The Anguish of Leaving Valencia

The America's Cup will start in 10 days, but unfortunately it will do so without someone who's been involved with the Cup for more than a quarter century. His presence will be missed, and not just in Valencia.

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Stuart Streuli

A lot of people have left Valencia, Spain, in the last month or so. That's the natural attrition of the America's Cup. Even I have left, though I'll soon be back. I took advantage of the extended break provided us by the nice folks at Emirates Team New Zealand to get away and see some relatives in Switzerland and sail in the famous Bol d'Or, a race that traverses the length of Lake Geneva twice. When I return, it will be with a bit of sadness as one person whom I've come to associate very closely with the America's Cup will be gone. After covering virtually every tack and jibe of the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup, long-time Washington Post sailing and outdoors correspondent Angus Phillips has been recalled to the Chesapeake. I don't feel that sorry for Angus; in fact, I'm slightly envious. Valencia is a nice town, but it's not paradise, and more importantly, not my hometown. Unlike say February, when Auckland is in all its glory, June is a nice time of the year to live in the northeastern and Middle Atlantic states. There are countless great activities to pursue and I'm sure that whatever Angus misses in Valencia will be compensated for by sailing and fishing and hanging out with his beloved pooch. He'll probably spend a heck of a lot more time on a sailboat than I will over the next month.I am a more disappointed about what his absence during sailing's biggest event says about the sport. After Phillips' departure the U.S. press corps will be reduced to two magazine journalists (myself and Sail's Kimball Livingston), Christopher Clarey or Doreen Carvajal from the New York Times/International Herald Tribune, and a writer or two from the wire services. A few others might show up once the Great Wet Circus starts rolling, but I'm not optimistic. Without an American team in the race anymore it seems most U.S. newspapers are happy to run a short bit from a wire story and then focus more energy on baseball or football or professional bass fishing (which, in case you're keeping score at home, routinely kicks sailing's butt in terms of media exposure). The ironic thing is that there will be a strong American presence on both teams. At least four American sailors will sail in the 32nd America's Cup match, and two of them-Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird, and Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Terry Hutchinson-will be manning extremely crucial positions for their respective teams. The only country that will have more sailors competing in the finals is New Zealand. But that argument has fallen on deaf ears around U.S. newsrooms. Angus did everything but beg to stay for a few more weeks, hoping to finish out what would've been his ninth America's Cup. The America's Cup competition itself bears some of the blame. Despite promises that this Cup would be more competitive and more media friendly, it's fallen well short of those expectations. Sure the races have gone off on time for the last few weeks, but the Louis Vuitton Cup final was a shutout-the semifinals only slightly more competitive-and many of the problems the press encountered in Auckland are still very much a part of this regatta, which is another story all together. While tactically exciting, racing in 9 to 12 knots doesn't exactly get the blood flowing.I also think that you, the readers, the participants and fans of the sport, need to be more vocal in asking for your local papers to cover this event. Most sports editors come from the Old School, covering the Big Four American sports until they've left no stone unturned, no aspect of pitch selection or draft analysis un-dissected. They need to be convinced of the interest in sailing. So call your editors, ask them to cover the America's Cup, tell them you want more than 50 words in the Sports Briefs. Tell them it matters to you. If enough of you call, maybe they'll listen. I'll be the first to admit that more newspaper interest in sailing is good for the business of being a sailing journalist. But that wasn't my motivation for writing this story. I will truly miss Angus Phillips. I'll miss the way he roams around the keyboard like some two-fingered pachyderm, recites out loud the first few sentences to his stories then briefly basks in his own brilliance with a chuckle and a smug grin, and sings as he walks through the media center. These idiosyncracies can seem annoying when you first experience them, but they soon grow upon you and make the job of covering the America's Cup just a little bit more fun. You could always tell which team's bandwagon Angus was riding on any given day by what song he was singing.I'll also miss his ability to bring the America's Cup to life, to quickly sift through all the propaganda and get to the real story, and to use those skills to get the prime space in one of the nation's most important newspapers. That's something each one of us, whether we know it or not, will miss. After watching eight of these things go down-I believe that goes back to the first year of the Reagan administration-he knows a fair bit more about this game than most anyone else. His perspective is important: to the writers, to the readers, to the sport. It's a shame he won't be here to share it.