Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's brilliant, really

America's Cup management wraps up the test series in New Zealand.

Sheer physicality.

Extraordinary speed (which you can see).

The manic edge, a tipping point (literally), a fine line between extraordinary performance and a ducking.

The AC regatta in New Zealand has made a new America’s Cup a magnificent fait accompli.

It’s going to be an utterly outstanding America’s Cup, make no mistake.

Add astonishing media technology which is being tested and enhanced – with further fine-tuning and undoubtedly greater refinements to come during the European series.

If America’s Cup is the epitome of racing (which it should be), it’s hard to imagine how anything could eclipse what is happening in America’s Cup today.

We loved AC32, Version 5, and Valencia because we were there.

We despaired of the mad rush to multihulls.

Now, we can’t wait for what’s to come.

Only one thing could make it better.

Ernesto builds a very big, very competitive boat.

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 Troublé (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.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

It starts here

James Spithill (AUS), Russell Coutts (NZL), Larry Ellison (USA)
and John Kostecki (USA) loft the Auld Mug for the first time
together, Sunday, February 14, 2010 in Valencia, Spain. Another
great picture by BMWOracle Racing's Gilles Martin-Raget.

The celebration by winners of the America’s Cup typically marks the end of a marathon event.

We all know America’s Cup 33 was a marathon.

We heartily congratulate Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco (GGYC) and their sailing team BMWOracle Racing (USA) on a spectacular victory on the water. That victory was testimony not just to an advanced boat design and a fabulous team, but also to an unwavering commitment to things that matter, probably unequalled in the whole of professional sports.

But now America’s Cup 34 begins.

Now the work begins again for BMWOracle Racing and its leadership.

Not just to build a boat that can win the 34th event, but significantly, to consider what this great event is, and can become.

We look forward to an exciting, extraordinary, captivating, and compelling competition among the sailing nations of the world.

The best America’s Cup ever.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Overcoming Swiss sportsmanship

America’s Cup Principal Race Officer Harold Bennett (NZL)
banishes Swiss official Nicolas Grange (SUI) from the
committee boat’s flybridge control center.
Apparently, for insubordination.

We really wanted to put Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI) and his yacht club Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) behind us.

We really wanted to move forward to America’s Cup 34 in a very positive way.

In fact, we even wanted to salute Ernesto for his commitment to his team, his passion for America’s Cup, and his sportsmanship.

On Sunday, we learned you can’t have everything.

In fact, when it comes to Ernesto –and his Swiss confreres – you had better be prepared to be disappointed.

First, Firmenich

If you were expecting Pierre-Yves Firmenich, Commodore of Société Nautique de Genève, to be courteous and salutary at the ceremony in Valencia when the America’s Cup trophy was passed to Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco (GGYC), well, you were mistaken.

Firmenich couldn’t find the words to congratulate his peer, Commodore Marcus Young of GGYC, on his victory on the water. He couldn’t even shake his hand. The only thing he had to say to the world was that he was pleased to win the trophy in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2003.

Now Commodore Firmenich is a gentleman of the old order, held in high esteem in Switzerland, and in business circles around the world.

But there was no courtesy from Firmenich on Sunday. We are forced to conclude, therefore, that no courtesy was intended, therefore no honor was shown.

That absence of honor sits on Firmenich’s doorstep.

If that wasn’t enough, as the excitement of BMWOracle Racing (USA)’s victory settled, we learned about the bizarre behavior of SNG representatives on the official Race Committee boat, just prior to the start of Sunday’s race.

Second, Meyer

You have to remember that the Principal Race Officer (PRO) of AC33 was Harold Bennett (NZL), a long-time race official, highly respected around the world for the thankless task of adjudicating major racing events. One of his major roles in America’s Cup is to decide when race conditions are suitable for racing and to manage the start and finish of the event.

Accompanying him on the committee boat on Sunday were a number of SNG officials, including that alpine partisan, SNG Vice Commodore Fred Meyer (SUI).

For the first race, Bennett shrewdly decided he needed a GGYC representative on the boat – for fairness and balance – and asked BMWOracle Racing’s Tom Ehman (USA), a longtime race official and sailing judge, to come aboard as a representative of Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC).

Knowing exactly what a GGYC voice might mean to SNG’s strategies, whatever those might have been, Meyer went ballistic.

