Editorial: America’s Cup not what it used to be

Feelings were hurt in Newport when the America’s Cup powers-that-be opted to hold the next races in San Francisco rather than the City-by-the Sea.

That snub may prove a blessing.

With the challenger races under way and the finals bearing down (all this seems a closely guarded secret outside a small segment of the sailing world) things are off to a slow start.

The “international sailing spectacle” for which Newport, San Francisco and other places were asked to bid a fortune in infrastructure improvements is turning out to be something less.

An America’s Cup series like the ones Newport used to host would indeed have been a prize worth fighting for.

Those races brought teams from around the globe — USA, England, Sweden, France, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, Canada and more — to town for weeks of racing. Although the home team always won, it was captivating stuff full of salty characters, intrigue and drama. The world paid attention and Newport’s restaurants and hotels were packed.

Now the dozen or more teams of potential challengers has dwindled to three, and even these three are having trouble finding the start line. In the first seven challenger races, one of the two boats was a no-show in six. In the seventh, only one of two boats finished.

And while the monster catamarans boast scary speed, ‘competition’ in practice races so far has been less than gripping. Though fast, these boats aren’t adept at the tacking duels the races used to feature. The old balance of technology and tactics has been turned on its beam-ends. Technology now rules the show and tacticians and winch grinders are mostly along for the ride as boats do battle football fields apart.

Squabbling has always been part of the game but these days it is more bitter, less fun.

The Cup organizers accuse San Francisco of coming up short on promises. San Francisco says it was sold a bill of goods about revenues it might earn (early spectator turnout has not been promising).

The tragic death of a crewman prompted a rules change proposal for ‘safety’s sake.’ Other syndicates protested, calling it a transparent attempt by one team to outlaw a technology edge held by others. One team threatened to go home.

There’ve been other fights. The Cup Authority claimed that one team breached rules by skipping the challengers’ gala party. That team countered that the Cup Authority broke rules by altering pictures of its boat to erase a sponsor’s logo.

Perhaps one day Newport will host an America’s Cup again. If so, let’s hope it’s the real thing — with lots of contenders sailing tight races in affordable boats crewed by at least someone from the country they represent.

Until then we’ve Beetle Cat racing in Westport and this weekend’s J/30 North Americans on Narragansett Bay to keep us entertained.

Authors

Top