What's In it For Me?

While a genuine interest in the America's Cup may not come naturally to the average sailor, the Internet and TV have made it easier than ever to get yourself into following sailing's biggest event. From our June 2006 issue.

By the time you've reached this page you may have asked yourself, "What gives? An entire issue about the America's Cup?" And if you're at all perturbed about it, you're not alone; those in the wide base at the bottom of the competitive sailing pyramid are generally apathetic about the sport's oldest, most illustrious event. I used to be, too.There was a time not long ago where the scope of the America's Cup and its vast history were beyond my comprehension, so the natural thing was, well, to give it a passing interest until the day the Cup match itself began. But then again, with the exception of pro football, I follow other sports the same way: College football? Not until the BCS Championship. Pro baseball? Definitely not until Game 7. Ditto for hockey, basketball, and everything else. It didn't help that match racing was foreign to me until two years ago. Not until I joined in on the casual Monday night match-racing series, here in Newport, did I appreciate the deep and addictive intricacies of the game. If you've never tried match racing, you're missing out.My disillusionment also came from the feeling that most Cup sailors were unapproachable and disconnected from the general sailing public. Before and during the Cup they operated out of sight, holding back the technical marvels of their boats, sails, and ultimately their whole experience. Without the inside coverage now afforded by the Internet, and with television coverage at absurd hours, it was hard to genuinely embrace it.But here I am today, sending off to the printer a special issue packed cover-to-cover with nothing but the America's Cup. And I do so with an entirely new appreciation for sailing's main event. I'm anxious for it to get under way, from Race 1 of the Louis Vuitton Cup, right up through the final match. Why the change of heart? There are many reasons, not the least of which are the Acts. I still think the "Act" label is silly, but the concept of keeping our attention by stringing a series of events in Europe and North America over two years worked-for me at least. Through multiple mediums I found myself following all 13 Acts, rooting for an underdog challenger to pull off an upset, or waiting for one of the big teams to implode (the closest equivalent, I suppose, to a NASCAR crash-and-burn). But I've mostly enjoyed watching the green syndicates improve. Take South Africa's one-boat wonder, Team Shosholoza, for example, at first tripping over itself, but now giving the big teams a run for their money.And perhaps it's because something else happened over the course of the Acts. Whether intentional, or simply a result of the greater "openness" of the teams, there's been a shift toward emphasizing the sailors, putting a human face to it all. And as I've come to know the sailors, the grunts of each campaign, I've gained an appreciation of what lies at the heart of this event. It's not about the 50,000-pound boat being pushed around a racecourse. It's what Gary Jobson points out in his column on p. 23. "Teams spend a lot of effort chasing the team chemistry essential for success," he writes. "When everything is in place, the potential to excel is enormous."He's absolutely right, and when I watch that first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup, I won't be thinking about the high-tech sails or the subtle differences between the boats. I'll be thinking about the collective lumps in the sailors' throats, and how they must feel after training for months on end to finally throw down everything the entire team has worked for. And in some small way, that's something even I can relate to.