Follow the America’s Cup long enough and you will notice a cyclical pattern reminiscent of the Phoenix, the mythical bird reborn in flames. We saw this following the 26th America’s Cup in Perth (1987), we saw it following AC32 in Valencia (2007), and we are seeing it in the aftermath of AC34 in San Francisco (2013). Each of these was a near-perfect events, yet each was immediately followed by a plunge into the shadows.
To quote Dennis Conner, a man with intimate knowledge of the forces driving the Cup: “Bet on self-interest. It’s always running.”
In this case, self-interest has run from San Francisco to the tiny island nation of Bermuda, which will be hosting the 35th America’s Cup (as well as the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup) in June of 2017.
Following AC34, all signs were positive when Oracle Team USA—the hometown heroes who beat impossible odds to come from behind—entered negotiations with the city of San Francisco. But the wicket got sticky over the matter of some $11 million worth of municipal services, and Oracle started pondering other proposals. Given the importance of TV contracts, prime spectator territories (Europe and the U.S. East Coast), and Sir Ben Ainslie’s Royal Yacht Squadron-flagged BAR campaign, it quickly became obvious the Defender was wagering heavily on self-interest.
The America’s Cup has never been truly patriotic, and the word “fair” has never been a part of its lexicon, but this “dash to the Onion Patch” takes things to a subterranean level. Bermuda may have proffered trappings that San Francisco withheld, but Oracle Team USA still flies the burgee of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, as well as Old Glory. No one could ever accuse Oracle Team USA of being overly jingoistic. (Only one member of its winning AC34 crew was a full-blooded Yankee). But this is the first time a defending club with open-water access has opted to defend their prize overseas.
Then there’s the fact that Bermuda is hyper-exclusive, hyper-expensive and small (with limited accommodations, but plenty of superyacht dockage), and it becomes obvious that AC35 is aimed at the one-percent’s as opposed to the wider sailing community.
While there’s no fear of a Deed of Gift challenge this time (praise be!) many AC fans have become disgruntled, to say the least. One can only hope the fires of AC35 yield fertile ash for a glorious rebirth, once Gollum’s Ring has found a new bearer.
Photo courtesy of America’s Cup Event Authority