Sunday, December 09, 2007

Seven Reasons Why a Cat Fight Would Be Good for the America's Cup

Nobody seems to know what will happen with the America's Cup. Apparently the two warring parties led by Ernesto Bertarelli and Larry Ellison will have a sit-down this week to try and negotiate a way forward. Failing that the next cup will be be a so-called "Deed of Gift" match, best of three races, between Larry's men and Ernie's men under the terms of the challenge made by Larry back in July.

The challenge (officially from the Golden Gate Yacht Club) even includes a Certificate of Name, Rig and Specified Dimensions of the challenging vessel (even though, by all accounts, this vessel is not yet built.) The vessel described in the challenge as a "keel yacht" will be 90 ft long with a beam of 90 ft, with a hull draft of 3ft and a draft of 20 ft with boards down.

Hmmm. Keel yacht? Sure sounds like a catamaran to me.

And if Larry has a 90 ft cat then everyone assumes that Ernie will have to have a 90 ft cat in order to be competitive. For some reason, the whole world seems to think that this outcome, a best of three series sailed between two monster cats next July, would be a retrograde step for the America's Cup and a disaster for the sport of sailing.

I beg to differ. So here are my Seven Reasons Why a Cat Fight Would Be Good for the America's Cup.

1. Tradition
A match sailed under the Deed of Gift would be more traditional. We have strayed a long way from the original concept of the Cup since the 1850's. The way it was supposed to work was that some rich old coot would write a posh letter to the New York Yacht Club essentially saying, "My boat's faster than your boat. Nah nah nah nah." The NYYC would accept the challenge by writing another posh letter saying effectively, "See you next July off Sandy Hook. Nah nah nah nah." The NYYC would then find some other rich old coot with a faster boat, meet the first rich old coot off Sandy Hook, crush him, and all would be well with the world.

So let's get back to that tradition. One defender. One challenger. Two crazy rich old coots. The way it was meant to be. Yachting needs to honor its traditions.

2. Excitement
There's no argument, multihulls are faster and more exciting than big monohulls with all those tons of spent uranium or whatever metal they use now in their keels to slow them down. Let's face it, the 50 knot speed barrier will be first broken by some kind of multihull (not counting windsurfers). Can you imagine a round-the-buoys race between two cats sailing at that speed (or anywhere near it)?

3. Simplicity
Cats are not going to frig around doing dial-ups and dial-downs and all the other rigmarole of match racing that only 27 people in the whole world really understand. They are going to accelerate off the start line in clear air and go for speed, speed, speed baby. Bang the corner. Tack. And then off on another wild ride to the first mark. I know, I've sailed cats on Tacticat. All that boring tacking and ducking and covering stuff just slows you down. And if we are going to make yachting appeal to a wider audience we need racing to be easy to understand. Anyone can understand the concept of "faster boat wins".

4. Cost
If we have a deed of gift match next July, then Larry and Ernie are going to spend a few millions building a couple of cats, some port that Ernie chooses will get to host them, and someone vaguely impartial but really working for Ernie will lay on three races. That's it. No endless expensive series of "acts" over many years and then a costly challenger series dragging on for months. No "challenges" from no-hope syndicates from Luxembourg or Namibia or wherever. No chasing around for sponsors. Easy. Cheap.

5. Unique
The deed of gift match between catamarans of essentially unrestricted design will be a test of technology and yacht design more than seamanship. This is a good thing. The Olympics and each class World Championship are the events designed to find out who the best sailors are. The America's Cup needs to differentiate itself from these events. The America's Cup should be all about the nerds in the design office. Rich old coot with the best nerds wins.

6. Technology Trickle Down
You know trickle down? That's the economic theory that says its a good thing for rich people to have big expensive toys because eventually the money trickles down to the little guy who pumps out their holding tanks. More importantly, while Larry and Ernie are building the biggest baddest cats you ever saw, they will be spurring invention and creating technical improvements that you will eventually use on your Hobie 16. Yeah right. OK, well the other 6 reasons are still good.

