Ken Read on the America's Cup

Three-time America’s Cup veteran Ken Read shares his thoughts on the direction of the America's Cup.

americas cup
SoftBank Team Japan changed the America's Cup game in May by becoming the first team to successfully master the foiling tack.Matt Knighton/SoftBank Team Japan

Ken Read is a three-time America’s Cup veteran, racing for American teams in 1995, 2000, and 2003. But these days, he’s president of North Sails, a big supporter of the AC Endeavour youth education and sailing program. He’s also known to viewers around the world as the ACTV race commentator. In Toulon, he sat down with Genny Tulloch to talk all things America’s Cup. His big takeaway? It’s a new world. Flying catamarans, foiling tacks, a revolution in the America’s Cup.

“It really has been a revolution,” he says, when asked about the changes between his days in the America’s Cup in the old ACC monohulls and what he sees on the water now. “i don’t think anyone expected this. The new boats are going to go 50 knots… and nobody really knows what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Certainly, the sailors have changed. It’s a new generation. Legends like Dennis Conner, Paul Cayard, Francesco de Angelis and yes, Russell Coutts and Ken Read, have been replaced by Jimmy Spithill, Nathan Outteridge, Franck Cammas and Peter Burling. The crews in particular are younger and fitter than ever before.

“In many ways, athleticism has taken the place of veteran leadership and experience, which used to be as important as anything else,” Read says. “You used to put veteran people in key spots. You didn’t take a chance on new, young guys. Now it’s different. You have to get the athlete… you need the physical, aerobic sport athlete… (and) these guys are just ripped.”

Read says the teams that have mastered foiling tacks have an advantage and he wonders whether we’ll see boats going around the course spending the full race flying on the foils.

“This is a new world,” he says. “I think (foiling around the course) is possible. We are using BMW FlyTime to record how long the boats are on the foils. The most we’ve had so far is about 40% with the AC45F boats. But for sure, when the new America’s Cup Class boats get racing, we might see 60, 70, 80, maybe near 100% of the time. Does that mean you’re going to win the race? You never know, but the foiling tacks sure are impressive to watch.”

And Read thinks it’s that excitement, of watching great athletes, racing on the edge of control, at previously unimaginable speeds, that creates an excitement around this America’s Cup that will trickle down. It might even keep people in the sport.

“Foiling might be the thing that keeps people sailing longer,” he concludes. “We have a lot of people trying sailing, but how do we keep them sailing? Maybe foiling is what we need to do that.”

Watch the full video of Ken Read's interview here.