When the advance guard of America’s Cup 34 descends on Newport, Rhode Island, this month for the AC World Series regatta, you can forget the game that left town in 1983. In those days it was controversial (honest!) that top people were paid (under the table) to sail ocean races, and that these same people would show up expecting to compete for the Cup. These days an avowed mission of AC34 is to create a Formula 1-style event for pros.
In the past, aficionados spoke proudly of “the chess game” of controlling an opponent with subtle right-of-way rules while sailing perhaps at no more than a swimmer’s pace. Many an hour passed at Bannister’s Wharf with fans debating race moves that remained mysterious if not entirely opaque to most of the eyes that beheld them. With hard-wing catamarans now “normally” sailing beyond true wind speeds, with hardcore helmeted athletes on board, and with tactics subsumed by the emergency that is each race, the game is more like combat chess.
John Kostecki, tactician for Oracle Racing’s 2010 win in Valencia, said, “I do everything on the AC45 but drive and trim the wing. The front three people are all strategists, helping the helmsman, who has the least to do, so he makes most of the decisions.”
This on a boat moving fast enough to pull a water skier.
AC45 teams returned to the America’s Cup World Series with the big guy of Oracle Racing, Larry Ellison, musing to journalists that the 45s look so good, they might have fulfilled his America’s Cup vision by themselves. The AC72s, meanwhile, seem intimidating, but until they’re sailing, nobody knows. I maintain that Dennis Conner and company in 1983 came close to successfully defending the Cup with a slower boat, and had they defeated Allen Bond’s superior mousetrap, Australia II, “Bondie” would not have tried again and the America’s Cup probably would have been safe for another generation.
But then, the Cup would not have been set free to become whatever it is becoming. And the earth would still be flat.
Photos courtesy Gilles Martin-Raget/34th America's Cup
Don't forget: SAIL is giving one lucky winner a trip to Newport, Rhode Island, to race in the America's Cup World Series on June 28! Enter by June 4, 2012.