I have followed the America’s Cup ever since the 1950s when after a 20-odd-year hiatus during and after WWII.
It was a bit of a letdown when they changed from Twelve Meter yachts to the ultra-modern foiling monohulls. With the Twelve Meters, every sailor out on the lake could identify with every skipper and crew member in the competition because we were all participating in the same sport. I was afraid that the racing had evolved into something akin to NASCAR, with boats approaching each other at speeds of 50 knots and I had nothing to identify with! The latest America’s Cup series has changed my view entirely. Even though I cannot picture myself at the helm of one of these machines I certainly enjoy watching them going around the race course. The views, both overhead and on water are superb and the computer graphics are phenomenal! Watch it on YouTube.
This year the Cup was defended by Emirates Team New Zealand against the Italian team, Luna Rossa Prada-Pirelli in Auckland, NZ. After an exciting series with leads of over a kilometer changing several times during a race, the Kiwis triumphed and the Cup will stay in New Zealand for now.
Thinking back over the years there were some memorable stories about both teams.
The first year the New Zealand team defended the America’s Cup was 2000. This was exciting for them because New Zealand was not really famous for anything before then. It is a beautiful country with six million people and 30 million sheep. The biggest problem in the country is the smell of sheep manure.
Some politician decided that the Cup defense would be an opportunity to show the world what else the country had to offer, so it was decreed that everything on the New Zealand boat had to be made in New Zealand. This is an interesting concept in theory but there are a lot of things on a sailboat that other countries manufacture very well and all their competitors would be using the very best, no matter what the country of origin. This was further complicated by the fact that everyone was converting to carbon fiber as a strong, lightweight replacement for fiberglass and aluminum. But carbon fiber was an entirely new technology and extremely difficult to master.
The first race coincided with the sailing of the National Offshore One Design (NOOD) Race in St Petersburg, FL, where my wife and I were on Race Committee. About 200 athletes and support crew were gathered in the grand ballroom of the St. Pete Yacht Club where a local electronics firm had set up a giant TV to show the races in real-time. It was standing room only!
Right from the start of the first race, the Kiwis knew they were in trouble. It was extremely windy and the Kiwi boat was heeling over more than usual. This caused a lot of water to pour into the cockpit and the scuppers could not drain it out fast enough. As they heeled over even farther, more water came in. They actually had a crew member bailing out the cockpit with a plastic trash can! This is not S.O.P. on a racing yacht! Then things literally began to come apart: fittings pulled loose from the deck, lines snapped and finally, the carbon fiber boom broke! In St. Pete, all eyes were intent on the TV and our room full of serious sailors let out a loud groan in unison as each disaster happened. However, the Kiwis did a good job at damage control, and finally managed to limp across the finish line to complete the race.
The Italian team has come a long way since they first competed for the America’s Cup in Perth, Australia in 1987. Back then they were known as the “Gucci Boys” because Gucci had designed their uniforms. They were competent sailors, but I think they were there more to party and enjoy the event. One of the things you don’t do in match racing is let your opponent know what you plan to do in advance. You could always tell when these fellows were about to tack because they would all take a final drag on their cigarettes and throw them overboard, then, “Ready about, helm’s alee” or however it sounds in Italian! They were eliminated rather early, so they decided to just hang around in Perth and party for the rest of the competition. One day they rented a van and went for a tour of the Outback. Driving along, miles from nowhere, they hit a kangaroo. In Australia, people hit kangaroos like we hit deer here in Flowery Branch, so it was not a rare occurrence. They figured this was a chance for a photo op, so they dressed the kangaroo up in a Gucci jacket, Gucci hat and Gucci sunglasses and propped him up against the side of the van. Well, the kangaroo was not dead, only stunned and he decided he did not want to play this game. He kicked the daylights out of the guys and took off bounding across the Outback with the crew in hot pursuit. After a long, fruitless chase, they finally gave up. When they got back to the van, they realized that the kangaroo was wearing the driver’s jacket, with his wallet, his passport and most importantly, the keys to the van! Eventually, someone came along and gave them a lift back to civilization. There is no telling what happened to the kangaroo, but I imagine he wore the Gucci gear until the next season when the fashions changed.
This time around both teams seemed to be evenly matched, and although Luna Rossa Prada-Pirelli did an excellent job, Emirates Team New Zealand looked to have a faster boat. Now they get to pick the venue and time of the next challenge and I can’t wait!