The America’s Cup is the oldest sporting competition in the modern world. With almost 160 years of history behind it, it is the iconoclastic battle of nations for dominance of speed and tactics in sailing. Well it used to be anyway! This battle for no prize money and possibly the worlds ugliest trophy (oh and you have to give it back when someone beats you) has always been the domain of the rich and curious.

Many avid sailors spend great amounts of time trashing this event that to most is nothing but an extravaganza of money and big boy’s toys. In the 80’s and 90.s the king of the sport was Dennis Conner, who was neither rich nor particularly charismatic, but was a great sailor. He didn’t need the best equipment or the biggest budget, all he needed was a great crew, and that he had.

After the debacle of the huge New Zealand mono hull versus Denis on an overgrown Hobie cat (catamaran) in 1989, some changes were made. This seemed like a good idea at the time. Create what is called a rule or class, this is an algorithm covering the size, weight, sail area, etc. This was called the IACC (International Americas Cup Class), and it sounded like a great idea at the time. It would force everyone into the same design box. And indeed the first versions of this class were exciting, if not always successful. Great strides were made in the use of composite materials, carbon fiber masts, new sail technology (Cuban fiber from A3), and numerous other great inventions that has slowly trickled down to the regular boating enthusiast.

Here we are over 20 years after the IACC was established and what have we achieved? Well very little, we have campaigns that are running in the many, many millions of dollars. We have a whole bunch of boats that sit in the same corner of the design box, in fact if you removed the paint job you would not be able to tell them apart.

Yes these boats are fast, yes the crews are well trained and talented, but they sure have changed their racing tactics. Today’s America Cup race is just a great big yawn. Gone are the days of hunt and hide in the spectator fleet during the pre-start, instead they enter the box, go head to wind for 3 minutes, spin around a couple of times, and hit the line at full speed, if a little late.

The current Americas Cup which matches Team New Zealand versus Alinghi, is the epitome of boredom. The boats are high tech, but they only like to go in straight lines. In the trade we call it ‘drag racing’. From the start line they drag race out to the lay line, tack once and drag to the windward mark. Yawn Yawn. Maybe it is the equipment, or maybe it is the crew, but it sure makes for boring racing. My personal theory is that the equipment is at the very edge of usability. And a tacking duel would likely result in a major equipment failure.

All in all I think I prefer the ‘off road’ capabilities of the old 12 meter class to the Space Shuttle class of today.

Oh, and not that anyone could care, the score is now 4 – 2 in favor of Alinghi.  

Simon Barrett


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