The Sadistic Pleasure of America’s Cup. The Authors Collection.
August 25, 2013
Okay. I admit that I’m watching the America’s Cup. Is anyone else?
To update you, this is the yachting event that seemed to have a lot going for it. It was all within San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island as backdrop. For the first time, the entire course was close enough to shore that you could actually see (without television cameras) all the races without having a yacht at your disposal.
Then there are the state-of-the-art television effects. Some of these were borrowed from other sports, like the imaginary first-down line that looks like it its painted on the football field but is actually just on your screen. And, the blue flash that follows the hockey puck so non-experts have half a clue where it’s gone. Combined, these let you see the sailing course with a start, finish, places to make the turns and out-of-bounds lines. And you can actually tell where the boats are.
So, what’s wrong?
If there ever was a sport created for billionaires, lawyers and engineering nerds, this is it.
First, the original design of the boats was futuristic enough. Huge catamarans. Fixed, mostly solid mainsails that resemble a jetliner wing sticking up. I mean there are separate steering wheels at the back of each pontoon. The skipper runs back and forth to steer as the boats change direction, tacking and lifting up one side or the other out of the water.
Then one of the competitors spotted a loophole in the rules which enabled the addition of a hydrofoil element. So now the 7-ton boats can rise up out of the water on relatively tiny strips protruding from the bottom of the pontoons. Yes. They do look like they’re flying and they do go much faster. But this development occurred less than a year ago and all the competitors had to add them, learn how to use them and then pray their boats would stand up to the additional speeds and strain without breaking down. It’s like changing the shape of the football a few weeks before the NFL season begins.
What’s happened so far?
None of the races have been close. And, because of the cost of the boats and the few entries, some preliminary series have been sailed unopposed with a single boat on the course. What?
In the current semi-finals, the outcome has been decided as much by mechanical failure as by actual sailing superiority. And when both boats have survived equipment breakdowns, it seems clear that pure boat speed is the deciding factor that neither tactics or sailing expertise can overcome. That’s what happens when new technology gets thrown in at the last minute. There are big disparities in the equipment.
I used to think of the America’s Cup as akin to the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Suave drivers consuming martinis and Dom Perignon in the evenings and jumping into their sleek Ferraris (sans hydrofoils) and scarves in the morning. But now the America’s Cup is like the funny car races where vehicles that are more manned rockets than cars blast off at unbelievable speed and often blow up on the track.
So why am I watching this debacle? Well, there is the train wreck phenomenon. Can it get any worse? Perhaps a boat has such a massive failure that it forfeits not just a race but the entire series. I mean two wrecks and the America’s Cup is over. It could happen. And then there is simply the sadistic pleasure of listening to the announcers try to convince the audience that there actually is some competitive sporting event occurring amid all this.
The America’s Cup has clearly crossed the line. Let’s just consider it an extreme sport now and make it part of the X Games.
(The author’s Enzo Lee Mystery Thriller Series is based in San Francisco, his adopted home.)
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