Match and Point

By Kimball Livingston Posted September 18, 2014

Shall we contemplate this thing called match racing?

The Alpari World Match Racing Tour is in Chicago this week, one of seven stops on the year, and compared to (almost, but not quite, ancient) history, the list of skippers is conspicuously not skewed toward America’s Cup boat drivers. Hopefuls, maybe . . .

Which gave us an excuse to catch up with Britain’s Ian Williams, winner of multiple world match race titles, to take the temperature. Williams noted, “The World Tour used to be sold as the road to the America’s Cup. Now, commercially, it has to stand on its own feet, and it does that. What it also does is give people an opportunity to break into pro sailing and to sail cheaply. Around the world there are these pools of boats maintained equally but not expensively. At the Chicago Match Race Center, it’s a fleet of Tom 28’s, and without this kind of setup you wouldn’t have the Taylor Canfields emerging at the top of the game.”

Canfield being the young 2013 winner of the Chicago Match Cup, Williams being the 2012 winner.

Williams and team in action in Sweden

Williams and team in action in Sweden

In Williams’ view, “The match race tour is no longer relevant to the America’s Cup, or vice versa. There was a time when it bore a strong resemblance. But 99 percent of sailing is done in monohulls, so what we do in monohull match racing is still very relevant to the sport that most people know.”

The Ian Williams show has been worth watching. Once a practicing attorney, he quit his day job in 2005 for the life of a sailing pro. “When I stepped out onto the Tour,” he says, “I hoped that success would lead me to the America’s Cup. I still have that hope, but it’s become a lot more difficult since 2007. There are fewer teams, and each team needs fewer sailors. The physical component has been amped up too. On the IACC monohulls [sailed 1992-2007] a third of the people were there for their cerebral contribution. There’s less tactical work now.”

Williams was briefly part of a China Team effort to get a foothold in AC racing post-Valencia, but that was while events were spinning out of control and into the courts and on to the present impasse or, at the least, choke point, where we have Bermuda bidding for an AC35 match and wondering if they’re being played as a stalkinghorse for their competition in San Diego, and we have San Diego bidding for an AC35 match and wondering if they’re being played as a stalkinghorse for Bermuda—or even San Francisco—and one year ago today, on September 18, 2013 Emirates Team New Zealand scored a 17-second win and went up 8-1, needing just one more race to take the Cup, and today Larry Ellision announced that he is stepping aside as chief of Oracle, the software company, not the racing team and . . .

Whew.

But, back to our point: Match racing, apparently, doesn’t need the America’s Cup to thrive in pro and amateur forms, and Williams since 2006 has been sponsored by GAC Pindar, “since the same week that I won the Bermuda Gold Cup. GAC Pindar has been a huge support, and I think we give them a good return. The cost of a match racing team is lower than for teams on comparable circuits, but there is good television distribution, and that is the value.

“It’s still very competitive to get onto the tour,” Williams says of the system that allots eight tour cards per year, and it’s the only place where you have the chance to make more money than your costs. What’s interesting now, with a new crop of young guys like Canfield, is to see who comes out on top. The sailors with more experience, or the younger types who can put more time into it. When the boats are supplied, winning is not about developing better equipment. You’re only as good as your last race, or your next.”

And now I have to close this and get on down the road while racing continues on Lake Michigan, but I note that in today’s competition on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, Williams, Canfield, Phil Robertson and Mathieu Richard all look good for advancing to the semifinals with no further fuss.

Chicago, it’s a hell of a town—Kimball

Suns New Jerseys