the same, only different

Yesterday’s announcement by the Royal Ocean Racing Club that they will resurrect the Admiral’s Cup in 2025 seems a bit like the music business going back to vinyl. There’s an immediate glow of warm nostalgia, but the hard-heads of the offshore racing world will soon start pondering the realities.

Retro initiatives rarely work in sport. What was an effective and respected format for competition half a century ago might not succeed today. The reasons driving this impetus for evolution are many and varied. 

In yachting, the dominant force is technology. There have been massive developments in design, construction, sails, and electronics. Today’s offshore racers sail twice as fast as the displacement timber boats that competed in the early Admiral’s Cup series.

The sport itself has changed enormously. Regatta-style ‘day racing’ for yachts in a multiplicity of classes from 30-footers to supermaxis is now far more popular than the long, hard slog of traditional offshore events. 

At the same time, the old notion of genuine national teams in yachting has been diminished by sponsorship. Most of the elite offshore boats contesting international events represent corporations or brands, not countries. 

Those are the main reasons – plus the sheer time pressures of modern life – why the Admirals Cup withered and died.  That said, the decision to revive the event is to be applauded and the RORC has now foreshadowed some modifications to the founding Cup format in an attempt to breathe new life into their once-prestigious international competition. 

The original three-boat national teams have, apparently, been reduced to two, each rated within a “bigger” and “modest” IRC class. 

Two boats are just a partnership. Three boats were a team. By selecting a small, medium, and large boat each nation in the original Admiral’s Cup had a fair chance of covering the range of conditions expected in the mix of inshore and offshore races. 

There is to be no restriction on professional crew. To my mind that is unfortunate. 

The well-funded boats will all be sailed by highly paid ‘rock stars’ treating the event as just another gig on the pro-racing circuit. The old Corinthian spirit and tradition of the Admiral’s Cup will not return.

More generally, because the Cup is again to be contested in the Solent, the English Channel and end with the Fastnet Race it will inevitably favor Northern Hemisphere teams, and the British in particular. Local knowledge has always been crucial. 

But let’s accept that goes with the territory. If the event moved to whichever location the team that won it last chooses – like the America’s Cup – then it wouldn’t be the Admiral’s Cup. 

 – anarchist David