The America’s Cup, Explained

Published on July 22nd, 2014

by Kimball Livingston
There’s a movie I’ve seen too many times.

Scripts vary, but in movie-talk, the “arc of the character” is the same.

First, there is an America’s Cup match that is riveting, thrilling, inspiring and enthralling to a huge audience. It can’t get any better than this, you think. The sequel will be just as good, meaning great.

Then everything goes to hell.

In 2013 we went from (former San Francisco Supervisor) Aaron Peskin’s assertion that, “There is no record of a crowd showing up for a sailboat race” to race seventeen on September 25, when so much of San Francisco tried to pour out onto Pier 17 to watch the finish that the fire marshall closed the gates.

America’s Cup 34 is still the first thing that “civilians” in San Francisco want to talk about when they find out that I sail a bit. And the sequel?


Twenty-seven years ago, America’s Cup racing shot the moon as Dennis Conner retrieved the Cup from Australia in an all-timer of a drama. There were big winds and waves and flying spray and—get this—characters that the audience cared about. Conner came home to a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue, a reception at the White House, a spot on the Tonight show and his face on the cover of Time (eclipsing Gorbachev and the biggest political upheaval since WWII). Even though the TV broadcast from Fremantle was primitive, and even though they lost 0-4, Australia’s team leaders Iain Murray and Peter Gilmour emerged from the 1987 match recognizable and marketable.

Then everything went to hell.

The repair process was nearly complete twenty years later as a scrappy Team New Zealand shocked Alinghi in the waters off Valencia, Spain, won two races and could have won more. The U.S. audience did not run more than sailor-deep, but Europe stood at attention and all of New Zealand was quivering. More than one of 2007′s record 11 challengers was dogmeat, but there was a future that seemed to rise up, bright and beckoning.

Then everything went to hell.

That mess had no hope of repair until some point around the middle of the 2013 match, when the match went from glum and desultory to “the greatest ever.”

All we had to do was do it again and . . . read on

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