But Bennett held his ground. Ultimately, an Alinghi lawyer, Lucien Masmejan (SUI) was drafted to accompany Ehman, and the boat finally departed the dock in Valencia for Race One.

Then, on Sunday, as Bennett labored mightily to ensure that the 39-mile triangular course was effectively set up, providing balanced conditions across the 13x13x13 mile course, he waited patiently until he felt conditions were acceptable. Then, as he was about to authorize the flag sequence that would signal the start of the race, SNG staged a mutiny.

In contact with the Alinghi sailing team on the water, SNG officials on the committee boat decided that conditions didn’t favor their contender and wanted the race postponed. Bennett ignored them. He ordered a race “go”.

Despite the fact that any PRO like Bennett has sole authority to control events on the race course, SNG officials on the boat refused to obey Bennett’s orders. Refusing to be a puppet for Swiss partisans, Bennett himself took action.

Peremptorily, he ordered the SNG flunkies out of the control center on the flybridge, co-opted Ehman and a Spanish chase boat driver – a former race official – and ordered them to man the flags while he personally managed the critical, time-sensitive signal sequence.

Finally, Race 2 got under way.

Three days later, the sailing world is still abuzz about Swiss manipulation.

Third, Ernesto

This is a man we strive to like, believe it or not. He is a passionate sailor. He has invested millions of his own money to participate in America’s Cup. He loves fast boats, competition, and winning.

What’s not to like?

Well, a great deal, unfortunately.

This man should be a class act. Actually, he is a class apart.

As a major player on a global stage, you’d expect this man to have a lot to offer. Do you know what he really has?

Try this:

(1) No sense of sportsmanship, as most people accept it. We don’t want to get into Ernesto’s status as a gentleman. But we do know that a gentleman, in defeat, congratulates his victor, salutes their achievement, and commends their enterprise, enthusiasm, and accomplishment. There was not one word from Ernesto about this in the post-race press conference on Sunday. Oh, yes, he did say the wing was “efficient”. Otherwise, he looked for reasons to diss the victors.

(2) Nothing nice to say. Any time Ernesto Bertarelli has anything positive to say, it’s about Ernesto Bertarelli. Like the classic narcissist he seems to be, Ernesto’s thoughts and feelings are the center of the universe. There is no other center. It is psychologically impossible for him to say anything complimentary about any other person, thing or event, unless it’s an (in)elegant construction designed to compliment himself.

(3) A gift for whining. In his defeat, Ernesto didn’t blame an inferior yacht design that cost him the America’s Cup. He blamed the New York Courts. He blamed America. He blamed both because the courts give Americans an advantage that Europeans cannot overcome. He blamed the wing because it meant the winning boat USA had to be moored at the commercial port, not the darsena. He blamed Sunday’s wave height (about a meter). He blamed the wing again because it was the third version of USA’s sail design, not declared in the boat’s paperwork. He even stiffed lawyer and novo journalist Cory Friedman of Sailing Scuttlebutt for asking questions at the post-race press conference that he, Ernesto, didn’t like.

(4) No balls. When he won America’s Cup in 2007, Ernesto didn’t invite Emirates Team New Zealand to participate in the ceremonies. They were banished. Just like Russell Coutts (NZL), chief executive of BMWOracle, was banished from the AC33 owner’s press conference this year, even though Ernesto’s skipper Brad Butterworth (NZL) was invited and did participate. In 2007, like a king, Ernesto crowned himself. On Sunday, he didn’t even show on the platform. He left that to his fellow directors of SNG. True sportsmen, everyone knows, have what it takes. They show up, win or loss. Ernesto … well, you get the picture.

After all our whining, where are we left?

Depressed, actually.

This America’s Cup should never have been like this.

After AC32, the future of America’s Cup looked fabulous. The world was watching. Everybody learned to love big boat racing. Every sponsor we met was excited about the sport and looking forward to the next event.

Then, after the new AC challenger and draconian protocol were announced in July 2007 – a cataclysmic nosedive. America’s Cup plummeted. The world watched that, too.

Two and a half years later, this Deed of Gift event has been an America’s Cup of Redemption. Perhaps that’s what DOG races are all about.

Having brought the Cup back to zero, from the ugly depths to which it had sunk, Larry Ellison (USA), head of BMWOracle Racing and a director of Golden Gate Yacht Club, now has the opportunity – and the challenge – to restore the luster to this glorious competition.

