city, and decide whether to go with an completely open or limited design.
Of great interest is the boats to be raced. The multihulls certainly showed unbelievable speeds. Sailing a 40-mile windward-leeward course in 7 knots of wind in only 150 minutes is astounding. These boats sailed three times the speed of the wind. That said, the America's Cup has always been a designer's race. So I think the future Cup's should favor speed. As for the tactical part of the equation, we witnessed how tactics at the start and around the course still made a big difference in the outcome of the races in Valencia. Even a new racecourse should be considered. If you are racing some kind of cat why not start on a beam reach? After all, reaching is the fastest point of sail.
When the New York YC held the America's Cup there were always multiple defenders competing for the chance to race in the match. The competition in the defense trials gave the New York YC the edge. The first time there was more than one challenger was only back in 1970. In 2000 the New Zealanders were the only defense syndicate. They defended once, but lost in 2003. A lack of defense trials probably hurt their chances. In 2007, Alinghi invited itself to compete in the early challenger trials. This was a huge mistake by the challengers to let this happen.
The most interesting Cups have featured a two-ring show with both the challenger and the defender allowing multiple teams to compete. Ellison might not like it, but his team will be stronger if it has to win the defender trials. I hope Ellison and Coutts have the courage to create a multiple-team defense format.
I enjoyed covering the 33rd America's Cup with multihull ace Randy Smythe. One disappointment was the lack of onboard cameras and microphones. This is where fans have the best vantage point. But we did learn that the Internet is a viable way to watch sailing. I expect to see lots of development in this area over the next few years. In the near future, Internet viewers will be able to migrate the pictures from their computers to high definition television screens. The sights and sounds from on board will take the America's Cup to new heights.
It's hard to envision what twists and turns the America's Cup will take over the next several decades. But one thing is clear: this venerable regatta needs to be returned to its former glory. The new defense team has the ability to make the America's Cup special now and into the future. There will always be bizarre stories along the way, but let's hope none of them live up to the 33rd Match.