Saturday, 28 June 2014

America's Cup

One of Auckland's tourist attractions to which Fantasy Bob and Mrs FB succumbed during their recent visit was the opportunity for a hurl round the harbour on an America's cup yacht.

America's Cup yacht at mooring
Long suffering readers of these witterings will recall that there is a bit of a sailor in FB - so they may understand the thrill he felt stepping aboard such a boat and helping sail her.  Grinding up the sails with the huge 2 man winches and taking the helm for a few tacks as she creamed along at 9 knots in no wind at all.  Just like being given a spell from the Nursery End at Lords.

9 knots in no wind at all.  This is a vessel built for speed.  She is 80ft long with a mast towering 113ft into the blue Auckland sky. She weighs 24 tons, over 20 of which is in the form a lead bulb hanging about 12ft below the keel.

She came second in the challenge series in 1995.  The America's Cup structure is such that boats race for the honour being the challenger who then races against the Cup holder.  In that year, the USA was the holder and NZ the challenger - a challenge which was successful.  For many years the America's Cup challenge was a huge driving force in NZ.  A route to establishing identity for a small distant country.  Also a route to exploiting its great yachting heritage - Auckland is not for nothing described as the City of Sails.

NZ successfully defended the Cup in Auckland 2000 but lost it in 2003.  In the most recent race in 2013 NZ was the unsuccessful challenger in San Francisco.
FB takes the helm

The America's Cup may be the oldest sporting trophy in existence - it was first awarded in 1851 - 31 years before the Ashes Urn.  The race has a a unique structure.  The holder of the Cup gets to set the venue, timing and rules for the next competition.  The specifications of the boats allowed to compete therefore continually change as the holder seeks to consolidate some design advantage or other.  As a result there has been as much litigation over the years about design details as there has been sailing.

The rules for the 2017 Cup were published by the San Francisco team during FB's visit in NZ.  There is great controversy in NZ as to whether they will mount a challenge this time. It is too expensive.  The rules are twisted too much.  Crew and designers are being poached by others.   All the fun of money driven international sport.

There is a residual bitterness about how they lost the last series - NZ only needed one more win but the American challenger then brought GB Olympic hero Ben Ainslie into their set up and won all the remaining races. FB knows how the Kiwis feel.  It is like a cricket team struggling in the middle asking a spectator who just happens to be there that day to play as 11th man - he turns out to be a domineering bat and unplayable bowler.  It would be sad if the next race was without the New Zealanders, they have been the heart and soul of the event for the last 2 decades.

Praying Mantis on the waterfront
The boat that FB sailed was recognisable as a yacht.  It has a sleek hull and big triangular sails.  Sadly the America's Cup has gone all IPL.  The crews wear helmets and body armour. The design choice is now a twin hull, with a fixed wing sail. This not only provides drive but also lift so that the at speed the hulls lift out of the water maintaining contact only through the slightest of foils.  They may reach speeds of 45 knots, but they have no soul, no beauty no grace. They are black mantis-like creatures from another planet.  do they fly rather than sail?

Nevertheless the races are thrilling.

FB has noticed that Sir Ben Ainslie wishes to mount a GB challenge. He has been schmoozing teh Duchess of Cambridge for support.  As if she had anything to offer.  FB is disappointed that Sir Ben has not been in touch.Given his extensive America's Cup yachting experience; given his knowledge of the wind from his long career of bowling against it, FB is sure he could bring something to the GB challenge.  He awaits the call.
Ainslie and Kate - can they do without FB?


  1. The America's Cup contest, as FB points out, is highly unusual in structure. Casual onlookers might be baffled by its idiosynchratic complexity. However, being the Formula One of yacht racing, it continues to excite and fascinate - and never more so than at the present. The original race was won in 1851 by the boat called America, after which the trophy was subsequently named, and the New York Yacht Club retained it for the following 132 years until finally defeated by Australia II in 1983. This event changed the character of the contest for good. Previously the races had been described as like watching paint dry - the ability of the holder to make the rules to suit themselves made a successful challenge well............ challenging. As the saying went, "Britannia rules the waves but America waives the rules". My personal nostalgia is for the 12-metre boats which competed until the late 80s - they were elegant and looked like boats rather than aircraft wings laid on their sides.

    1. Indeed. FB's sentiments precisely.

  2. FB need not have travelled to Auckland to encounter an America's Cup challenger. The 1958 challenger, Sceptre, is still sailing in British and European waters and indeed can be seen in the Clyde from time to time. See

    1. Many thanks - she looks superb. A proper boat.