Marine News from the Great Lakes

Cat-astrophe in Bermuda

Published: Monday, September 25, 2017
By: Ken Quant

Remember the excitement created by the America’s Cup back in 2013 when the first foiling cats strutted their stuff along the San Francisco shore? It felt like the dawn of a new era for sailboat racing. Even the most hardened critics of the giant catamarans had to admit that it was a pretty cool event. The racing was exciting; the crowds were huge; the home team won and even non-sailors were interested in seeing these new boats fly across the water in the strong breezes. It was a perfect recipe to highlight a new era of high-speed sailboat racing in front of a diverse population.

Fast forward four years to the next running of the America’s Cup this summer in Bermuda. All the positive momentum of that San Francisco event had long since faded. Sure, the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series races that were held in different venues around the world as a lead-up to this summer’s AC races generated regional interest, but the usual long delay between the actual AC races once again killed any casual interest generated by the previous event. Of course, the new-era foiling catamarans were still exciting to watch, but they were actually smaller boats with fewer crew, so they just didn’t seem to have the same wow factor of the giant boats in San Francisco. It felt like they lit the grand finale fireworks first and then got around to launching the rest four years later.

The racing action of this summer’s America’s Cup was also a dud. From the very first upwind leg, it was evident that Team New Zealand’s peddle-pushing boat and crew were just faster than the vaunted Oracle Team USA Cup defender. Of course, the 2013 memory of the “biggest comeback in sports history” — when the Americans dramatically erased a nine race Team New Zealand lead to keep the Cup — gave some people hope, but that comeback was not to be this time around. I’m actually thankful that another comeback didn’t happen because it would have made me seriously question the entire event’s integrity.

Perhaps the worst part of this year’s event was the venue itself. On the surface, Bermuda seems like a perfect location with its island charm and British yachting heritage. The island’s geography is also well-suited for the foiling cats with its large and well-protected Great Sound providing smooth water and ample viewing opportunities. However, all these advantages could not possibly overcome the fact that Bermuda is in the middle of nowhere.

Far from any population center and notoriously expensive, Bermuda personifies the exclusive stereotypes that sailing has been trying to shed for the past 30 years. Unlike San Francisco, where casual tourists were treated to a sailing spectacle guaranteed to make them take notice, the Bermuda crowd mostly consisted of hard-core sailboat racing enthusiasts with extra time and money for travel.

The other obvious problem with Bermuda was a lack of wind. Maybe Team USA should have consulted with any meteorologist before selecting Bermuda as a location because they would have told them that the well-known ‘Bermuda High’ tends to park itself over its namesake island that time of year, creating very light winds.

True to form, the light winds arrived on schedule, turning the races into more of a three-legged cat race than a high-speed exhibition of state-of-the-art sailing technology. Stifled by the lack of wind, the races quickly became very lopsided and boring as Team New Zealand’s superior light wind performance manifested itself in the often breathless conditions. Granted, there were a few races where the boats came to life, but overall the races just lack the same high-wind excitement provided by the reliably windy Golden Gate conditions of San Francisco Bay.

So where does this leave the America’s Cup for the future? You’ll probably be surprised to hear that I think it’s in good hands. After all, the New Zealander’s seem to love the sport of sailing more than almost any other place on Earth. I’m sure they will take a hard look at what has gone right and wrong during the last two AC events and come up with a solution based on the good of the sport and not just the good of the team.

tags: America's Cup World Series, Racing

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