In the wake of the death of Andrew Simpson Yachting World editor David Glenn comments on what he sees as an unsatisfactory state of affairs surrounding the America's Cup
While it remains to be seen what precisely
caused the accident that resulted in the death of Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson in San
Francisco it’s worth considering why we are where we are with the
When the holders Oracle revealed their
plans for the 34th Cup it was made clear that, as far as the
Defenders were concerned, the 162-year-old competition wasn’t financially
sustainable unless TV was much more involved. To make sailing more appealing to television
it should be faster, more exciting and, perhaps, with more thrills and spills.
And so it was deemed multihull sailing was the way to go.
Right from the start the idea of close
match racing between two yachts – the essence of America’s Cup competition -
took a back seat while speed, capsizes in the smaller AC45 cats and new TV
technology were used in an attempt to convince the public and big business that
this was an improvement on monohull competition. The sailing cognoscenti, on
balance, were not convinced.
Personally, I felt the heart had been torn
out of the America’s Cup and at the time I said as much in the pages of
Yachting World. I also believe the America’s Cup is about wealthy individuals
wanting to have a crack at winning it and that it should not be kowtowing to
TV. That is what has made it unique and so resilient.
Sailors, designers and technology have been
up against an almost impossible deadline for the 34th America’s Cup
and it’s no secret that the shortage of time for design and preparation has
been a fundamental worry for those involved.
The enormously powerful and, compared to
the AC45, totally different AC72s have, it seems, been designed on the hoof.
Foils or no foils, that was the question, until very recently. How on
earth can a highly complex machine like an AC72, one apparently dependant on
human muscle power to drive the hydraulic pumps which control the thing, still
be in design development just weeks from the start of competition?
This enormous change in direction for the
Cup has, I believe, been too extreme and taken place in too short a time frame
for technology to catch up. Trying to convince TV that the America’s Cup is a
mainstream spectator sport simply hasn’t happened. The result is disinterest as far as the sailing public is
concerned and now a catastrophic and tragic turn of events has drawn attention
to the event for all the wrong reasons.
It might serve the sport well if the AC72s
were pulled off the water right now, independent experts sent in to look at
design and for the America’s Cup organisation to take a long, close look at
itself. At the moment it’s going too fast. It desperately needs to slow down
and take stock.