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better than ever?

I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago refuting another writers assertion that sailing was somehow “broken.” I claimed the opposite citing flying boats and unbelievable record setting circumnavigations by some extraordinary French sailors, and I believe that my assessment was the right one. While I totally dislike the notion of ‘doubling down’ – because that’s what crooked politicians do when caught out – I feel that I need to double down on this one. I think that sailing is far from broken. Instead I think that sailing has never been stronger and more vibrant – at least in the almost six decades that I have been messing around in boats.

To make my point I am going to cite three very different events, two that will take place this year and one next year. First there is the America’s Cup set to kick off in May in Bermuda. Yes I know that there are plenty who mourn the old days of 12-meters and dislike the modern AC 45’s, but give me a break. I can remember when sailing was first televised. I think it was the America’s Cup in Fremantle back in the 80’s. You could hear the onboard commentary and I remember Tom Whidden, the tactician, talking Dennis Conner, the skipper, through a tack. They had come about and were building speed on the new tack. Whidden was saying, “speed coming up Dennis. Four knots, five…  six and a half.”
Give me a break. Seven knots top boat speed. All that lead under the boat. It’s no wonder people thought that sailing was the most boring sport ever. Take a look at this upcoming regatta. The closing speed of two AC 45’s on opposite tacks can be as much as 70 miles an hour. Now that’s what I call exciting. Two flying boats coming at each other racing full tilt on a razors edge between winning and catastrophe. That’s what people want to see. The chance of a pile up but if not, at least some superb, very exciting sailing.
As part of the same event there will be two additional, spectacular races. The America’s Cup J Class Regatta and the America’s Cup Superyacht Regatta. They estimate that eight J’s will be there. That’s extraordinary. Most of those boats were once wrecks relegated to some backwater somewhere. Now they will be racing against each other in the turquoise waters of Bermuda. And then there is the Superyacht Regatta. While I am not really a fan of these behemoths there is something to be said for a whole lot of them lumbering around the same course. Nope, sorry, you can complain all you want about the America’s Cup but I am still a fan.
I am also a fan of the Volvo Ocean Race set to start again later this year. Say what you want about this event, and I have had plenty to say and feel entitled to speak up being a veteran of three races, it is still the preeminent fully crewed offshore ocean race in the world. I think the event is stronger than ever with Mark Turner at the helm and I like what they have done to encourage teams to choose female crew. I was thrilled to read that Dongfeng Race Team had enlisted two extremely talented female sailors.
The new VOR rule allows a balance between men and women in the following manner.

  • 7 men

  • 7 men and 1 or 2 women

  • 7 women and 1 or 2 men

  • 5 men and 5 women

  • 11 women

Dongfeng have, in my opinion, played the first strategic move of the race and I think it’s an excellent one. Because of their bold statement I have them (for now) as my favorite to win.
I know many sailors dislike where both the VOR and America’s Cup have gone with professional sailors and budgets equal to the GDP of a small country, but that’s life. Sports evolve and to remain relevant sailing has had to evolve. But let’s contrast this with my most favorite of all events which will take place next year. The Golden Globe Race or as their tag line reads; 30 Sailors… 30,000 miles non-stop… Alone… With no outside assistance. The very essence of a pure adventure and an event with a competitor waiting list. It will have been 50 years since the original Golden Globe took place and they are pretty much following the same rule book. Boats have to have “designed prior to 1988 and having a full-length keel with rudder attached to their trailing edge.” Furthermore the boats have to be fiberglass, have a minimum design displacement of 6,200kg, and have a hull length of between 32ft and 36ft.
When it comes to equipment competitors have to navigate with a sextant and use paper charts, they have to hand write their log books and hand steer or use a wind vane, no auto pilots. And no iPad’s and the like. Books yes, canned food a must, a radio if you want but most of all a thirst for simplicity and adventure. I love the idea and I love that we can have this event juxtaposed against the VOR and AC and have it still be a part of the same sport that we all love. Try and name one other sport that covers this kind of spectrum under the same umbrella. I don’t think you can and therefore I proclaim once again that sailing is not broken. It’s thriving better than ever. – Brian Hancock.