Your humble author was bellied up to the bar at 10 a.m. Saturday to watch the first America’s Cup races live from Bermuda – more specifically, the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers, which precedes the actual final America’s Cup races. To my left, a group of skeptics talked before the first race about how lame it was and how little it resembled “real” sailboat racing. To my right were a few guys who were definitely marveling over the technology before them.
The first race was USA Team Oracle, the Defender of the Cup, sailing against the French team. The U.S. got out of the gate quickly and dominated the 6-leg course to the end.
“God, this is boring,” one of the skeptics said knowing no one could disagree.
But later in the event things got more interesting with boats falling off their foils and seemingly untouchable leads fading away in one leg. It became evident that finding breeze in boats like this could change the dynamic instantly and small errors can be massive.
Here’s a list that argues for the current America’s Cup configuration. It will no doubt spur much disagreement and the list against will write itself in the comments!
- Lead changes
Of course there are lead changes in a traditional sailboat race but at the highest level of monohull match racing, many contests follow the: win-the-start, then-cover, formula. It’s still great to watch, but in this Cup giant leads can suddenly be erased when a boat that is capable of nearly 50-knots finds a bit more breeze than the other and just blows past him on the same point of sail. Also, in this Cup, if the boat falls off their foil and stuffs the bows, it’s like watching a gymnast take a spill. It’s probably the end of the race for them, unless the other boat suffers the same fate at some other point in the contest. The suspense factor definitely exists.
- Crazy speed!
I remember sailing with a fellow who just bought a brand new 33-foot catamaran. As the wind speed hit the teens, he watched the boat-speed on his GPS like a teenager in front of a video game. He let everyone else sail the boat so he could watch and not be distracted by the burden of sailing. There is something very cool about watching a boat topping 40-knots in a buoy race. You can say it’s no big deal – that 10 and 40 are the same if both boats are doing the same speed….that it’s “all relative.” But it is a big deal and it’s fun to watch.
- Broader appeal
This might mean much to everyone, but for those who want sailing to reach younger people and/or more people, the broader appeal of sailing is positive and important. Granted, these new-to-sailing people may be slightly disappointed when they climb aboard that non-foiling Catalina 27 and somwwhat surprised when, on a broad reach the skipper smiles wide and says, “Damn! We’re doing six and half knots!” But we trust that once they feel the feeling of the wind propelling them along on a perfect day, they will simply be happy.
The purists will hate this one but having faster boats that can create action in nearly any kind of wind conditions just makes for a more solid entertaining event. The races are designed to be no longer that 20-minutes long and the overall pace is similar to other great major events like the Olympics. The graphics and video coverage are incredibly good – better than they have ever been. TV viewers can monitor boatspeed, hear onboard conversations, see a myriad of camera angles and enjoy a transparent graphic line showing the exact distance and time of the boat in the lead. If the race is a blowout like the French American first race, in about 15-20 minutes it’ll be onto the next one.
- The best of the best
This is the quality that has made all Americas Cups great. The greatest sailors in the world sailing the result of what the finest engineers and designers in the game have created. We can’t ignore this incredible convergence. For better or worse, it is nothing less than astonishing what is happening here. Feather light 50-foot flying catamarans are tripling the wind speed, coming extremely close to 50-knots. Literally flying around a racecourse. The future is here! Let’s enjoy it!
For all the coverage visit americascup.com