Gladwell's Line- 2014 America's Cup - the Backdrop to the Decisions

BOR90 trialling off San Diego - trimarans aren’t in the viewfinder for 2014

With revised America’s Cup Protocol due out mid next week, and the decision on the boat for the 34th America’s Cup due a month later it seems that the arrangements for the 2014 regatta are slowly coming into focus.

The Protocol itself is not a biggie. It is a living document, and will be amended and tweaked right up to the time that the America’s Cup is sailed.

The next two milestones are very crucial and are binary decisions. There are no fuzzy zones.

The boat choice is between a multihull or monohull – with the 22 metre (70 foot) multihull seemingly to be increasingly favoured over the monohull of the same length.

There seem to be three principal choices for a venue – being the Defender’s home town of San Francisco, Valencia in Spain, and Italy plus others who are less so prominent.

Sail-World understands that after a six day session in Auckland, the Protocol has been substantially re-written, simplified and reduced in size by at least six pages from the 56 page original that was published in the last week of June 2010.

Quite how it is received remains to be seen. Further modifications will have to be made one the venue is confirmed, the boat determined and the schedule for the preliminary regattas is decided between the entered teams.


While the attention is on the three elements above – the Protocol (or rules of conduct for the regatta), Boat and Venue, the overarching issue is to fix the declining TV ratings that the regatta has 'enjoyed'. The premier event in sailing is now at the point where TV rights have little value. The best option is to give the rights away free, or in some countries, pay for the event to be screened.

The current state of the America’s Cup has not been helped by the litigation leading up to the 2010 regatta, which saw all but two of the racing teams sidelined for three years, and it would seem that those who can survive the seven year hiatus will not get a crack at the most prestigious trophy in sailing for another four years.

One of the mistakes that seems to being made in the current exercise is that the decision makers and shapers are sailors and people who generally watch the America’s Cup on the water, or from the comfort of a media centre or a TV production suite with its myriad of cameras and perspectives which are stitched into a single live view of the racing.

There is a chasm of perspective between being present at an America’s Cup, either ashore, or also able to see the event on the water – and viewing the event in your home.

Yet it is the home audience that is being courted – because without fans, there isn’t a lot of sponsorship interest, and without sponsor interest there is less money available to make the event all it could be.


To date the response from the America’s Cup community has been to bring in the billionaires and patrons to underwrite the teams and attract sponsors who are more interested in being associated with a high profile sport that offers some good opportunities for corporate leverage with their clients, and markets. It has been a rich man’s game.

Few teams are truly professional, surviving on sponsorship funding alone.

It is against that slightly depressing backdrop, clouded by a lingering economic recession that the key decisions are now being made.

On the positive side the America’s Cup has survived under a Deed of Gift, for over one and a half centuries, and has the ability to morph itself into a new shape to remain in vogue.

It is about to transform itself once again, which may last four years, maybe longer.

First priority has to be to get the patient’s heart beating again. That exercise is going to be a sum of many things rather than just a single adrenaline shot.

No inspired line in the Protocol is going to change the course of the event. And while the teams will be vitally interested in its contents. The media somewhat. And for the fans the protocol will be a big yawn – their first real interest point will come with the boat choice.

Everyone has their own view on which boat they think will best work, and why. But no-one knows for sure.

The two choices have been set as a 22metre monohull, or a 22 metre catamaran. For some reason the trimaran option, and its spectacular centre hull flying, which stole the show at the 33rd America’s Cup didn’t get over the starting line.


Be that as it may, the choice ahead of the fans is to have an event that is sailed in monohulls which have been used for the 31.5 out of the last 33 Matches, or switch to a relatively untried boat concept in the multihull.

It is a sad fact that with the monohulls that have been used in the modern era of the America’s Cup (since 1956), is they have gone upwind at about the same speed as they sail downwind.

As an upwind sailing machine the AC boats are in a league of their own. Downwind they are now passed by most boats that are 20 or more feet shorter.

That is the first issue that has to be addressed in the monohull boat choice. The notion that America’s Cup was more about match racing than it was about boatspeed is redundant, and won’t sustain the event.

In other words, for the viewer, there has to be a significant difference in boat performance up and downwind. Not like at present - where the only perceptible difference is that the yachts set a coloured sail up downwind.

After 50 years of match racing between monohulls, some viewers can understand the basic rules, to the point where they can explain to others. They are comfortable with watching a race between two closely matched monohulls, and with the aid of graphics can see who is ahead and who isn’t. Of course they don’t believe the science, and love being trapped into the TV illusion that with a clever camera angle their boat, which is trailing, can be made to look like it is leading.

There two key elements that play into any America’s Cup race (and we use that term loosely to describe the whole gambit of the events from Acts to Louis Vuitton Cups and the America’s Cup itself).

They are 'the Conflict' and 'the Drama'. Maybe there is also 'the Spectacle' but that is awfully hard to convey on screen – but 'the Spectacle' is very evident for those privileged to be following in a tender or media boat.

'The Conflict' stems from the needle between the two teams that are competing, their history, and what hangs on the match. It is common to all sports in which two teams play against each other. This was never more evident than the 2010 America’s Cup, which was a competition between two guys, which basically didn’t like each other. It was there in all previous Cups albeit in different forms.

'The Drama' is your onboard stuff. People making mistakes under pressure. Making a tactical blue, sail handling errors - all that sort of thing – which does work on screen with on-board cameras and full audio.

A move away from monohulls is to move out of the viewer’s comfort zone. Not that is a bad thing, but it is always a risk. Maybe a fatal risk, with a near death patient, in this instance.

Multihull racing is not the same as monohulls. The concepts are completely different. It is all about speed, positioning your boat properly on the course and capitalising on your technology.

The former comes from the latter two factors. Get a better strength of breeze (more pressure) or a better angle, or both, and it is very easy to open a big margin on your competitor. As we saw in Valencia in February, it is almost as easy to close it.


Multihull racing is a different test from match racing. Whether it can be sustained on screen, over the period of a two and a half month long regatta is yet to be determined. Everyone has an opinion, but no-one knows for sure. And the fans will vote with their channel button.

The other view of course is to go back to the America’s Cup Deed of Gift – which in a very simplistic form is a wager between two clubs that the Challenger’s boat can beat that of the Defender’s on the Defender’s home course.

On that basis the choice is simple. Golden Gate Yacht Club won in a multihull, therefore they should be challenged in a multihull, sailing on their home waters in San Francisco.

Unfortunately life is never that simple, and the current game is all about tradeoffs and trying to create a spectacular, portable event that has reasonable costs for the competing teams and which will expand TV audiences.

So in that vein we have considerations about making boats portable, easily assembled, able to be sailed from relatively shallow venues and including the America's Cup venue itself.

Of which we will cover the specifics in coming days.

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