It might seem bold to strategize internally about a future sporting competition that has yet to be won, but the America’s Cup is such a complex event that it requires early planning. All four teams competing in Auckland for the 36th America’s Cup believe they can win, and they are surely thinking about what’s best for this venerable regatta should they get their hands on the Auld Mug.
The biggest reward (or burden, some might say) for successfully challenging is the right to host it on home waters. This is one of the key incentives dating back to the first defense in 1870, and it stands true today. Just ask New Zealanders, who have poured millions into Auckland’s waterfront development, or Larry Ellison, who transformed once-derelict piers on San Francisco Bay into a pop-up international sporting stage. The same is true of America’s Cup yachts. There has been a dramatic acceleration of new designs since 1988, and while there is little that’s ever predictable about the Cup, one thing is for certain for the next defense: The boat of choice will evolve again.
Flag officers of the New York YC, alongside principles of the American Magic challenge, have been quietly discussing what the next America’s Cup might look like should they prevail in Auckland. Returning the Cup to its deeper roots is a core component of these ongoing discussions. The New York YC, in concert with a long list of challengers between 1870 and 1983, changed the parameters of the racing boats many times. The International 12 Metre Class proved to be an enduring yacht that was used for 10 Cup cycles. One reason for the 12 Metre’s longevity is that most sailors relate to the elegant sloops. Tradition-minded sailors, and the general public, either don’t embrace or comprehend the 75-foot foiling monohulls that will race off Auckland.
The questions being asked today, therefore, are focused on the type of boat: What format would attract a larger number of challengers and defenders? What design innovations will trickle down to the rest of the sport? How can the gargantuan costs be reduced? And what kind of event will attract a large viewing audience?
Doug DeVos, one of three principal backers of American Magic, shared his thoughts with me about one month before the racing began in Auckland. “It’s so advanced,” he says of the AC75s. “It’s cool to see, but it’s just so far away. The sailing skills are very different than what you have traditionally.”
However, he does believe that if American Magic prevails, the impact of the current Cup will be positive. “We believe it’s hugely important to connect with all yacht clubs around the country,” he says. “When you have a premier global event that has this incredible legacy and history, there is tremendous engagement and enthusiasm. It’s vibrant and allows every sailor to talk about it. It gives sailors the confidence to talk about their sport to nonsailors, and engage new people and their friends and future generations.”
Like DeVos, another American Magic principal and longtime racing sailor, Hap Fauth, has been dreaming about having a hand on the Cup for many years. “The first time I saw the 12 Metres in Newport when I was a young man, it left a blazing image. I’ve never lost the view of the America’s Cup through the 12 Metre lens. I hoped one day to participate,” he says. “I met Doug DeVos—he was on the same page with the same intensity that I was. We recruited Roger Penske, and here we are. The icing on the cake will be winning the America’s Cup, and that’s what we are here to do.”
Penske has been involved in boating for many years. The America’s Cup is a new event for him, but he brings a tremendous amount of experience from his competing in high-tech auto racing. He recently explained his philosophy about winning to a large group of American Magic backers. “I’ve learned that individuals don’t win; teams win,” he says. “When you are competing at the highest levels in sports, success does not come easily. My father taught me at an early age that effort equals results. That has become a theme in our business, and in racing that still holds true.”
It’s easy to understand why DeVos, Fauth and Penske are so passionate about winning back the America’s Cup. It’s a combination of patriotic pride, the quest to engage more people to sail, and the thrill of competition. All three have followed the America’s Cup their entire lives and are motivated to bring the trophy home. As for the future, the trio has left the details of the next America’s Cup to the yacht-club leadership.
New York YC Commodore Chris Culver has been working on the America’s Cup with a sharp eye toward the future. He is very clear about the direction he would like to see the Cup head should American Magic prevail. “The America’s Cup needs to be about national and country pride,” he says. “We want to see more challengers, and this will happen if we make the Cup more economically feasible. The yacht club should play an important role like it has in the past. We have to better balance sailing skill and technology.”
As for the type of boat, he was careful not to engage in a discussion on design but did share broad parameters. “We are going to put the boat back into the water,” he says. “It will be somewhere between 80 and 100 feet in length. It will be a displacement monohull that is good for traditional match racing. You need to be able to see the boats from a distance, and the boats need to be majestic.”
To reduce the high cost of campaigning, he says, they need to keep it simple: “If you reduce the time it takes to design the boat and campaign it, the costs will be lower.”
The America’s Cup has not had a formal Defender Series since the San Diego YC hosted one in 1995. One reason New York YC was able to defend the Cup between 1870 and 1980 was competition between defenders. Defense trials always helped the top boat improve. The lack of a Defender Series, starting in 2000, is likely one reason the Defender has lost the America’s Cup in three of the past six matches. Commodore Culver did not state that there would be a Defender Series, but I encourage the club to make it a priority.
Culver tells me the America’s Cup would likely be raced off Rhode Island but added that the New York YC would need support with this undertaking. Advance discussions have already been had with state officials. “We would need good waterfront real estate to house the team compounds,” Culver says. Every previous America’s Cup venue—whether in Newport, Auckland, Fremantle, Valencia, San Francisco or Bermuda—has established a partnership with the regional authorities. The economic benefits have been substantial, which explains why syndicates are so inspired to win the Cup.
Governance of the America’s Cup has varied dramatically since the trophy left Newport in 1983. Culver is clear that there is no need to change the Deed of Gift. However, he says, there is a need to create a sustainable protocol: “There needs to be a good governance structure in place so [the protocol] is not changing from Cup to Cup.”
The America’s Cup has traveled all over the world since the Australians won it. We have seen a range of yachts, formats and venues. The technology changes, but the basic human drive to excel has always been the common thread that makes the biggest event in sailing so alluring. We will know the winner of the 36th Defense in March 2021, and if American Magic is successful, the America’s Cup will be in good hands as we move in to the future. Now let’s get to the racing.