The Prototype: On Track

The America’s Cup match of 2010 was a rescue. The direction of the Cup under Alinghi post-2007 was so sour as to convince Louis Vuitton to bail out, remember? Only a risk taker with tenacity, resources and experience in hostile takeovers—Larry Ellison—could have undertaken the mission. So I guess we’ve reached that part of the movie where Princess Leah looks to Luke Skywalker and says, “Some rescue!”

It was all so pretty, wasn’t it? Finally, Stan Honey would get financing to move the sport onto a viable television platform. At last, America’s Cup boats would represent the Loud Now and not the cutting edge of some previous decade. It would happen live for tens of thousands of eyeballs and be broadcast for any number more. We would see the fruition of Tom Blackaller’s quip, 1987, “If we ever get the America’s Cup to San Francisco Bay, we’ll show the world how good sailing can be.” And in catamarans? Blackaller would have been in clover.

And now this. I woke up this morning, and Andrew Simpson was still dead.

All the platitudes apply, just as I’ve heard them from one person or another over the past few days. He died doing what he loved. All sports have accidents, and sometimes we lose people. All true, but of no help in this place, at this moment, and too mindful of Ellison as quoted by Julian Guthrie in her upcoming book, The Billionaire and the Mechanic. With his maxi, Sayonara, delaminating in heavy seas between Sydney and Hobart, Ellison declared to himself, “What a stupid way to die.”

It would have been an easy call to stay with monohulls for business as usual, after Oracle Racing and the Golden Gate Yacht Club captured the Cup. But the upward arc of business as usual (11 challengers in 2007) was interrupted by two years of courtroom headlines, and I lay the blame for that at the door of Ernesto Bertarelli, with garlands and a special fallen fig leaf cluster.

The TV people told Russell Coutts that business as usual, even amped up, would never hold their attention. Not everyone could give a hang about the TV people and their view of sailing, but the event went for the not usual, and we’ve crossed a threshold. For the first time in the history of the galaxy, not one but two TV teams set up cameras in front of my house. When the big guys aren’t talking, the press talks to each other. I did my best to say something useful, and I think I did, but who knows what part runs. I mean useful as in parsing out this: The conversation about what anomaly caused Artemis to implode is completely different from the conversation about relative safety while racing AC72s.

The AC72 conversation is not complete without a reminder that the good old single-hulled boats of the previous cycle included OneAustralia, which cracked open and sank in 1995 in one of the more vivid two-minute sequences in the annals of televised sailing, and Young America, which”cracked open in the Hauraki Gulf but not below the waterline, and so it didn’t “quite” sink.

I was nowhere near the meetings where these things were discussed, but Tuesday’s press conference confirmed what I believed, that when everybody has had a deep breath, or several, we will pick up where we left off, and we’ll go racing. I figure that Artemis will trial its new boat, and if this one isn’t a dog, they will race, hard. Maybe they will race, even if.

Luna Rossa and Oracle are likely to resume sailing on Thursday. New Zealand’s first scheduled sailing day is May 23.

I am keenly aware that Artemis has asked that we “not persist in unnecessary rumor,” but the news cycle does not stop. The void will be filled. When the Cup came to San Francisco, I was thrilled. My mouth was all over it. I beat the drum hard. Talked it up on radio and TV. If the same people call me now, I think I have an obligation to do the best I can with the situation.

The German Sailing Federation withdrew its financial support for the German youth team for the Red Bull, but the team has not withdrawn from the competition, no matter what you may have read. You should have no trouble finding plenty of sources for accounts of the appointed international review committee that was announced today. It would just be fodder here.

Going forward, there will be some ugly talk. You may have seen it in the forums already. But a chunk of the more polemical stuff coming from abroad has its origins not in this moment but in the politics of the past. There were good reasons for all of the decisions that got us here. Each AC72 is a prototype, and America’s Cup 34 is a prototype, and with a prototype, you don’t know where the edge is until it’s behind you.

This is where we started, 27 years ago, trying to bring the America’s Cup to San Francisco Bay . . .

Photo Credit: Robert Campbell 

Thursday, May 9 may never be completely behind us, but I look forward to America’s Cup 34.

Kimball Livingston, an editor-at-large for SAIL, has been a sailing journalist for more than 25 years and specializes in coverage of sailboat racing, most particularly the America's Cup. He's been writing an independent blog, Blue Planet Times, since August 2009.