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The game has changed

First, I should say that having raced in eight America’s Cup campaigns and having qualified to race in five America’s Cup finals from 1980 to 2003 doesn’t necessarily qualify me to speculate on the future of the Cup.

Tom Whidden

In the past, the America’s Cup has been about nationality, technology and team and generally has been raced by relatively “financially equipped” enthusiasts.

It is meant to be a friendly challenge among interested nations and always has been governed by the “Golden Rule”: He who has the gold rules.

However, I do have some thoughts. There has been a lot of talk in the sailing community about what would be good for the Cup going forward. We all want to see excitement, spills and chills, close racing, multiple challenges and something that we can relate to and understand. The 34th AC didn’t disappoint.

Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts made a great decision gearing this America’s Cup for the television audience. It was NASCAR on the water — or sailing on steroids, as Jim Spithill described it on the Stephen Colbert show. San Francisco is a natural sailing amphitheater. Though the Louis Vuitton trials started slowly, with few teams and very uneven racing, the top team, Emirates Team New Zealand, was well prepared for the finals and came out of the block on fire for the Cup. The Cup finals made up for the lack of excitement in the Louis Vuitton series with close racing, good tactics, lead changes, spectacular speeds and surprisingly good boat handling. And how about Oracle’s stunning comeback? It couldn’t have been scripted any better.

Having said that, the game has changed. The fine points and nuances of close match racing are diminished and replaced by flying hulls that produce speeds in excess of 50 mph. I agree with Russell Coutts that it probably wouldn’t be productive to go away from this concept, as perhaps anything else at this point will disappoint. Certainly cost has to be addressed for the good of the event, although the current defender doesn’t necessarily have to feel that way. The economic burn rate for entrants is astronomical, in large part based on the size of the teams and the technology cost to compete. Personally I don’t believe those who laid the groundwork for the Cup ever imagined teams would be composed of multinational sailors. I understand that allowing these multi-nation teams is an incentive for first-time syndicates to compete. However, my recommendation would be to require at least 50 percent nationals on board.

Looking to the future, I would guess that the next Cup will bring catamarans again — pretty big ones — maybe wingsails, short races and lots of very visual and easily understood video disseminated on a variety of electronic media, with AC45 World Series action leading up to the next Cup.

I would hope one day to see an international body governing the Cup to ensure more consistency from event to event in format, boat type, time between events and a more transparent decision-making process with cost controls that include limitations on technology, design and engineering, and team size. Ellison and his organizing team did a great job on this Cup. Overall it was a winner, which hopefully will embolden them to go even further with their vision for sailing’s most popular event.

Tom Whidden, CEO of North Sails, raced in his first America’s Cup campaign in 1980 aboard Freedom. He has been involved in eight Cup campaigns and raced in five Cup regattas. He has a winning record, too: three wins, two losses.

See related articles:

- Velocity made good

- Where were the American sailors?

- Is this model sustainable?

- Capt. Nat would have approved

December 2013 issue