The America’s Cup, Explained

22 Jul

By Kimball Livingston Posted July 22, 2014

There’s a movie I’ve seen too many times.

Scripts vary, but in movie-talk, the “arc of the story” is the same.

First, there is an America’s Cup match that is riveting, thrilling, inspiring and enthralling to a huge audience. It can’t get any better than this, you think. The sequel will be just as good, meaning great.

Then everything goes to hell.

In 2013 we went from (former San Francisco Supervisor) Aaron Peskin’s assertion that, “There is no record of a crowd showing up for a sailboat race” to race seventeen on September 25, when so much of San Francisco tried to pour out onto Pier 17 to watch the finish that the fire marshall closed the gates.

America’s Cup 34 is still the first thing that “civilians” in San Francisco want to talk about when they find out that I sail a bit. And the sequel?


DC_Time_coverTwenty-seven years ago, America’s Cup racing shot the moon as Dennis Conner retrieved the Cup from Australia in an all-timer of a drama. There were big winds and waves and flying spray and—get this—characters that the audience cared about. Conner came home to a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue, a reception at the White House, a spot on the Tonight show and his face on the cover of Time (eclipsing Gorbachev and the biggest political upheaval since WWII). Even though the TV broadcast from Fremantle was primitive, and even though they lost 0-4, Australia’s team leaders Iain Murray and Peter Gilmour emerged from the 1987 match recognizable and marketable.

Then everything went to hell.

The repair process was nearly complete twenty years later as a scrappy Team New Zealand shocked Alinghi in the waters off Valencia, Spain, won two races and could have won more. The U.S. audience did not run more than sailor-deep, but Europe stood at attention and all of New Zealand was quivering. More than one of 2007′s record 11 challengers was dogmeat, but there was a future that seemed to rise up, bright and beckoning.

Then everything went to hell.

That mess had no hope of repair until some point around the middle of the 2013 match, when the match went from glum and desultory to “the greatest ever.”

All we had to do was do it again and . . .

Photo by Chuck Lantz

And there we were. And here we are. Where is “here” is a question to be partially answered on August 8, the entry deadline for challengers for AC35, 2017. One hard fact, however, is that Iain Murray has left the building, and Murray (yep, same Iain Murray; he’s been around a while) is on the short list for the most trusted man in sailing. As CEO of America’s Cup Race Management, AC34, he kept things from falling apart during one stress fest after another. Everyone knew who you meant when you mentioned “the big guy.” His authority drew upon a quiet manner, perceptive decision making, and acknowledged integrity. If Iain Murray, having taken on the job of leading an Australian challenge into the role of Challenger of Record, has now folded the tent and declared, as he has, that the timeline is wrong and the structure is wrong, that is a huge no-confidence blow. It goes direct to the Oracle Racing/Russell Coutts agenda for reinventing America’s Cup competition on a professionalized, normalized platform. Britain’s Ben Ainslie has expressed his willingness to stay the course, but what will be that course? Amidst all the declarations laid out thus far, I can see the smoke, reflected in . . . something.

Far be it from me to say that the Cup cannot rise above this.

Far be it from me to predict anything short of a brilliant match in 2017.

Boom and bust is us.


Despite some initial hand-wringing fears (or lip-smacking hopes) that the withdrawal of Murray’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club would obviate the unpopular protocol it had agreed to, the lawyers did their part right in the crafting. What HIYC has actually done is give 90 days notice, as the Protocol requires, that it is withdrawing. The Challenger of Record therefore continues in that role through the entry deadline of August 8. There is a fundamental stability built in, but with certain questions newly pressing. Who will be the new Challenger of Record? Oracle Racing (Golden Gate Yacht Club) knows who has actually crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s and anted up to formally challenge for AC35. Who was next in line after Hamilton Island? Are they scrambling (probably not) to secure the next Challenger of Record? I can double-dog guarantee you they wish it could be a British challenge under the banner of Ben Ainslie Racing. The celebrated Olympian, Sir Ben, was part of the Oracle defense team in 2013 and shares the Russell-Vision of a commercialized Cup. He wants to play ball. But even with royal patronage, the loosey-goosey state of affairs has hamstrung his efforts to finalize a team.

Richard Gladwell at speculates that Italy’s Luna Rossa is next in line for CoR. If so, Coutts is in for tough sledding. Luna Rossa boss Patrizio Bertelli was confrontational in his dealings in 2013 and, despite his base in the fashion industry, won’t be changing his spots. The only worse news for Coutts would be Team New Zealand in that role. I don’t think that’s happening, but it would be fodder-rich for the likes of me. Artemis is the other theoretically-possible CoR, and the Swedish-backed team would be a much cozier player than Luna Rossa. Having taken on that role the last time around, when the original CoR, Mascalzone Latino, folded, would the Artemis folks want it again?

And if we are down to a tiny handful of challengers, the whole agenda of an expensive AC45 tour to seed those challengers for semifinal and final eliminations in AC62s in separate venues hauls us straight into a theater of the absurd.

So, ten months after an America’s Cup is the time for renegotiating a Protocol? Just may be.

Ten months after an America’s Cup is the time for discovering that none of the challengers want to race in Bermuda or San Diego? (They of course want to come back to San Francisco.)

fasteners1Sigh. I have no idea how many times I’ve been asked to explain the America’s Cup over cocktails or dinner.

And failed.

Here I am again.

I should have stopped where I started, and left it at this.

This article was syndicated from BLUE PLANET TIMES


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