When some of us were young we used to kid each other about being “world famous ocean racers.” We were in ours 20s and “doing the Circuit” in Florida, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lowell North, Ted Hood, Dennis Conner, and Tom Blackaller. At that time, in the late 70s and early 80s, the SORC was the ultimate racing boat show and regatta in the United States. Ocean racing was king, and the Admirals Cup in England was its world championship. The best U.S. boats from events such as the SORC earned the right to compete there every other summer.
Twenty years have passed, and times have changed. The old Circuit died years ago, and the Admirals Cup fleets have diminished. Many people still like racing to Halifax, Mackinac, or Mexico, but they dont have time for more than one distance race a year.
The boats have changed, too. More of them are one-designs–powerful and demanding max weight on the rail. Most regattas have shifted to short-course windward-leeward racing, and the crews like the intensity. They dont mind “belly burn” from the lower lifelines for the 15 minutes it takes to surmount a one- or two-mile beat, and they like working up a good sweat rounding three or four marks an hour. But they have no interest in enduring hour after hour on the rail.
The average age of racing sailors is increasing as well. They like finishing a days racing and enjoying a hot shower, a drink, food, and a comfortable bed. Even the younger ones, with skills honed on high school and collegiate triangles, are more at home on buoy courses.
But it mostly comes down to time. For most people, three-day regattas in one-designs give the best value for the time they invest. Skippers and crews alike have to balance time spent sailing with family, business, and other pursuits. For many, evening racing is all that time permits.
US SAILING has announced that there will be no U.S. Admirals Cup team this year (see p. 12). Some will argue that the United States has no excuse not to field a good team. Its true that charters couldve been arranged, crews couldve been recruited, and theres plenty of talent and funding out there. But interest in making a serious commitment wasnt there.
Other countries have dropped out, too, and the organizing Royal Ocean Racing Club is facing the same issue of survival for the Admirals Cup that the SORC organizers did. Its hard to imagine the racing scene without an Admirals Cup, but in this era of inshore racing, it could easily happen. The RORC has to decide whether to follow the events clientele and move inshore for a race week in matched one-designs, or return the event to its offshore roots in boats designed to race around Fastnet Rock.
Either approach might make it a prestigious event again. The inshore format has a ready-made “user group” among the current international offshore one-designs, but would sacrifice the Cups long-standing tradition of racing offshore. Racing in purpose-built offshore boats would maintain the distance format but require an alliance with an existing offshore class such as the Volvo 60s or 60-foot open-class monohulls or multihulls.
The old Admirals Cup is on its deathbed. But with a decisive move either inshore or off, it may live again.