Event ends with America's Cup rivals together on stage

The second edition of the World Yacht Racing Forum closed its doors last night following eight debates and several presentations held over two days at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum. The highlights of the day were most probably the America’s Cup session, with the exceptional presence of Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth, and the contributions by double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux and Brown GP F1 team CEO Nick Fry.

Over 350 key figures from the yacht racing industry attended the Forum. Their feedback was a positive one, the majority recognising the quality and importance of an international debate to discuss the key issues the sport faces.

Thursday’s keynote speaker Michel Desjoyeaux reminded the audience that the sport of sailing looked clean from the outside, but needed to better its carbon footprint. He went on to say that the sport of sailing is a great platform of integration for the younger generation, and especially for the ones who encounter problems in suburban areas. “It is wrong to consider our sport as an activity for the rich people. The access to our sport is easy and cheap. We have several projects that demonstrate this clearly in France.”

Desjoyeaux concluded by talking about the business model of sailing and the direction it should take. “We don’t need to reduce our costs; what we need to do is increase the return we provide to our partners.”

A message that provided a perfect introduction to the next session, “Cutting racing costs – how can we meet the challenges of today’s economy?” Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, made it clear from the onset that reducing costs was a matter of survival. “Our sport is small and we need to work collectively at growing it. We can achieve this by reducing costs in several areas, and particularly in the technical side of the sport: there is money wasted in this area. I am also in favour of salary caps”, he said. “On the other hand, I am not in favour of subsidising teams like some events do. It is the wrong approach.”

Further discussions debated the future of multihull racing. Being former Olympic racers and multihull experts, all panellists agreed that it was an absolute shame that the Tornados had been taken away from the Olympic program; nobody in the 350 strong audience said the contrary… The reasons were more interesting to understand.

Mitch Booth, a double Olympic medallist, explained that “multihulls have always struggled with acceptance within the institutions, the yacht clubs or federations. They have been banned for years. There is unfortunately a cultural issue still to resolve.” Cam Lewis, who is one of the best promoters of multihull racing in the US, considers that “this issue will be resolved. There are currently several successful projects – including the forthcoming America’s Cup – that need to be used to the benefit of multihull racing.”

The event’s grand finale was the America’s Cup session. CEO of BMW ORACLE Racing, Russell Coutts was first on the podium, speaking with enthusiasm about his trimaran’s wing – “bigger than any wing ever built including airplanes.” Coutts spoke at lengths about his passion for the America’s Cup, and the characteristics that made it so dear to him. “Some of the lessons for the future lie in the past”, he claimed.

“Freemantle was one of the most exciting America’s Cups ever. Auckland showed the benefits of a custom built harbour, and the importance of a strong local support. Finally, Valencia illustrated the benefits of a global management for both the Challengers series and the America’s Cup. All those events were very successful in their way. I have one question”, he concluded: “why change such a successful format?”

Brad Butterworth, President of Alinghi, followed on stage and reminded the audience about the ground rules of the event. “The founding document of the America’s Cup is the Deed of Gift. We can amend the rules if we agree to do it by mutual consent. However, in this case, there was no mutual consent.” Butterworth also spoke with enthusiasm about the Alinghi 5 catamaran, telling the audience how exciting it was to sail on such a platform. “In the future, he said, we should seriously consider a multi-challenge America’s Cup on multihulls.” After confirming that his team would be ready to race on February 8, he expressed a wish: “Whoever looses the dual should be graceful and abandon any lawsuit.”

Nicolo Bastianini, Paul Cayard, Magnus Holmberg, Stephan Kandler, Sotiris Buseas and Marcus Hutchinson then joined Coutts and Butterworth on stage for a debate about the future of the event after AC 33. Talking on behalf of their respective teams, all panellists expressed clear – yet solvable – differences regarding the format, dates and type of boat to use for the next edition of the regatta. On the other hand all panellists agreed that an independent management was necessary, Brad Butterworth reminding his colleagues that its establishment would be difficult due to the complexity of the event.

Led by Paul Cayard, the speakers then unanimously endorsed the idea to rapidly create an official group of challengers and to start working concretely, together, on a Protocol for the next America’s Cup. A promising achievement in the current context and after two years of legal battles.

To read more about the forum, and what other areas were debated and discussed, visit www.worldyachtracingforum.com