Multihull fleet racing would be disaster for the America's Cup, says Rod Carr of the RYA

Yesterday I had a very interesting chat with Rod Carr. That’s not too surprising: all chats with Rod tend to be interesting.

In two weeks’ time he leaves the job he has held for a decade as chief executive of the Royal Yachting Association. This has made Carr arguably the most influential person in sailing in the UK, and one of the most well-connected and prominent worldwide.

Carr was one of the chief architects of the system and funding that created Team GBR’s extraordinary Olympic success, and in his ten years as CEO of the RYA has overseen the promotion of all aspects of watersports, standing up for everything from inland waterways to jetskis.

On his watch, the RYA has done its utmost to fend off the creeping tentacles of the nanny state (while successfully drawing a third of the RYA’s funding from government). Rod Carr thus has a better all-round view of boating and its sometimes antithetical interests than anyone else I can think of.

I’ll be writing more about Rod’s time at the RYA and his views on sailing in the magazine but it seems timely right now to report on his strong opinions of the America’s Cup. He was involved in establishing the British Team Origin challenge.

Rod Carr is one of those who believe the internecine war of egos in Valencia is a disaster.

“The America’s Cup is aspirational and we need it; it’s the Chelsea [FC] or Man U of sailing. It is one of the few brands that is understood by the average person.

“But it has become totally disconnected from even high level sailing and if it continues this way it will be irrelevant,” he says.

Turning the America’s Cup in a multihull competition will be a catastrophe, Carr believes. “For the America’s Cup you must be able to match race boats and multihulls are fundamentally unsuitable for match racing. It’s uniqueness is that it has got country flags attached, it’s close racing and that it is top end, state of the art.

“Fleet racing would fundamentally alter it – that would be interesting but it has nothing to offer spectators.”

Carr dismisses the argument that the America’s Cup should go where the leading edge of sailing lies: in the development of lightweight, superfast multihulls. It’s not about outright speed, he argues.

“Formula 1 cars are limited in speed, manoeuvrability and price and if they weren’t we’d only have four cars on the grid and they’d be too dangerous to race,” he argues.

“American football does something similar where you have the draft.

“When it’s a technological race it’s not interesting. It just becomes a race to spend most money. And who’s going to be able to keep up with Ellison? Can Sir Keith Mills [backer of Britain’s Team Origin] keep up with that?

“So you have to manage a sport. There is no evidence that a free market makes better sport.”

At the same time, Rod Carr holds firm views about the way yachting events are being portrayed – and regularly seeking to represent themselves – as luxury products for a wealthy elite. “The outward messaging from our sport is that this is expensive but most sustainable events are about participation and not about expense or elitism.”

More on these and other topics in our next issue…