Later this month I’ll be heading down the coast to San Diego to cover the America’s Cup World Series event that will be taking place from Nov. 12 through 20.
For those who follow sailing, the AC, as it is known, is akin to soccer’s World Cup, football’s Superbowl, tennis’ Wimbledon… you get the picture. While this is a preliminary contest and not the America’s Cup itself, it is still a major event with the world’s most exceptional yacht-racing talent gathered in Southern California to race on 45-foot catamarans equipped with solid wings.
Preceding the cup World Series at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, Tom Ehman from the America’s Cup defender, Oracle Racing, will be speaking at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey about the upcoming event. Ehman has been involved with the America’s Cup for nearly 30 years and is an undeniable authority on every aspect of the storied contest.
Ehman is an old friend of the club and when he comes to town he usually makes time to give one of his well-oiled presentations. In the past, he has walked local AC fans through the complicated legal issues that plagued the 32nd America’s Cup, which degenerated into a long string of hearings and motions in a New York City courtroom between his team and the Swiss team Alinghi.
Charismatically, Ehman bounced around the packed Cal Yacht Club meeting-room jabbing at syndicate head and rival billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli. He described the historic one-on-one race between 90-foot mutihulls and showed rarely seen footage of the $10-million racer before and after it was built.
This time Ehman’s no longer concentrated on justifying his billionaire boss’ position in a court battle or showing off the world’s most expensive boat built for one race. On this night, Ehman will be selling the new-look America’s Cup – an order he’s surely happy to carry out.
The 34th America’s Cup in 2013 is an all-in effort to revitalize an event that’s long been associated with older white men in blue blazers and white shoes chit-chatting about a sport with obscure rules. When AC legend and Oracle Team CEO Russell Coutts unveiled the boats that would be used for the competition – all-carbon 72-foot high-speed catamarans – he said he wanted to address the “Facebook generation, not the Flintstones generation.”
Coutts rolled out renderings of boats, seemingly from the future, and they were. Giant, sexy catamarans that oozed youth, danger, excitement and virility would be the new way, and they would be completely armed with every video/audio recording device known to man and some that aren’t. Coutts and company say they are committed to revolutionizing the event and in turn the perception of yacht-racing in general.
The theory is: no longer will the uninitiated potential yacht-racing viewer tune-out as they watch racing boats reach high speeds of 10 knots or, if wind strengths are low, 5 knots in a sport where the rules and visual aspects are already a bit confusing. In the new designs, boats will be driven by crews donning helmets at speeds of 30- and 40 knots – flying hulls – with television audiences privy to a myriad of different angles including up-close onboard action.
The hope is that viewers will feel the excitement that exists on these ultra-modern vessels and will finally become engaged in a sport that is slowly and steadily losing popularity, especially in the United States.
“This is Larry’s money and Russell’s vision pushing to do it,” Ehman said of the concentration on generating more compelling footage for media outlets. He describes how in the past, light winds would result in the cancellation of events and subsequently in the loss of viewership.
This next AC will be held on the San Francisco Bay and Ehman is, like most other yacht racing fans, excited about the venue.
“Underneath the Golden Gate Bridge there’s a sea breeze 90-percent of the time [that blows] between 18 to 25 knots, reliably,” Ehman said.
In the meantime, the America’s Cup is holding World Series events in scaled down 45-foot versions of the AC-72. These boats are also high-tech masterpieces that average speeds in the 20- and 30-knot range.
The America’s Cup is finally free from the ugliness of the bitter ego-driven struggles of AC 33 and the buzz is building. We’ll see this month in San Diego just how “viewer friendly” and exciting these changes indeed are.
Ehman will likely be there, somewhere, power-point remote in hand, presenting a small crowd with evidence of just how great this event, that he has loved so well for so long, really is.