America’s Cup. Controversy. One goes with the other. For as long as the Auld Mug has been in existence, it has been surrounded by various degrees of skullduggery, brinkmanship, double-dealing, scandal and just plain nastiness. It has kept legions of lawyers in Ferraris and country club fees, turned large fortunes into somewhat smaller ones, and transformed what once were merely talented sailors into highly paid professional athletes. All of which is part of what makes it so infuriatingly difficult to ignore.
This, the 34th running of this historic event, has had its fair share of back-biting and on-and-off-water drama. Remember when Oracle Racing’s Russell Coutts bragged in 2010 that thanks to its cool new 72-foot catamarans, AC34 would be a competition for the “Facebook generation, not the Flintstones generation?”
That went hand in hand with a lofty promise that up to 15 teams would show up in San Francisco this year. We’re down to four, including the defender—at the time of writing. By the time you read this, who knows? No one is safe making predictions about this Cup.
The boats have turned out to be more powerful than anyone expected or even needed; in the wake of Artemis crewman Andrew Simpson’s tragic death in May, AC management brought in a raft of new safety regulations for crew equipment and training, along with measures, like lowering the maximum wind limit from 33 to 23 knots, that stop short of neutering the big cats but should declaw them at least a little.
Even so, these fast, fragile and yes, dangerous boats also happen to be some of the most exciting creations ever to hit the water. This is terra incognita, despite three years of competition in the AC45s. I don’t know quite what to expect when the gun sounds for the first match race of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger’s series. All I know is that, unlike the tedious trimaran-catamaran mismatch of 2010, it will be anything but dull.
So make sure you enjoy the racing, because you can be sure of one thing; the next generation of Cup boats will not be like these. The 72s will be ancient history. Kind of like the Flintstones.
Photo courtesy of Chris Cameron, AC34