master & commander 2

We all know that to compete at the very top level of sailing you need money, and lots of it. Well, let’s just say that this new and very exciting sailing event announced this week at a glitzy launch in London there is no lack of money. Larry Ellison is worth an estimated $61.8 billion as is ranked 7th on Forbes list of richest people in the world. He is the money and thrust behind a new racing circuit that will be contested in revamped AC50 catamarans. He, along with multiple America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts, are  the brains and innovation behind this new idea and I, for one, can’t wait.
For the last year over 100 workers have been toiling away at Core Composites in New Zealand, a boat building company that is owned by Ellison. They have taken six of the former AC50s and re-engineered and reworked them to create a one-design class. The boats will be raced by six teams sailing under national flags – Britain, France, Australia, the United States, China and Japan – on a global circuit starting in Sydney, Australia in February next year. The fleet will then move on to the US for events in San Francisco in May and New York in June after which they will go to England for an event in Cowes to coincide with Cowes Week. From the UK they will go to Marseille in France for a regatta in September.
The racing will take place over two days with evening races planned for some city venues such as New York. Each regatta will begin with five fleet races and will culminate in a final match race showdown between the two top teams. The exception to this will be the season finale in Marseille, which will have three days of racing culminating in one, 20-minute match race for the two overall season leaders. And get this, they will be racing for a prize of €1million. Now we are talking money, real money.
I loved the last America’s Cup. These boats are stunning to watch and to see them closing in on each other at high speeds is thrilling. The big difference is that instead of just two boats on the race course there is going to be six. Can you imagine the madness at the leeward mark when a half dozen highly strung boats (and skippers) approach the mark sailing at 40 knots or more. In fact Coutts estimates that the boats will be regularly sailing at 50 knots, or possibly faster.
The skippers are going to need fast reflexes in a port starboard situation as the boats close at a collective 80-knots of boat speed. I feel quite sure that this event is going to be a NASCAR equivalent with the same percentage of wrecks. One idea that I hope that they take from NASCAR is the ability for fans to tune in to their favorite team and listen to the onboard conversation live and as its happening. It really brings things to life and gives fans an intimate feel for life on board.
The only concern I have is this. I have long been fan of the Extreme Sailing Series. They pioneered stadium type racing. As far as I can tell the new Ellison event is more race course than stadium but I sincerely hope that it does not overshadow the Extreme Sailing Series or suck talent away. There is only so much raw sailing talent out there in this quickly changing game we call yacht racing. – Brian Hancock.