Thursday, September 26, 2013

From Impossible, to Improbable to History

The BIGGEST come back in sailing history - if not in all of sport
THE Longest America's Cup in history
CHANGING the face of sailing in 19 days

There are a lot of titles you could use to start a blog post about this year's America's Cup. There are not enough adjectives that you could use to describe it in the dictionary. Human-beings are drawn to spectacles and this was most assuredly one not to miss if you are a fan of drama, on the edge of your seat excitement - If you like biting your nails and holding your eyes wide open so you will not miss a moment. This was it. Who would have thought a sailing regatta would be all that, in San Francisco no less. I didn't.

When they announced the design of the boat for the America's Cup it sounded to me like it would be a drag race of billionaires. How exciting could that be? I mean drag racing is full of testosterone but not as much skill. What I have always enjoyed in the America's Cup has been the skill of the sailors - world class skill, one on one. In the past Glenn and I got up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the races off of Perth. We thrilled to the boat's mechanics and the intrigue of winged keels, and upstart Americans. It would be 3 in the morning and we would be glued to our TV set. We watched the high tech explanations of sailing with Gary Jobson holding two sailboats, while standing in the shallow end of a pool in a blue blazer and tie. "This boat is on starboard tack, and this is on port."

As the boats got faster, as a mono hull turned into two and three, as they went far off shore in the oceans for foreign countries to race their races in search of wind... we watched and missed the excitement of those early hours of Perth. In the past 19 days, despite my doubts, we got all the old excitement and more back in the waters of SF Bay.

Larry Ellison is rich. Ok very rich. It is common opinion that he isn't a very nice guy. I walked into these races wishing the best for the Kiwis, and thinking a trip to Auckland would be a grand adventure some day. I still would love to visit Auckland and I tip my hat to the great skill and attitude that we saw from Team New Zealand. But how can you not be proud and in awe of what it took to accomplish winning the America's Cup by Team Oracle USA.

They asked Jimmy Spithill the helmsman of Oracle 17 how they did it. He said "We never gave up."
That to some sounded too simple, but I believe it is the truth. Four days prior to the races the team was docked 2 points (because of an incident in the World Cup (not an America Cup event). A key person on the boat was banned from sailing in the Cup, they brought on a 22 year old to take his place. They started poorly losing and losing and losing, in fact the deficit grew to 8-1. Because of the penalty of two points, USA needed to win 11 races to the Kiwi's 9. That meant at that point they were 8-1, USA needed to win 10 races to the Kiwi's 1. There is a lot to be said for not giving up.

Spithill said the position was motivating to the guys. When he said in a press conference "I want to be a part of the biggest comeback in history" he was not kidding. And his words helped fuel the belief of his crew. Engineers and designers and everyone worked day and night to make the impossible possible.

As the races continued you could see the belief grow in the eyes of the Oracle sailors, and frankly, the despair grow in the Kiwi camp. They only needed to win one after all, why was THAT so difficult. Every day both teams got better and better. They found ways to sail faster. They made better decisions. The winds of SF Bay robbed the Kiwis on Race 13 when the time limit, of 40 mins., was called with the Kiwis in sight of the finish line. Watching the press conferences you couldn't help but see the sadness grow in Kiwi Skipper, Dean Barker's eyes.

Once again, the wealth of Larry Ellison has been a topic of conversation and in the Kiwi's explanation of the loss. There is definitely more than enough reason to say Larry spent more - it was money that beat them. But I do not believe this is the truth. I believe as the Americans kept winning (especially after the race was called for time) the Kiwis started to doubt. When your opponent has doubt... you have an edge.

The future, I hope, will keep the excitement of these races but make it less expensive and more inclusive. We need more competition because competition can bring innovation and innovation keeps us moving forward growing and vibrant. What these races brought to sailing is unlike anything that came before. More people found out the difference between a tack and a jibe, current and wind than had ever before. In fact race 1 of the America's Cup had a world wide audience that was bigger than ALL the other America's Cup combined. For that I thank Larry Ellison. Now let's double down. Let's take that new enthusiasm and grow the sport of sailing. Let's have kids in the US learn to sail. Let's have our 20 some things out there racing. BUT as much as I love my "virtual eye" on the America's Cup app, NOTHING beats being there. There is more to life than pixels. And there is more to winning than money. The fact that the races could be enjoyed from shore or online on world wide TV for NO MONEY at all has done more to grow the sport than anything has in the past. Its time for the accessiblity the fans enjoyed extends to campaigns from countries and clubs less "endowed" than Larry E.

Sailing has for years been seen as a rich man's game. And I suppose Larry, hasn't as of yet, done much to change people's minds about that. But he has exposed sailing to millions. That, I believe, is an opportunity none of us who care about sailing should let slip through out fingers. Support youth sailing. Encourage your children and their children to learn to sail. Perhaps, maybe, just perhaps they may be sipping Champagne from a big silver trophy on a bright San Francisco afternoon, with helicopters flying overhead and a crowd of flag waving people cheering them on.







FOR a video recap click here......

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