current british catastrophe

“There’s plenty of time for the INEOS development team to catch up.” “Ainslie and his crew were sandbagging – they can go much faster.” Sure. 

More likely is that the current British catastrophe in the America’s Cup is just another sad chapter in their long tradition of design disappointments. The Poms haven’t had a boat anywhere near the final challenge series since the Cup ceased being a match race series restricted by convention to UK v USA boats.

For the first post-WWII contest in 1958 (sailed in 12-metres for the first time), the British designed and built a new challenger, Sceptre. She was a complete dog. The defender, Columbia, thrashed her in four straight races, sometimes by margins so huge that the photographers had trouble finding angles that kept both boats in the same frame.

Six years later the Poms returned with Sovereign, another new design, and another marine canine. Sovereign was also humbled in four straight races, this time by Constellation.    

We might argue that back then the American defenders had better crews and superior sails, but surely that’s the point. The Cup is won by the team with the best overall package, and it looks as if INEOS – despite their huge financial and human investment – is a challenge that hasn’t managed to put that package together in an effective way.

Meanwhile, optimistic comparisons with the Australia II campaign in 1983 are on shaky ground. Ben Lexcen’s design was never slow. She won the selection trials in Australia and was always on the pace in Newport through months of exhaustive racing between the other syndicates. 

During the challenge series the differences in straight-line speeds between Liberty and the Australian boat were minimal. Despite all the media hoopla over the “secret” winged keel, design factors did not determine the final result – a narrow 4-3 win to Australia II

It was a tactical gamble on the last square run in Race 7, and a more stable spinnaker, that gave the challengers their historic triumph. 

– anarchist David