Backside of the Red Moon

By Kimball Livingston Posted April 1, 2015

Does Russell get his catamaran circuit or not?

That is the question.

I mean, the catamaran circuit he really wants, in the long run, even if he has to drag the America’s Cup with it.

It’s a question underlying all the chatter and all the undercurrents and all the dissension surrounding the outlook for America’s Cup 35 at this stage of the AC potboiler du jour. And, of course, the vote to move to smaller boats closer to the familiar AC45 model, and to run all of the America’s Cup eliminations in Bermuda.

To lower entry costs and bump up the number of competitors, perhaps one or two from Asia, at the risk of peeling off a couple of, should we say, “minor” teams. Patrizio Bertelli’s Luna Rossa, for example, which threatened to withdraw in such case, and today announced — ta da — they have withdrawn.

No arithmetic, please, or we’ll soon be talking about the plight of Team New Zealand.

DC-TimeThe last time the America’s Cup made as big a splash as it did in ’13 was way back in 1987, when Dennis Conner brought the Cup back from Australia. He was everywhere, even acing out Gorbachev on the cover of Time.

Then everything went to hell.

Meanwhile, you thought the Golden Gate Yacht Club, sixth trustee of America’s Cup, was part of the conversation?

Uh, moving on . . .

Some day, when the statute of limitations wears out, there will be much more to tell.

There is an additional question, of course. Does the Cup of the future irrevocably turn its back on its history as a challenger-driven event, conducted in the manner of grand yachting? We haven’t seen one of those in a while, and we’ve been living in a netherworld of in-betweens, and we emerge at:

A crossroads.

A certain segment of high-end sailing has been trying to drive us to this crossroads for years, having failed to either

1) Turn AC racing as-known into a marketable circus.
2) Develop a marketable circuit outside America’s Cup.

Regular readers will be drearily familiar with my reminders that, circa 2007, Russell Coutts and Paul Cayard threw themselves into an attempt to launch an international catamaran circuit. And the money didn’t come. But only three years later, as CEO of Oracle Racing, winning the Cup in Valencia, Sir Russell found himself in the driver’s seat, or should I say codriver’s seat to Larry Ellison?

Hmm, codriver sounds odd.

But “copilot” is such a loaded term at the moment.

Meanwhile, Larry Ellison seems to have kissed off his onetime passion for skippering raceboats . . .

And at this moment of composition, the NEWS column of has switched leads from, “America’s Cup teams usher in new era” to BAR discuss position on new rule changes.

Ben Ainslie is fully on board. And has been.

Much of the beauty, much of the fascination of America’s Cup competition over the years since the 19th century has been the messiness of it. But I have, over recent years, bought into a lot of what Coutts advocates. The high end of the sport would benefit from a signature-to-the-public event that is predictable and understandable and not forever subject to disputes about how many angels can be impaled on the head of a pin. It is not at all clear that we are now “there” or headed there, but no one could ever say that Russell Coutts is afraid to roll the dice.

As sailors and followers of America’s Cup, if we buy in now, are we following Custer? He too appeared fearless.

Unlike decades past, there now is a viable but thin high-end pro component in sailing, inevitably entwined with the doings of an America’s Cup match, but no fit for the grand traditions that once were the realm of a Vanderbilt driving his own boat. So this slow, tortuous turn, if it succeeds, and whatever it adds, also risks losing something irreplaceable. The “absorbing interest” named by Bob Fisher in his Cup history, for example, quoting Charles Burgess on the quirkiness and eccentricity of the enterprise. I don’t think that quality can go along for the ride if the game is reduced from the heroic scale to a circuit of fast boats of moderate size.

And then, if it becomes a great circuit, how long before the name needs to be changed to reflect “new realities?”

Or might we first be headed toward a dreaded
match as imagined in the first message I found in my PC on another sunny (drought) morning in California?

That’s on the other side of the country from Bermuda, btw, and something of an island in itself.

And hasn’t this journey been, so far, like following someone through a jungle, blind, while they stumble and grope their way from step to step? Or for some, like getting out in front, and running the bulls.

funnies and maylasia 007

Who is with me in remembering that the original rule for the AC72 catamaran called for the boats to be capable of being broken down for travel in 24 hours and rigged to sail in 48 hours, because AC72s were supposed to be part of an international circuit leading up to the San Francisco America’s Cup? (Which wasn’t supposed to be a one-off.) Everything since 2010 has been a scramble of change and discovery of what boats are capable of doing and what the market can bear and what teams can come up with — a kindasorta science experiment with a dice game component using real people and real boats. To real effect, good and un.

Foiling was already happening, but then came 2013 on San Francisco Bay — America’s Cup 34 — a game changer that sealed the deal on a new game that is morphing at a millennial pace.

Somewhere, out there in the woods, is the America’s Cup. By so many competing definitions.

Given a Paul Bunyan for a champion, the Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Yacht Club could even inform Oracle Racing that it has different plans.

And that would be an act of absorbing interest, eh?

Won’t happen.

Suns New Jerseys