Headlong dive into engineering oblivion

Published on October 13th, 2022

Beyond his two Olympic medals and nine world titles, Australian Nathan Outteridge is equally excellent at presenting information as he did in the video explaining how to sail the AC40.

This newly commissioned boat will be used for Youth and Women’s America’s Cup, and Outteridge pulled back the curtain on what is onboard a foiling monohull. But he also revealed how removed this genre is from the sport. Mark Johnson explains:

The technology is incredible, I will freely grant that point. I’ll also agree that the engineering that goes into the AC40s and their operation has been a phenomenal advancement. The speed, the agility, the handling, and the visual of this boat, dare I call it that, is new age. However, it is well beyond the romance and liking of an old lead-sled blow boater.

What really miffs me is that the AC40 no longer requires people to sail. The boat is more machine in which you point it in a direction and push a few buttons. Nathan has a nice steering wheel and 2-3 sets of buttons, as do his sail “trimmers”. Push buttons! There are no winches, no physical efforts needed, nothing about the manual forces required of a good crew to move the boat through the water. They sit in their seats and push buttons!

Since leaving the 12 Metre class, the America’s Cup has been a headlong dive into engineering oblivion. What’s the next step? Laugh if you will, but expect drone sailing. Have somebody sitting on shore, looking at a data screen, with a computer reading all the numbers and making the necessary adjustments, deciding when to tack, which side of the course – everything.

And then what? Just hold computer generated races, no live boats, people, or whatever. Simple, like computer chess. We might even be blessed with an avatar Gary Jobson pushing an avatar Ted Turner into the drink.

No! I may be a hopeless romantic, longing for days of men and women cranking winches, looking for wind, and guessing (educated, mind you) the best side of the course and when to tack, when to cover.

In my opinion, this “progress” in the America’s Cup is not progress at all. And we want kids to get into sailing? Get them on a computer, there are plenty of sailboat racing programs out there, and it’s a bunch cheaper that getting outside in a real boat, wind, water, laughter, fun, etc.

Maybe, when I can no longer get into a real sailboat, day-sailor or racer, I can sit at the retirement home and play games on my computer too. If I am lucky, maybe an attendant can walk by from time to time, change the fan and throw a cup of water on me. I might even tear up $100 bills, Ha ha!

Editor’s note: If the America’s Cup continues on this path, which is to grow its non-sailing audience with extreme equipment, can it ultimately succeed in creating a marketable entertainment product if it loses its base audience of sailors?

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