Don’t fret about the America’s Cup – sailing doesn’t need it

Published on July 9th, 2013

By Bill Schanen, Sailing Magazine
I’m not worried about the America’s Cup. I’m not losing sleep because there are only four contenders for the Cup or because fundraising for what was to be a waterfront extravaganza for San Francisco this summer is falling woefully short. I’m not outraged that the boats chosen for the Cup are manifestly unsafe exotics. I have no qualms over the America’s Cup being turned into a spectacle designed to appeal to an audience lured by the potential for thrills, spills, disaster and tragedy.

No, what scares the hell out of me is that people are going to think the America’s Cup is about sailing.

I got a premonition of that fear last summer when a presenter at a sailing business conference received a warm reception for a speech in which he said marketing of the 2013 America’s Cup was aimed at “the NASCAR demographic.”

Nothing against NASCAR, its fans or its demographic, whatever that is, but how exactly does a sailboat competition designed to appeal to car racing enthusiasts help sailing?

Let’s see. After watching AC72 catamarans that have wings instead of sails and fly over the water on hydrofoils at 45 miles per hour, the America’s Cup-viewing speed aficionados are going to be moved to rush to the nearest boat store to buy 30-foot racer-cruisers that might hit 7 miles per hour in a gale.

That’s not going to happen, of course, but it’s not the fault of the America’s Cup. In fact, let’s give the Cup organizers credit for doing what they said they would do. They’ve created a competition that is more like auto racing than sailing.

That’s fine with me. Boredom being an ever-present threat, the world can always use another form of entertainment. And if that entertainment employs vessels so extreme they’re dangerous, as was proven when a crewman on an AC72 was killed as the boat began to disintegrate in moderate conditions on San Francisco Bay, well, then chalk it up as one more similarity with auto racing. Just don’t call this entertainment ‘sailing’.

Don’t get me wrong. I am appalled by the death of Andrew Simpson of the Swedish America’s Cup team. I am appalled that after the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars on design and engineering, the possibility of the failure of the boat was not predicted and the crew protected.

Judging from postings on various websites, there is a lot of angst in the sailing community over this tragedy. That’s understandable, but let’s be clear: It’s not sailing’s fault. This is on the America’s Cup. – Read on

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