In recent news we read that some people are trying to change the Deed of Gift. Rumours say they want to hold the America’s Cup every two years, to maintain the same class with the goal of reducing costs and basically transforming the AC in something completely different to what it always has been: a historic heritage that contributed to create the myth of the oldest trophy in the sport.
First of all, is this going to work? I mean, is a foiling cat really the future or it is just the past coming back in a new form and taking us nowhere? If we look at numbers, the number of teams has never been so low, the number of sailors has never been so low. The media presence is fairly irrelevant and countries that were traditionally passionate and inspired about it like Italy are not even taking part in the Cup. There is a real effort from Ben Ainslie to win the Cup and bring it back to the UK, where it might have a really large base of potential spectators. They have not won yet but they are among the favorites and they might really change something.
In a complex system when you change something and you think that you have a plan or everything is according to the plan, you are never sure of what is going to happen. The myth of the America’s Cup, the legal disputes, is part of its history and tradition. To transform it in some sort of motorbike racing is really something different and we have to get used to the idea and have to see if this will work out or not.
Sailing is in a time of change. People propose changes, but not all the changes are actually benefits. Time will tell. Personally I am not particularly in favour of this change from yachts to flying objects. You don’t really see the interaction of an athletes’ action to the boat’s action; the grinders grind the load of the rotary pump. There is no connection of the timing of the grinding to pulling in a jib or hoisting a kite or pulling a kite down. It is very difficult for the spectators to understand what the hell these guys are doing and why you don’t have an electrical engine instead of them because they basically just grind; there is no connection to the action. The boat always seems to go in the same mode, upwind or downwind. The distance is always huge between the boats due to the high speed. Only with some special cameras they try to make them look closer.
So, at the end of the day, when you watch the video of the America’s Cup 1987, apart from the quality and the completely different class of boats, or the 32nd in Valencia 2007, and you look at this one I am not completely sure that this new stuff is something better. It’s a question of taste, but it doesn’t seem to have reached a broad market. It’s a leap forward from the past values to venture into new territory, which is only enjoyed by very few and is not taking the sport anywhere. I remember the old times of Luna Rossa when all the sailing schools were full of people trying to learn to sail. This new foiling stuff is not filling them up. Actually there are less people going out there and sailing.
We have to ask ourselves if this is the right vision.
32nd America’s Cup – Valencia 2007 – Alinghi vs ETNZL race 7 first downwind
34th America’s Cup 2013 Oracle Team USA vs ETNZL race 13
Russell Coutts especially brought this forward. We have a video of Russell Coutts flying through the wing of his capsized catamaran and you have never seen him sailing these boats again. It is interesting because Dennis Conner would never have had a challenge on the wheel if Russell Coutts, who is the greatest of all time, did not sail any more. And the same Russell Coutts, who knows how sailing works, chose the little and easy Open Bic, if I am not wrong, a polypropylene little monohull dinghy, for the kids sailing in the circuit connected with the America’s Cup World Series Acts.
He brought in this extreme speed innovation but he is not part of it. And that’s quite a lot. When I see all these athletes with their helmets, to me they don’t look as athletes, they look like nutters and they are similar to motorboat racing drivers. Is this the right development? Is this making sailing more popular? Are the values of seaworthiness respected? Are the captains acting in a seaworthy way to protect their crews from possible dangers? Nobody knows where this is going to end up. There are reasonable doubts. I have no answers. It’s just food for the brain and something to discuss. I just invite you to watch the old videos and the new ones and decide for yourself what do you think it is the best for sailing.