Sunday, November 23, 2014


23 November 2014: What have they done to the America's Cup program? How did we get from this:
The schooner America in 1851 for whom the Cup is named.

to this? 

And the boats are only the visible and obvious departures from the concept. Let me 'splain.

When the "low black schooner" sailed to England on her own bottom and whipped up on the best of England's sailing (they were all sailing then) yachts to win the "Auld Mug" - the so called 100 guinea cup - a tradition was started. The Cup, quickly named the "America's Cup" in honor of the schooner that first won it and not the country, was given via Deed of Gift  to the New York Yacht Club which then laid down the rules for the future races which would apply to challenger and defender alike: the boats had to sail to the race site on their own bottoms, the crew were amateurs and, most important, were all of the nationality of the challenger or defender. The boats were designed and built in their country of origin as were the equipment, sails, etc. 

For 132 years, the Cup resided in America, specifically the New York Yacht Club and then, in 1983, Australia came to Newport R.I. and won, beating Dennis Conner to take the cup to Australia.
The boats had evolved, changing with the times to be less expensive to build and sail, require less crew, and with that change, came the abandonment of getting to the race site on their own bottoms. But the crews and boats were still national icons, representative of their country of origin. And still traditional sailboats.
Somewhere along the way, the defending yacht clubs (not American and without a shred of historical conscience) began to evolve the boats themselves into more modern, evolutionary vessels, finally reaching the zenith last year in the boat shown above and here, below. And since America held the Cup, it was sailed in American waters (the defender gets to chose), specifically San Fransisco Bay

The boat, combined with the constant blustery winds there offered what Larry Ellison, sponsor of the American boat, labeled "NASCAR on the water" with the boats reaching speeds in excess of 50 MPH! Was it exciting? You better believe it! I was there and wow! It was amazing. It was thrilling to watch, even when the U.S. boat lost. But it was NOT the America's Cup. Not a bit. And to top it off, on the American boat, there was exactly ONE AMERICAN. In fact, the crew mostly hailed from New Zealand! All professional, paid, "rock-stars." And the tactician,  Sir Ben Ainsley, who was hired after the U.S. was down 1-8, came from England to save the day! 

The final straw for many of us who used to follow the Cup closely, defenders and challengers, boats, and technology, was leaked a week or so ago: the American held Cup would be sailed in BERMUDA in the next iteration, in 2017. (It will be "announced" on 2 December.) And the boats, still the foil sporting, go-fast catamarans, will be a bit smaller at 62' (vs.72' for the previous) with a smaller crew (8 vs. the 11 of last year), lighter, and under a smaller load. But still capable of startling speeds and spectacle producing sailing. 

Why Bermuda? Hmmm. Who knows? Probably not the wind, tourist viability, or convenience. Maybe a deal was made by Mr. Ellison to help the island which is in huge financial difficulty to refill its coffers? Maybe due to the favorable tax laws there? But clearly, not America . . . for the first time a defender has CHOSEN to sail in a foreign country. (Don't count Switzerland in that: Lake Como was not a viable locale to race so they raced off Barcelona.)

Geeze! What happened? And how can they actually call it the America's Cup anymore? Many of us think that there is surely a place for this high tech, high speed, exciting sailboat race, but it is NOT the America's Cup. That should adhere to least some of the tradition inherent in this long standing and prestigious event. 

Just sayin'!

"Madam, there is no second!" Queen Victoria's consort to the queen when the schooner America finished 20 minutes ahead of the next boat.

                                                       Fair Winds!
                                                                  Old Salt

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