America’s Cup Engineered For Anti-Climax.

The 33rd America’s Cup is once again tarnishing the sport of sailing. The question on the minds (and lips) of the ordinary fan in the street, after the second race cancellation in 3 days, is “How can a 90 foot boat not be able to handle 17knts of wind and 1.3 metre waves?”

The sailing public has been conditioned to think of sailors as a hardy lot. The Volvo Ocean Race is extreme sailing and the Vendee Globe competitors can manage the Southern Ocean on their own. The America’s Cup and the Olympics has also had its fair share of challenging conditions.

But the 33rd Edition of the America’s Cup is different. The competing teams have been so focused on trying to outwit and outmanoeuvre each other, that they have ended up with boats apparently so fragile that they can’t sail in conditions that most sailors would relish.

The result is that the sport in this form cannot be televised. Fans are expected to be able to just sit and wait, not just for a few hours, but days. Even Wimbledon, without a roof and the fickle British weather, usually manages to complete the required matches in its TV window.

The other question that people on the outside are asking is, why do you have to wait a day between race days? The official line is that the Deed of Gift requires it, but since we have been trained to read every single word in the document. Here’s what it says:

‘and one week day shall intervene between the conclusion of one race and the starting of the next race.’

Here’s the text that appears in the Notice of Race:

The Race Committee shall add at any time any number of additional Reserve Days as may be necessary to determine a winner of the Match. Both competitors have agreed one (1) day shall intervene between each completed race and such intervening day need not be a week day.

If a race is cancelled, abandoned or postponed that race will be sailed on the next scheduled date and the subsequent races shall be postponed for the day accordingly.

It’s all very pedantic and traditional. It’s completely baffling to a mass market and it ultimately has a detrimental effect on the perception of the sport. Organisers need to abandon the idea that the quirks of of the sport somehow make it special. The America’s Cup is one of the only sailing events that broadcasters would consider televising live, but after two days of sitting and waiting it is understandable why the official web feed is being given away (for a small fee).

Luckily, the America’s Cup is only one event amongst many in sailing and we still have events like the Volvo Ocean Race and the Extreme Sailing Series that are run by people who understand that the sailors are not the only stakeholders and modifications have to be made to make the event as attractive as possible for television. Sailing can be broadcast live – the Sydney Hobart Race starts at the same time on the same day, irrespective of the weather. The first race of the 33rd America’s Cup is now scheduled to be run on Friday.

Coverage of the 33rd America’s Cup is presented by the DARK BLUE BOOK