The war in the sailing world

In posts passim, this blog has decried the way the America’s Cup has gone and not just for the obvious reason.

The obvious reason is that tradition has been thrown out of the window and these boats are no longer “yachts” in the sense that the public perceives them to be.   I wrote that, though a multihull man myself, multis have no place in this comp, the highest pinnacle in yachting.

If it weren’t the highest pinnacle, then moguls wouldn’t spend the ridiculous sums they do.   But there’s another criticism now:

Larry Ellison’s Insane Plan to Turn America’s Cup Into a TV Spectacle

Look, nobody loves sailing more than I do but unless you’re an afficianado, then watching a yacht race is a little like watching paint dry – at least in fleet racing. Match racing can be more exciting. And sure I’m watching the trials [see pic above] but I’m biased.

The America’s Cup World Series is the circus Ellison has brought to town, and he himself is the ringmaster. It is a warm-up to the America’s Cup match, the one-on-one winner-take-all main event. Ellison won the Cup in 2010, and as long as he holds the trophy, he controls the event and its future.

The World Series is Ellison’s particular stamp, designed to build excitement and anticipation for the finale. Here in Venice, the racecourse winds along the city’s waterfront before crossing a checkered flag near the mouth of the Grand Canal. The Musashi has a front-row seat.

The reality at this point is that his America’s Cup has turned into something of an albatross. Every sailor knows the old saw about the true definition of a boat: a hole in the water into which one throws money.

The only difference here is that Ellison has dug himself a billionaire-size hole. The World Series—indeed Ellison’s whole reimagining of the America’s Cup—is a Sea of Dreams: If you build it, they will come. The budget is confidential, but I’m told by Stephen Barclay, CEO of the America’s Cup Event Authority, that it’s “well in excess of $100 million.”

Yet so far, few from outside yachting are coming. And inside the yachting world, all anyone can talk about is the financial straits that Ellison’s project is so obviously in. The evidence is everywhere: mass layoffs, radically foreshortened race schedules, and a slew of cancealed plans.

Actually, I’m a bit sad about that because I’ve been enjoying the racing [as a multihull man] but there’s just been too much of it.   In Fremantle in 1987/8, all sorts of things were expected.   The real estate market thought the “home of the America’s Cup” was a good excuse to double house prices or thereabouts, they were charging $AU85 a pop to go out on the water in a launch which stayed to one side of the course and so on.

The reality was that no one would pay those prices, plus Australia lost the Cup back to America and near the end, they were taking people out to see the racing for a song.   Don’t get me wrong – there were many people in Fremantle from all round the world – I met a Canadian mate that way – and the atmosphere was friendly and vibrant, as a Cup city should be.  The parties were crazy.

In the current series, people are going down to the waterside to look through binoculars but they’re not spending and that’s the thing.   It may be that the economic climate is to blame or the way the PTB have made flying so unpleasant these days.   I suspect that people will watch some of it on TV and even go down to the beach if it’s their city the circus is visiting – those boats look pretty awesome.   They won’t do Pay-to-View.   They’ll take the kids down to look but no more than that.

The Olympics were a classic case of actually very good TV coverage, with helicopters, camera angles, graphics and so on and it was watchable for the general public for some time.  In fact, the TV angle was mentioned in the article:

Ellison’s best hope for saving his listing ship now lies in the magic of television. If the World Series can draw a large audience, then the sponsorship money and advertising revenue should be enough to salvage the operation. Sailing doesn’t have to be the next Nascar to make the World Series a success. It merely has to generate the level of domestic interest that, say, the Tour de France has now. Bicycle racing didn’t resonate with American sports fans until relatively recently, but today it is a profitable sports niche. Why couldn’t sailing follow a similar trajectory?

What I object to is that they’ve not only ditched the tradition but they’ve cut right across the territory of the multihull community.   There was for years a race called the Little America’s Cup and it was, as the name suggests, the pinnacle.

Sadly, the Sea Cliff Yacht Club (SCYC) of New York, which held the deeds, betrayed the multihull community by insisting it would now be raced for in little production boats and in fleet racing, which killed it as a spectacle for most.  That is taking F1 and racing for it in stock cars.

Plus one other thing happened – the advent of the new ORMAs:

… and round the world maxi-cats. So the C Class, once the fastest things on water, were now no longer so. As an experimental development class, that might always have happened but it’s still sad to see.

The greatest disappointment though is not for the likes of me who have always gone for the speed side of sailing but for the yachties, the yachting community for whom the America’s Cup was the last bastion against the “plastic fantastics”.   They’ve basically had their event taken away from them.

1 comment for “The war in the sailing world

  1. August 28, 2012 at 15:10

    About the only thing I know about the American Cup is that a distant relative of mine made the trophy that they use.

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