The 33rd America's Cup Preview
by Baron K
The America's Cup is a sailboat racing contest that has been going since 1851 when the schooner America beat all-comers on the Solent in England. Since then there's been a rich (yes, very) history of shenanigans and epic mental and physical efforts. The cast of competitors has a very rich history as well - from the tea man Sir Thomas Lipton, William K., Cornelius, and Harold Vanderbilt, J. Pierpont Morgan, and more recently Australia's Alan Bond, Oracle's Larry Ellison, and the boss of the current cup holder Alinghi, Ernesto Bertarelli - the continuous thread that runs here is loads of money.
The last contest was held in Valencia, Spain in 2007 and was won by the Switzerland-based Alinghi against a New Zealand entry. Alinghi was, ironically, mostly crewed by New Zealanders... who are now sailing for the American contender financed by Oracle Software's Larry Ellison.
was Ras Al-Khaimah now Valencia?
The preliminaries to the next contest in February 2010 have been mostly in the courtroom and are ongoing. A sort of overview can be seen here. As we go to press the latest issue is the decision by the defenders to hold the cup in Ras Al-Khaimah, an emirate just a hop-skip up the coast from the more well known Dubai. Eh? you might question ... is this a fine sailing spot? Well no, but if you have to have it in February then the weather will be nice. Latest news can be seen here.
The latest news in late October '09 is that a New York court has ruled Ras Al-Khaimah out on the grounds that the Deed of Gift says (or implies) that if the Cup is held in February, it must be held in the Southern Hemisphere or in Valencia. This is rather nasty for the folk at Ras Al-Khaimah but perhaps they were badly advised legally. In any case, it is still quite possible that the America's Cup will take place in some place other than Valencia, and at some time other than February! Not the Cup's finest moment.
... continues below ...
After much to-ing and fro-ing at the courtrooms, it looks like the defender Alinghi 5 is to be a large catamaran and the contender will be a 100 foot trimaran, BOR 90, both being built in composite materials. The defending club is Societe Nautique de Geneve (in French) and the contender club is San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club.
These are both very interesting boats with little in the way of tradition to guide their design other than the big ocean racing multihulls which have mostly been championed by the French. The cost of building and fine tuning these boats is fairly huge. BOR 90's boat costs are said to be around $10 million so far.
These costs have just taken another jump as in another court-related proceeding, BOR 90 has been able to replace its sheet grinders with powered versions - sheets are the ropes that trim the sails: pull them in or let them out. This means that the hefty men who operate these things go off the boat and the very expensive winches themselves are changed.
Another learning area is match racing tactics as there has been little history of match racing these types of boats. If history is any indicator and there are no design breakthroughs, the tacking duel upwind will be a thing of the past as multihulls don't spin on a top and don't go upwind as well as a monohull - they don't 'point as high' (but are much faster just off the wind). They will try and to shadow each other however.
One outcome is quite likely - that the contest will be very one-sided and the Cup will be over quickly. This is mostly because we're in new territory with these boats and one is a trimaran and the other a catamaran. In theory (and ceteris paribus) a cat will be faster in heavier winds but ceteris is rarely paribus.
Baron K spent a fair bit of time mucking about on big boats as his father was a very keen cruising yachtsman, and amongst a number of sailing yachts and one 'stink boat' as he called it, was an early Prout designed catamaran. Baron K also got to admire the America's Cup in its then home of the New York Yacht Club and has been following the America's Cup for some years but isn't so keen on the new ultra-commercial cup but acknowledges that the cast is actually pretty much the same. Baron K is our Classical Music correspondent.
photo credits: Alinghi - copyright Carlo Borlenghi/Alinghi; BOR 90 - BMW Oracle Racing
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