He can also move it forward, decisively, into the future.

Anyone who won the Cup from Ernesto Bertarelli and the Alpine Nation would have that challenge.

We think Ellison might actually achieve it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The fastest America's Cup ever

BMWOracle Racing’s USA (top) en route to victory in
America’s Cup 33,
trailed by Swiss defender Alinghi 5.

It was won on the water.

It was won by a high-tech flagship – one that was beautifully, but reluctantly designed, built and sailed to satisfy a Deed of Gift race that never should have happened.

It was won by a brilliant team – one that was brilliantly led, brilliantly managed, and brilliantly responsive to every challenge in what became the most complex, confusing, and frustrating America’s Cup in history.

Above all, it was won by the world’s most persistent – and patient – sailor.

Not only did Larry Ellison (USA), make one great leadership decision after another – including hiring Russell Coutts (NZL) as chief executive, supporting his team throughout the darkest days of the campaign, and above all, investing in the most advanced design and technology ever developed for an America’s Cup yacht.

But on behalf of the Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco (GGYC), the head of BMWOracle Racing also invested in initiatives to protect the honor and integrity of America’s Cup.

Responding to a ludicrous protocol for the management and conduct of AC33, Ellison went to the mat for fairness, competitiveness, and a level playing field.

Now he has won even that.

At the post-race press conference, Ellison announced that America’s Cup 34 will be a multi-challenger event, developed in partnership with teams who enter, with independent juries and race committees, and independent management.

Russell Coutts added that the boat design rule would also be developed in consultation with the teams.

At his own press conference, the Swiss defender Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI), head of Alinghi, mourned the loss of the America’s Cup he loved.

These were the fastest races in America’s Cup history, and he lost. But it could have been a different kind of event, which he could have won.

During the race on Friday, and particularly today, he had plenty of time to contemplate what might have been.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Brad is working on this

Alinghi will maximize Alinghi 5's performance.
No question about that.

Brad is not worrying about yesterday.

He gave that up yesterday, after tea.

He’s moved well beyond that.

Since there’s nothing Brad Butterworth (NZL) can do about BMWOracle Racing’s high-performance wing what he will be thinking about is how to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

And because Brad is thinking like Brad, everyone on USA (USA) should beware.

Brad will be thinking about competitive tactics, creating a dust up, and getting a great start.

He will be thinking about best side of the race course and pulling puff out of thin air, just like he always does.

He will be thinking about whatever gave his two-hulled boat the power to eat up two-hundred-plus meters on USA halfway up the outbound leg yesterday.

He will rethink sails.

He will, in the nicest possible way, be looking for a steady hand on the helm so sail trimmers can do their best.

He will, cannily, and typically, seek out every opportunity to get an edge.

If Brad can, Brad will force any issue on the water to cause frustration in the opponent’s camp.

He will not give up without a fight.

That is one thing we can be certain about.

Brad did not come here to lose.

Friday, February 12, 2010


What America’s Cup racing now looks like.
A BMWOracle Racing USA crewmember,
astride the right ama.

All of us were stunned.

Quite probably everyone on the planet was stunned.

At the sheer power of the America’s Cup challenger BMWOracle’s amazing USA.

At its performance over Swiss defender Alinghi 5, even in lighter winds.

Upwind, both faster, and pointing higher.

Downwind, surprisingly fast.

In Race One of America’s Cup 33, the boat’s extraordinary ‘wing’ – substituting a soft mainsail with a high-tech aerofoil – not only dazzled veteran sailors, but set what is likely to be a new benchmark for the evaluation of high-performance racing multihulls.

Astonishingly, the wing even improved USA’s performance when it drove the boat solo.

Nobody more was more nonplussed than Alinghi 5 skipper and tactician Brad Butterworth (NZL). “Were you there?” Brad asked a reporter with his trademark honesty and candor. He then put into words what everyone was thinking:

“When they sail right up to you, then go around you, that’s speed.”

Winning a protest in the pre-start dial-up – then stalling before it crossed the line – USA devoured the Swiss boat’s 600-meter lead in what seemed like just a few minutes.

On the downwind leg, USA17 opened up a long-distance lead that topped 4.5 kilometers.

Those who felt the downhill could be the wing’s weakness were, well, silenced.

It’s only one race.

But what a race.

What a boat.