The dust has long settled on the 35th America’s Cup and many a pundit has weighed in on what went wrong and what went right. The Auld Mug rode a First Class flight back to the Land of the Long White Cloud and knowing how Kiwis are when they celebrate I am sure that big drinks were drunk out of the cup. And goodonthem; they won. Now it’s my time for a little opinion piece.
It’s funny how a single image can change the way you think, isn’t it? I read a long piece by Angus Phillips, formerly of the Washington Post, where he took his turn at pontificating about the recent regatta; I disagreed with him. I sympathized with him and understood where he was coming from, but disagreed. That was how I felt about the America’s Cup, but that was also before that image popped onto my screen and changed my opinion.
I loved the most recent Cup. I loved the boats, the technology, the extreme speeds and I even got to like the fact that sailors had to wear crash helmets. Whowouldhavethunk. Yes I know I am channeling too much Steven King with those run-on words, but it’s true. A decade ago no one would ever have imagined that sailors would need crash helmets. But that’s what was so cool about this most recent regatta. Crash helmets were among the most sensible ideas put forth in this incredible duel between nations. What was not anticipated was a regatta between two sailboats that barely touched the water for the entire race. My non-sailing friends could not believe it was a sailboat race and in some ways, it wasn’t.
But that’s what I loved about it. In my (most humble) opinion the Americas Cup is all about being on the cutting edge. Technology that pushes boundaries and changes the world. That wording was not there in the Deed of Gift but it might well have been. So I disagreed with Angus, who is a great journalist, and whose opinion I respect. He – and many others judging by the comments in the comments section – longed for the old days when the boats didn’t fly, the racing was closer and there were tactics involved. Not just a good start.
That was until I came across a certain pic. It showed up in my Facebook feed which seems to be where I get all my news these days. It was a photo of a famous french yacht by the name of Pen Duick VI rolling up the Solent on the south coast of England to finish (unofficially) the 1977/78 Whitbread Round the World Race. The boat was rail down. There was plenty breeze, snow was falling and the crew were huddled aft in their oilies holding on tight while an old cross-cut spinnaker did the work up front hauling them toward the finish line. The boat had been formally disqualified from the race because Tabarly had his keel poured with depleted uranium (Google it). The stuff made lead look light. Anyway they chose to complete the race as an unofficial entrant.
So this is where my thinking changed with regard to the America’s Cup. I am an offshore sailor, not an inshore sailor, and for most of my sailing career pretty much disdained those pansy sailors who raced the America’s Cup and got to go home and sleep in their own bed each night. My head was filled with big seas and snow squalls. I have been a bit of a critic of the modern Volvo Ocean Races; too much glitz and not enough adventure, but maybe when I search deeper I realize that I too am longing for a time long past. A time when oilies – yes foul weather was called oil skins black then – were in place of the latest Helly Hansen. Back when men where men and so were the women, or at least that’s how we joked about it. Back when the world was flat; at least around the edges, and when the most cutting edge thing on board was a plastic sextant that replaced the metal one.
We can all pontificate all we want. Most of us are just full of shit. I want the future of the America’s Cup to be in flying boats made out of a substance called unobtainium. But I also long for the days when things were rough and raw and a guy by the name of Tabarly was not only cunning enough to fill his keel with depleted uranium, but when he was disqualified said screw it, let’s lap the planet anyway just for the fun of it.
– Brian Hancock.