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The America’s Cup: My Favorite Punching Bag

My wife and I will be moving to Maryland at the end of August, so this will be my second to last column. More to follow in the September issue. Being my final commentary, I’m going to discuss my favorite punching bag — the America’s Cup.

While the Cup retains very little interest to me, as well as many of my sailing friends, I have been watching from the periphery. To begin, I have to retract my previous statement about the inability to tack a catamaran, thus eliminating pre-start dialups and tacking duels. These cats, at least the 45-foot ones, can tack on a dime and accelerate like a race car. The bad news is that I still have many of the same problems with the Cup and have discovered a few more. To wit:

The lack of nationalism

Why does one watch a sport as obscure as curling on television during the winter Olympics? Because it’s the USA vs other countries. In golf, the Ryder Cup has become as big as some of the majors. Why? Because it’s the USA vs Europe. Why not implement the idea put forth by Bob Billingham, who ran Paul Cayard’s campaign a few years ago? Make at least 66% of the crew be citizens of the country they represent.

It’s all about technology

Sailors take a back seat. Technology and design have always played a large role in the Cup, but, I’d venture to say, never to the extent of this defense. I can cheer for sailors. It’s not as easy cheering on a computer. To make it worse, the judges will be making the calls from a broadcast booth. On-the-water judges will be asked what they saw, but the booth makes the call. Somehow a baseball umpire calling a batter out on strikes is not very visually stimulating from the broadcast booth. Some may argue that the calls will be made better with technology. If so, why haven’t other sports done so?

They’ve changed the Racing Rules of Sailing

In a match race, a yacht which fouls another is required to do a 360 degree turn. During the Cup, they will be required to slow down to a spot designated by the judges. Can you name another sport that does that? The last time I looked, three strikes in baseball meant the batter is out—whether it be the World Series or a Little League game in Peoria.

Racing 72-foot cats will be dangerous

I understand that a few sailors have expressed fear of the bigger boats sailing at breakneck speeds. I watched some of the video of the AC World Series in Newport and the sailors had on body pads and crash helmets. This should do wonders for our sport. The same non-sailing parents who don’t want their kids playing football will wonder about the dangers of this sport called sailing.

In my opinion, and I hope with all my heart I’m wrong, someone will be seriously injured in San Francisco. Great publicity for our sport. Of course, the organizers expect to draw the NASCAR crowd, and a little blood drives up TV ratings. It’s easy to poke holes without providing solutions, so here are a few.

• Bring back nationalism. At least try Bob Billingham’s two thirds/one third.

• Pick a relatively one-design boat. Make sailors the focal point. The TP 52 comes to mind, or the Johnstones could certainly come up with one.

• Get rid of the challenger/defender setup. I am a traditionalist, and this flies in the face of AC tradition, but create a worldwide governing body and move the Cup around. Europe is light years ahead of the US on sailing on TV and more people seem to care about the sport.

• Limit budgets. This would make a truly level playing field for all. The Cup has always been about big spenders, but times have changed. Don’t we want to get as many countries involved?

• Forget about TV coverage. Why force a sport to chase the elusive gold ring. Even sailors will tell you they find watching a sailboat race to be boring. To his credit, Stan Honey will make the race coverage more exciting.

• Take notes from New York YC’s Invitational Cup. In 2011, 22 boats from 16 nations sailed, including the Republic of South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Norway and Bermuda. Those nations are not likely to ever have the wherewithal to compete under the current Cup set up.

I’m sure that there are those who have gotten to this point and are saying that “Sandberg is just an old fart.” Coutts already told me that the Cup is no longer for the Flintstone generation and people who wear blue blazers and belong to a yacht club.

Guilty on both counts.

I think I’ll spend the coming months following sailing that really matters, like the Olympics and the Paralympics.


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