Saturday, September 28, 2013

The America's Cup Win

At one point in my life I was an avid sailor.  (Certainly not at the level of the America's Cup racers.)   We sailed something called J-Boats which were about 24 feet (about a third the length of the cup boats).   J-Boats were middling in what is called the PHRF standard (which is somewhat analogous to a handicap in golf).  I have no idea what the equivalent rating for this new and radical design but to give you an idea these boats can actually go a lot faster than the wind under the right conditions.

A few weeks ago, in a post about Larry Ellison, I expressed concern about the new design.   I even suggested that it would not have bothered me to see the American team lose.   In the end, after starting out 4 races behind (because of a penalty) and then having a couple of miserable performances - they ran eight races almost perfectly and won the series 9-8.   It was a truly impressive win - after a tactical adjustment in one of the early races- where they declined to do a second race of the day (for which they were widely criticized).

The technology (which you can see something of in the video below) is amazing,  The sails are actually airfoils not traditional sails.   And the design of the boat is to get as much of the multi-hull out of the water so the boat can ride on a foil.   But I wish that they might go back to a more traditional design or have a non-tech version of the America's cup.   Somehow a boat shooting along the water at close to 50 MPH does not seem right.   And yet the Oracle team published the rules on how to design the boat, and after the initial hiccup was able to come back and win the series.  

The cost of each of these new designs excludes all but the most wealthy.  Another criticism of the current rules is that only one of the team members was actually an American citizen.   And yet both of these objections should be overcome.  When Commodore Vanderbilt was racing the cup - it was limited to very wealthy people.  So not much has changed.  What the Cup has done over time is to improve sailing for lots of less capable sailors.   While the air foil is not likely to replace standard sails on smaller boats, it is likely that a lot of the innovations will find their way into more consumer oriented boats.   As to the gripe about the lack of Americans on the team - what was there was American technology.  So it is a great metaphor for larger economic issues.

I ended up watching a couple of days racing on the ESPN channels but did not go down to a race.  Friends that did go down to the Bay to view the races live said, compared to earlier Cups - these were over so fast it was hardly worth the drive.  What I was left with at the end of this series is what big changes are likely in the next series four years hence?

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