7. Spectator Appeal
The cat fight is going to be the most stupendous event ever in yachting with huge appeal to on-site spectators and TV viewers around the world. Why? Well, because of all the reasons above. To summarize, the audience will love it because
  • it will be traditional
  • it will be in fast boats
  • it will be exciting to watch
  • it will be easy to understand
  • it will be a one-off event lasting a few days
  • it will be a show-down between two crazy rich old coots whom we all love to hate
  • a crash between two monster cats approaching each other at around 50 knots will be spectacular and the best thing ever to demonstrate to the general public why yacht racing is so much fun. After that, sailing will be bigger than NASCAR.

Update 11 Dec. Extract from interview by Ernie in LeTemps yesterday, translated and republished in a Sailing Anarchy forum.

Le Temps: You thus prepare with a duel in the multihulls in 2008?
Ernesto Bertarelli: With Larry, we will clash with two beautiful monsters. He who spends the most money will win.

Yeehow. Let's do it


Frank said...

Nice title, good arguments except the third I think.

The 'dial-ups and dial-downs and all the other rigmarole of match racing that only 27 people in the whole world really understand' are in my opinion the things that make the America's Cup so appealing to the public. It makes the boats want to fight each other, chasing the opponent to force a foul.

Or maybe that's just because I'm one of those 27 people...

Fred said...

Uuuhps, very good opinion. Makes good read. Have to think about it from your perspective...

Anonymous said...

I love reason #1 because it will lead to a complete different scenario as wanted by EB. Back to tradition insted of modernization. GREAT!

Pat said...

Okay, I'm getting our sailing club race committee prepped to host the modified Cup races under the Deed of Gift and have even posted our r.c. equipment checklist on my blog. Check to see what I've left out.

But if speed is what we really want, how about solar-powered space yachts doing a course from an L3 point around the moon and back?

Zen said...

Bring it!

Anonymous said...

If a race between two catamarans were exciting then the little Americas cup in C Class cats would be a big deal, but it isn't.

I formed my own opinion year ago while watching Laser 5000's planing across Lake Garda on TV that most sailing and especially sailing in fast boats, would never be good on TV. There is nothing more boring than when there is a speed differential and one boat is much faster and the outcome is known. Which race would you rather watch a neck and neck finish or one where a horse or human or boat blows the other away?

Anonymous said...

I think that of all of the commentary that has been published over the past 5 months on the current AC stand-off, this is, while quite cute and cleaver in its delivery, complete non-sense. Congratulations on being published in scuttlebutt, but don't get too excited. I don't think that anyone that is involved, in any way what-so-ever, with the Americas Cup will take a single point that you made seriously

Anonymous said...

I think it would be a success.
Everyone except matchracers understand that racing is about being the fastest, ( ask a three year old :-D ).
Slow things are boooring, that's why formula 1 is fun and successfull, while parking lot competitions in precition parking doesn't exsist ( as far as I know :-/ ).
Have you ever seen a kid spot a cat on one hull ? Or a foiler :-D ... smiles all over their faces.
Also, the possibility of a severe crash with bits flying is a plus, ( especially if there is a low probability of serious personal injury ).

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I've been hoping against hope that we see a cat race next year too.


Jake said...


Anonymous said...

USA1063, one type of sailing will always be great on tv......

Awesome aussie skiffs!

PS, i still dont understand what is going on with the AC....


Anonymous said...

I totally disagree. How is sailing in a souped up pontoon boat traditional? Seems to me that if you think of tradition, you envision beautiful monohulls worthy of oil paintings - I don't think catamarans fit the mold. Bottom line: Cats should be reserved for BBQ charters in the Carribean.

Anonymous said...

I say bring it on !! Back when the cup series started the boats at the time were state of the art! Some people are still down on the Multihull concept. But look around. the boats now put a new meaning to the word state of the art. It just might be a great show. Juat don't let the French play !!!!

David said...

Wow. In hindsight, you called it closer than anyone. OK swami, let's get your prediction on the record for AC34.

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