America's Cup: Gravitas Gone?

Bob Fisher adds his opinion to the mix on the state of the 2017 America's Cup.

Sander van der Borch

Bermuda proved it could deliver what the America’s Cup Event Authority had requested, even if the World Series regatta was reduced to a single day. There was an unprecedented number of spectator craft (reliably estimated to be in excess of 1,500) and huge crowds ashore – the island was en fête. One thing, however, was sadly lacking for an event that is an integral part of the America’s Cup – gravitas.

That the regatta was reduced from two days to one, because of a total absence of wind on the first day, was further diminished in stature when the decision was made to hold three races on the second day rather than two. The decision meant that ultra short course would be necessary to hold all the races in the time allotted for television distribution to previously scheduled broadcast times.

The result was that the races took no longer than 14 minutes. These are races that could affect the outcome of the next Cup match. One wonders what George Schuyler and his associates would have thought of that. These were not matches of which they would approve or even condone. They must be turning in their graves at this insignificant contribution to the great panoply of yacht racing that was the America’s Cup.

As a spectacle, the Louis Vuitton ACWS in Bermuda was a success. The traders along Front Street (off which the six boats were moored) have glazed eyes and sticky fingers from their trading over the three days. The Premier, Michael Dunkley, stated: “I am bursting with pride . . . If you think this was exciting, just wait for 2017 – it’s going to be even bigger and better.”

Gone, it seems, is the reverence in which the event was once held. It has now been replaced by strident commercialism, with the all-out demand to make it pay for itself. The tycoon behind the defense is surely rich enough to cover the expenses of a defense, being the fifth richest man in the world with assets in excess of $56 billions. Instead he instructs his CEO to rape the event and thereby make the challengers contribute to his shortfall. These are the actions of a man who has lost interest in the event.

Currently the challengers are asked to contribute financially to the costs of the event, as well as providing the Cup holder with an unprecedented taste of their development and their techniques; all in the bogus guise of being part of the main event. This was constructed purely to maximize the income of the defender, not to maximize the exposure of the event

The challengers in their turn find it increasingly difficult to compete, and have to allow the defender to test its skills against them, and thus obtain an advantage that is new to this game. Maybe a series of separate challenger and defender trials would be a more equable solution. It worked well for many years, and allowed the successful challenger to compete for the right to race for the Cup. Only then when the best boats and crews on each side came face to face was the mystery unearthed and the truth revealed. That attracted a huge following worldwide and produced a mystique all of its own with an aura of trenchant competition. This was simply not possible in races of 14 minutes duration.

There has to be change in the format of succeeding ACWS regattas or the entire event will suffer. Playing to television scheduling is not for the sport of sailing – meteorological conditions are, to a large extent, not dependent on the time of day, as the loss od two of the six days scheduled for racing in the ACWS this year has shown. Only when the dog wags the tail, and not the other way around, can we return to proper racing in the sport’s premier event. Gravitas demands the change.

–Bob Fisher