I’m a sailor.
I race boats.
I thought that I would enjoy the Americas Cup. High tech boats, crewed by the best sailors in the world, great TV coverage – what is not to love.
Well I don’t and I will tell you why. There isn’t a sailing competition going on here – this is a first through the gate competition. The new boats are fantastic examples of technology, but they have one fatal flaw – if you are behind then you are pretty much done. The key to match racing is to get in front and then stay in front, and the boat behind will try anything they can to get on your wind. Upwind, if you are behind you try to get out of phase and find better wind and above all try to stay close enough so that downwind you can block the wind of the boat in front.
With these really high tech boats there is an incredible penalty if you are the boat behind. Your speed differential to the boat in front of you is something that it is going to be very difficult to overcome, as you won’t be able to foil as well downwind and foil to foil gybes start to become impossible. Not only that – as you don’t have any opportunity any more to try to block the wind of the boat in front on a downwind leg there are few opportunities to pass. The only way is to get out of phase with the boat in front and then pray for a gift of more wind. Any half decent match racing tactician is going to counter that by tacking to cover so the boat in front will gain and continue to gain. It has ever been thus in match racing, but with these boats the penalty for being behind is so severe I’m not sure it can be overcome, especially as there is no real offwind leg.
I hope I’m wrong and we will know when Team New Zealand, who are currently the class of the challenger field, screw up a start and Luna Rossa gets ahead at the gate. Will Team NZ get a chance to get back in the race or will the story from Saturday play out again?
The other thing I have against this Americas cup is the price tag – it is a hundred million entry fee – that is what it is estimated it costs to field an entry, with these amazing but very expensive boats, high tech development and huge shore teams. Because of that there are only three challengers in the Louis Vuitton cup, one of whom are not yet competing because of their earlier capsize. These boats are so complex it will take them months to recover, if at all, and I would much rather see a larger field. There would be more races and the challengers would have much more of an opportunity to hone their skills racing against each other.
We saw it in the race on Saturday – the Kiwis got a great start and the race was over – lets hope that isn’t the way it plays out through the whole competition, because if it is – the sailing world will have lost a great opportunity to reach out and show the general non-sailing public what a great sport we have and simply reinforced that sailing is a boring sport for rich people. The summer of racing will be the summer of napping and yet another Americas Cup will be passed from one rich team to another.