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cowes evaluation

wheatley’s world

cowes evaluation

Not being funny but the 1851 Cup in Cowes this week simply HAS to be the final nail in the coffin for the old America’s Cup boats. It is game over for these leviathans and it’s got to be game over for match racing as a racing format. The ancient Cup boats just look like a throwback to a bygone era and the sailors onboard looked jaded, uninspiring, uninspired, way too serious, unapproachable and quite honestly they look knackered. Tony Hayward could do a better PR job…

The first day of racing was a joke, the second not much better and the round the island race was the final straw. Boats breaking in 22 knots of wind is a farce and it has to change. Sure, they were built for a specific wind strength but halyard locks breaking and rigging damage is just such a bore and detracts mightily from any kind of “spectacle” that was on offer. The boats even stopped at the Needles whilst Origin repaired their rigging and then in the spirit of “spectacle” gave Oracle a head start for the run down the Solent. Do you think we’re stupid or something?

Okay I accept that I’m a lucky bugger who has seen more AC racing than is healthy and that for a first-timer these things look impressive. However the game has moved on (miles and miles) and the smart sailors and the pros are all looking at what the Extreme 40’s are doing. It’s not the Ben Ainslie show anymore, the pin-up boy for British yachting has to be in the mould of a Leigh Macmillan who’s “piloting” Mike Golding’s Ecover in the Extremes. There is a changing of the guard happening and it’s interesting that canvassing opinion in Cowes, no longer sees me on the left field. Everyone is wide-eyed talking about slalom courses, fixed wing multis and frightening closing speeds. I’m no longer that “loony tunes” who writes on SA – (help) I’ve moved to centre ground and it’s the people clinging to IACC yacht glory that are looking like the buffoons!

Take for example race day one of the 1851 Cup. The wind blew at 22 knots and they called an “S.O.B” – Save our Boats – and headed back to shore with the Oracle boat falling apart. Personally I would call an “S.T.B” or Sod These Boats as they are like watching slow-drying paint and if they can’t sail in 20 knots of breeze and chop then forget it.

Contrast the AC lead mines with the Extreme 40 fleet and there is just no comparison. Everyone in Cowes is talking about the Groupama crash that saw them lose steerage and career up the Gurnard foreshore with the crew diving off at the last minute to save their lives. Fantastic stuff! And what’s more, they had onboard cameras to capture the action….unlike the AC snore-athon that was being filmed from about 1000 miles away on a long lens and broadcast on Sail TV. Okay so they beefed up the coverage for day two and got some on-water cameramen but this was low rent stuff.

You see this is the problem. From the long lens footage, the sea actually looked benign. There were no white horses and these leviathans looked like a doddle to sail. When they started breaking up there was a huge sense of “so
what” and no matter what Matt Sheehan said in commentary to convince us otherwise, this looked like a damp squib of a “race”. We had no onboard commentary, no footage and absolutely no sense of drama. And just how dated does match-racing as a sailing form seem?? It’s game over for this format surely? And furthermore, the stupid AC boats with their massive drafts have to sail exactly 1 million miles away from land. You just can’t see them from the shore and they are as dull as ditchwater.

And don’t get me started on Virtual Spectator. If I want to watch a computer game then I’ll turn on my son’s Playstation. When I turn on the TV to watch sailing, then please can I watch sailing!!! I don’t want computer generated graphics that are just so appalling it’s a joke and really don’t tell the story. The only positive is the gain line drawn from the bow, anyone thought of just overlaying that onto live shots rather than switching infuriatingly to pixellated hell???

Russell Coutts & Larry Ellison surely must be looking at this and I can’t believe they disagree with a word I say. They have to drag the Cup kicking and screaming into the iPad generation’s focus with courses close to the shore, full multi-media packages loaded and inject a bit of life into the whole thing. It’s just a no-brainer…

And finally…what exactly is the point of the 1851 Cup? Great, so what if you win? It means you can sail out-of-date boats with almost pensionable sailors (Daubney, Jones etc etc) and then try to convince the sailing public that this is worthy. Are they taking us for idiots? Everyone in Cowes who has a brain just thinks it’s pointless. You may as well dust off some J-Class yachts or a Tea Clipper and hold a regatta. It’s a nonsense and is actually shooting the AC in the foot. I’m just surprised that Brad Butterworth hasn’t been hired by Team Origin…surely it can’t be long? And then the “Great British hope” will fully justify their new, (hush, hush don’t tell Sir Keith) “Last of the Summer Wine” nickname.

Race for change? More like “Please race something interesting for a change!”