Chris Caswell – Drinking the Kool-Aid

Published on November 7th, 2010

OK, I admit it. I drank the Kool-Aid.

I actually believed that Ellison, Coutts & Company were going to fix the America’s Cup. They came off as the knights on the white chargers who were going to rescue us from the evil Bertarelli and his Cup manipulations.

What we got is just a different flavor of Kool-Aid.

And, no, it’s not that I’m angered by Russell Coutts eminently quotable but also eminently stupid comment that they are aiming this America’s Cup “towards the Facebook generation, not the Flintstone generation”. And I could only smile wryly when he added that “previous events have been like watching a senior tour.”

There was a time in Fremantle when Dennis Conner chose to insult the Kiwi challenger by saying that the only reason to build a fiberglass 12-Meter was to cheat. Tom Blackaller was quick to shout into the microphone, “Uh-oh, Dennis, you shouldn’t have said that.”

Uh-oh, Russell. You insulted the majority of sailors around the world who aren’t Facebooking or Tweeting or watching teen-age music videos on their cell phones. The Facebookers don’t care about the America’s Cup, but there are a lot of marinas and yacht clubs filled with Flintstones who were hoping you’d do the right thing.

The minute they declared that the next America’s Cup would be sailed in 72’ wing-sailed catamarans, I knew I shouldn’t have taken the paper cup and sipped. The claim that 72’ high tech cats are cheaper than a proven monohull is crap. Their claim that the cats can easily handle winds up to 33 knots is more crapola. That’s Force 7 on the Beaufort scale, which is also called a near gale, with foam being blown off 19-foot waves. With wingsails 130-feet tall?

But, of course, the merry Oracle band has also thrown match racing, that long-time tradition of the America’s Cup, out with the bathwater, too.

Big. Mistake.

Steroidal winged cats are drag racing machines, not nimble tactical boats. Facebookers glued to their iPads won’t see tacking duels or sail changes or dial-ups before the start. Though Coutts says the boats will be “cool”, all those Facebookers might not even see them on the same screen because, at 30 knots, they won’t be close. As if they even care.

Coutts tells us that the race has to be faster. If he had his way, the Kentucky Derby would be run with motorcycles (because they’re faster and more Facebook-friendly) than with thoroughbreds. Sad.

I don’t know how Coutts kept from giggling when he proclaimed this would be “the fairest Cup ever.” Tell me what’s wrong with this picture? Ellison chooses a boat for which he has already spent a fortune on research, thus giving himself a three-year head start on every other America’s Cup team. He had already hired all the hottest French multihull designers to create his winning challenger but, before he announced his catamaran choice, he also hired away all the best multihull talent from the only other America’s Cup team with any experience: Alinghi. If you were one of the possible America’s Cup challengers, none of whom were consulted except for Larry’s pet Italian team, who ‘ya gonna call? That poses a real challenge to the eight teams that Coutts thinks will compete. Advantage Oracle.

And, of course, every team also has to compete in a two-year world-wide pre-America’s Cup series (or risk losing the required three million Euro performance bond) using 45-foot winged catamarans. And where do you get those 45-footers?

Why, from Larry Ellison’s factory which will build them for you in New Zealand.

But wait! Isn’t there the faintest sense of déjà vu all over again? Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like the World Sailing League that would have been sailed in 70’ one-design catamarans with 12 national teams from around the world? And who was behind that non-starting debacle that sank without a trace? Oh, right, Russell Coutts. He couldn’t jump-start it on his own, so now he’s got Larry Ellison’s big bucks to make everyone play along.

And, speaking of nationalism, our brave new America’s Cup will once-again feature sailors from any country sailing on any boat, even though that boat will be required to fly the national flag of the “challenging country.” Can you spell hypocritical?

Frankly, I’m fed up with fake nationalities. No more of this living-in-the-country-for-a-year-makes-me-a-citizen baloney. Don’t try to tell me that countries like England, France, German, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand can’t find a dozen crew capable of Cup racing?

No, if you want to make this the “friendly competition between foreign countries”, crew should have a birth certificate or a passport from their country. Want to sail for someone else? Just give up your citizenship and adopt your new country. Otherwise, go play elsewhere. This is a race between nations, specified in the deed of gift.

Larry Ellison needs to rethink his midlife crisis. Geez, Larry, go buy a Porsche or find a 20-year-old Facebook bimbo to date. But leave the America’s Cup as it should be: a challenge for sailors and designers in monohulls, built by and sailed by citizens of each country. Don’t try to make it a video game for 20-year-olds, because they don’t give a damn. But there are a lot of us Flintstones out there who can see right through the Emperor’s new clothes.

At press time, Ellison and Coutts haven’t decided on where the Cup will be sailed. I’m sure they’re trying to cut the best deal they can, because obviously they don’t care about bringing it home to the country for which they won it.

I have the perfect venue for them, and I’d be willing to bet neither of them has thought about using it.


logoChris Caswell is a columnist for Sailing Magazine, who
wrote this piece for their November 2010 issue.

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