America's Cup...What's next?
29 June 2017
It has certainly been a privilege for Lisa and me to sail to Bermuda for the 35th America's Cup. We toyed with the idea for a bit then couldn't resist the draw of the America's Cup in Bermuda. We saw two previous AC series in San Diego and one in Valencia, Spain. Those were sailed in the 72 foot monohulls but the 35th AC was raced in 50 foot foiling cats. I will give you my views on the pluses and minuses of the 35th AC but make no mistake, we were thrilled to be here!
Including the defender (US, Oracle) in the first round of the Louis Vuitton was brilliant. We got an early look at Oracle in action and so did all the other teams. Oracle fought hard and won the first round, earning a 1 point lead in the AC final series. The two strongest teams were Oracle and NZ, Emirates. Sweden, Artemis was also quite strong and Japan, Softbank had some good races, they shared technology with Oracle which put them in a fast boat. GBR, Land Rover, the British team was hot and cold but they and France, Groupama were not competitive.
Artemis made a good run at Emirates for the LV final but Emirates prevailed. The final AC races were anticlimatic, Emirates trounced Oracle. Not much more to say about the races. We were disappointed in our home team and so were the Bermudians. If Oracle won, it is likely the AC competition would stay in Bermuda. Emirates will certainly take the event to NZ as is their right as defenders.
So why Bermuda as home court for the US, defending team? I'm not sure what the reasoning is but it is bitter-sweet for me. I believe Larry Ellison deprived a large population of the US from witnessing the America's Cup Races. He also didn't do any favors for the sailing in the US where enthusiasm for the Cup could have given the sport a spurt. But it was within an easy 900 mile from the Caribbean for us so we got to attend. And Bermuda IS the perfect venue for these races. The Great Sound is ideal for sailboat racing. The Sound is surrounded by land which keeps the water flat. Wind is moderate which suits these powerful cats. Weather is beautiful and so is the water.
Bermudians told us this was the biggest “thing” ever for Bermuda. No doubt, there are just over 60,000 people here on a series of small islands in the middle of the Atlantic. Bermuda built a landfill along an old Navy pier to create the AC Village. They did a beautiful job but... I didn't find much to enjoy in the Village. It was expensive and there wasn't much to do with sailing. Previous AC villages we visited in San Diego and Valencia were free. The teams were within the Village and we could get up somewhat close to the sheds and teams. The secrets were well shrouded but we felt like we were a part of the sailboat racing. Teams were completely sequestered in Bermuda. The Village did have grandstands (extra cost) and hospitality suites ($150/day extra) but little viewing of the actual races. There were jumbo-trons showing the action and plenty of Astroturf to sit on while watching the races. Unfortunately there was little of the much needed shade. There was a lot more preaching about the horrors of plastic and global warming in exhibits than anything about sailing but I covered this in a previous rant.
On the water we were treated to excellent viewing of the races from Uproar and our dinghy. Literature about the races said they expected 2,000 boats to spectate. There were at least 150 but probably less than 200 even for the final races. A spectator flag for boats under 40 feet was $35. For boats over 40 feet it was $15/foot. Uproar is 42 feet so we bought the $35 flag for our dinghy. We anchored in a bay away from the races and expected to watch the races from the dinghy, in the front row. We did some of this but found we could just anchor in the second row and no one bothered us without a spectator flag. One control boat told us to just put up our dinghy flag and stay in the front row. This was for a final race.
Viewing was spectacular. We were often close to the start and pre-start. Our favorite anchorage was quite near the weather gate but the leeward gate was in the distance. I'll never forget the day in the LV series with six races. We sat under the shade in Uproar's cockpit and had great views of the course. They even broadcast the TV audio on VHF channel 20. We enjoyed listening to the commentary and watching the races live. We watched most of the races on the water but did retreat to Docksider's on front street to watch the races with cruising friends on their jumbo TV. TV coverage and graphics were first class.
How about the races? There were some close races in the LV series. One race between Emirates and Artemis saw 9 lead changes. Very exciting. Some races were a blow-out but there was enough competition to be quite interesting. The race officials did an excellent job of setting and adjusting the course. The on-water judges did pull the penalty trigger a few times when I thought the boats were clean but this did not determine the outcome of the event. Artemis lost a heartbreaker due to a penalty. The head judge later that day admitted it was a bad call. That was really stand-up of him!
What about those foiling cats? That's where the controversy among sailors lies. There is nothing those cats or their crews do that resembles what the rest of us do in sailboats. Sail trim is imperceptible. Apparent wind is always straight back like an iceboat. The wing and jib are always sheeted in tight. Tacks and jibes look identical. There are no sail changes or sail handling. There is no way to observe what any of the crew are doing. Three of the six of them are just stoking the hydraulic pressure and aren't even sailors. Steering and foil handling errors are easy to observe. The cat must remail foiling during tacks and jibes. If the hulls set down it is like getting a flat tire on a Formula 1 car. But these foiling cats are fast like an F1 car!
Tactically the races were not interesting. There were very few tacking or gybing duels. An extra tack or gybe could cost the lead. NZ, Emirates did extra tacks to cover US, Oracle in the final races but they were so dominate that they could afford the extra maneuvers. Boats didn't even play wind shifts. The trailing boat would usually split sides of the course at the gates, hoping and praying for better wind on their side. There were wind shifts or puffs that caused lead changes but it was more luck than strategy. Boats just tacked and gybed to the boundaries to avoid extra maneuvers.
The starts were great. The format is strange, again foreign to any racing the rest of us have done. But, they got it right for these cats. Strategy, maneuvers and timing in the starts was critical. NZ, Emirates also found that staying upright in the pre-start is critical. They made a foil adjustment error and performed a perfect nose-dive and capsize. Oops!
Races were about 20 minutes long. That's the perfect length for a sailboat race and doesn't interfere with TV commercials. Most races were decided half-way through so no need to have longer races. On multiple race days, the subsequent races started promptly. No waiting around for the action. Great job race officials!
Are the cats here to stay? If Oracle won, I would bet the next AC would be identical and in Bermuda. I fear that the spectacle of speed will win out and prevent the return to more traditional boats. But NZ, Emirates won and will bring the event back to NZ. They are coy about what boats will be used for the AC 36. I believe NZ favors monohulls but we will wait to see. Actually we might. Uproar may just sail to NZ in 2021.
My steadfast philosophy is to not complain without offering a solution. Well, you can tell I'm not a big fan of foiling cats. I prefer to watch motorcycle racing to car racing because you see an actual human being and what he does to make his vehicle go fast. I have crewed on and watched Bahamian sloops, Carriacou double enders and Martinique Yoles. These all have extreme measures for the crew to perch outside to ballast the boats. This makes for exciting racing. Why not race in 40 to 50 foot planing monohulls with 8 guys out on trapezes? Let's come up with something like an Aussie 18 skiff only bigger. Capsizing could happen. That would be great for viewing! Are you listening New Zealand?