Monday, April 26, 2010

The Myth of Multihulls

The multihulls we watched in America’s Cup 33 were amazing, well, at least one of them. The boat that won. BMWOracle’s trimaran USA.

Now the yacht club that sponsored BMWOracle Racing, Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco (GGYV), with an assist from its challenger partner, Club Nautico di Roma (ITA), has apparently formulated the protocol for America’s Cup 34, and will be announcing it soon. That’s great. All of us are ready and waiting.

Just for the record:

(1) We don’t think America’s Cup is drag racing. Drag racing is about highly powered, ungainly vehicles challenging each other in a speed-only event. We saw some drag racing in AC33. It was new and captivating since we had never seen drag racing before in America’s Cup. However, like most purists – and as Bruno TroublĂ© (head of yacht racing for former America’s Cup sponsor Louis Vuitton) and many other purists probably feel about this – we hope that drag-racing doesn’t become the future of America’s Cup.

(2) Multihull racing vs. monohull racing is like giraffes – no, camels – racing thoroughbred horses. Sometimes those camels and giraffes are extraordinarily fast, but thoroughbreds are better bred, more elegant, more beautiful to look at, and, well, fast enough.

(3) You cannot discern yacht speed on television. Monohull or multihull, you cannot tell by watching helicopter footage (which most us see), even in close up, exactly how fast boats are sailing. Speed actually is rational data communicated live by commentators, by onscreen captions, or through online presentations from modeling data (as on Virtual Spectator). Any argument that America’s Cup needs multihulls because racing is about speed is, inevitably, null and void. Television cannot discern speed on the water.

(4) Multihull speed – indiscernible to most viewers anyway – is about the thrill of failure. This is the ‘spinnaker syndrome’, raised to the power of ten. Whenever most of us see stress on a racing boat, it’s when spinnakers are raised. In a situation exacerbated by commentators and television producers, most of us sit there and wait for something to destroy everything. It’s a bit like NASCAR, transcribed to downhill legs on a sailing racecourse. The fact is, cataclysmic incidents are what high-speed racing multihulls are all about, most of the time. Even multihull sailors admit that. We respect that courage and everything else that makes multihulls unique. But is this what America’s Cup is about?

(5) Once speed is diminished by television, multihull racing is (wait for it) boring. It’s about straight-line, drag-racing speed. It’s about the fear of failure. In America’s Cup, so far, it hasn’t been about tactical, competitive action. So far, multihull racing has shown us long, boring legs of immense speed that we cannot discern, except when one boat is faster than another. And that’s the only definition of speed that matters. Contrastingly, did we ever see much in AC33 like this clip from AC32? In this random engagement, just one of scores we watched, commentator Andy Green (UK) actually uses the term 'drag race'. But pure boat speed is irrelevant. Relative performance is what counts. Above all, tactics, decision making, and competition are everything. We think this is what AC34 should be about:

(6) Anyway, if you wanted a new level for America’s Cup endeavor, we thought big monohulls for AC33 was a pretty good idea. Big, beautiful, powerful monohulls like the AC90 concept (below, from AC Management), promulgated in the original AC33 protocol, could take America’s Cup to another level. Want them to be even more exciting? Make them bigger, higher, wider, more. Just to refresh your memory (click on the picture for a closer look):

Anyway, that’s our view. You have yours.

The idea that counts comes next week.

We hope.