not so magic

That one riveting moment in Race 3 of the second Prada Cup Round Robin yesterday said so much about the extreme nature of the current America’s Cup competition. 

With just a mark rounding and the final leg to sail, the US challenger had a handy lead of around 50 seconds. Textbook tactics would have been to sail defensively from that point. Take no risks, protect the favored side of the course if needs be, but above all keep the boat vertical and headed in the right direction.

The call for a tack and a hard bear away in a bit of a squall at that moment proved to be fatal, as it appeared the leeward runner did not get released. (We previously stated they were going into a gybe, but that didn’t seem to be the case. – ed)

Result? A spectacular capsize that exposed the perilous lack of inherent stability in the foiling A75s and the frenetic, knife-edge dynamics of contemporary America’s Cup sailing. 

Video of that American Magic capsize must have already been replayed a million times around the world. The sponsors will not be happy. Television covered it from every heart-stopping angle – first the tactician warning that the maneuver would be “difficult”, then the frantic gybe, the dramatic sky leap and finally that slow, terrible arc as the giant rig crashed into the water. 

After only two viewings the best of the TV commentators, Ken Read, quickly spotted that the capsize had probably been caused by the crew’s inability to release the leeward runner. 

That would be a minor error in a conventional yacht, and quickly corrected without any significant impairment to performance. But in 15-18 knots of wind, and with the AC75s touching 40 knots of boat-speed in the turns, it brought disaster. The crew of American Magic were very lucky not to suffer any injuries during the capsize.

Do we need any more proof that these “boats” are too highly strung? Their designs are so extreme and fragile that any notion of durability or seaworthiness is sacrificed to the pursuit of speed at any cost. Their foils and rigs are tweaked into such narrow wind ranges that any major variation risks sluggishness – or catastrophe.

It’s little wonder than when regatta director Iain Murray was recently asked by the Australian media whether the America’s Cup was now a sailing race or an air race, he diplomatically replied “It’s a different sport”. 

 – anarchist David