Looking toward the future of the sport, a growing divide seems to exist between the purists and those encouraged by technological advance and engineering marvel. When asked about the America’s Cup and whether or not he enjoyed watching Larry Ellison and Ernesto Bertarelli match race two of the fastest, most advanced multihulls ever built, I half expected Knox-Johnston to criticize the billionaires for their greed and ego-mania, for their having taken the sport of sailing too far.
But Knox-Johnston is the type of sailor who will neither criticize another nor allow criticism of his own actions. And so his appraisal of the America’s Cup as a joy to behold, a thrilling advancement of the sport (he especially liked the Americans’ wing sail), should come as no surprise.
“These speed records are where we are now,” he says. “This is what we can be expecting, what we can be looking forward to at this point. It’s all very exciting.”
And Knox-Johnston is excited. With bright animation, he details how he believes the America’s Cup should extend further to allow a greater number of international teams, each with a national crew, to compete for the Cup. He cites the extravagant cost of the boats as a roadblock to the racing that is holding back the entire sport.
“We dealt with this when we were dealing with the Admiral’s Cup,” he says, referring to the regatta staged by the Royal Ocean Racing Club. An event featuring a number of three-boat national teams and some of the best racing in the world, the Admiral’s Cup was held off the Isle of Wight from 1957 to 2003, when it was halted indefinitely, largely as a result of escalating costs.
During his own affiliation with the Admiral’s Cup, Knox-Johnston says there was no possibility of buying the best talent or winning the race simply because you had built the best boat. “What gave it an edge was that we had amateurs. And we trained them hard. We were there to compete, but we all had jobs as well.” Interestingly enough, Knox-Johnston won the Cup in 1975, with those amateurs and their day jobs.
It’s this concept of friendly competition that Knox-Johnston strives to cultivate through his participation in both the Velux 5 Oceans Race and the Clipper Ventures Round the World races. The Velux 5 Oceans Race, begun in 1982 and held every four years, is a solo circumnavigation race consisting of five legs. It is open to a number of different classes, providing competitors the option of entering older, smaller and therefore more affordable boats. This year’s American entry, Brad Van Liew, is helming Pro Form, an Eco 60 built in 1998, which he hopes will pass a zero emissions standard.
Knox-Johnston has a mission to bring amateur sailors to the world of ocean racing, and this is perhaps most evident in his involvement with the Clipper Ventures Round the World race. The brainchild of Knox-Johnston, the race has been held every two years since 1996 on a small fleet of identical boats. The focus has been on introducing new seamen to the sport through training and education, with 40 percent of the crews having never been on a boat before.
Rather than allowing single corporate sponsorship of the boats, Knox-Johnston works with individual cities to sponsor teams. While the original boats were named Bristol, Jersey and London, they expanded to include Cape Town, New York and Hong Kong. Since its inception, the race has brought almost 2,000 new sailors from 27 nationalities to ocean racing.