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America's Cup

©02 The Media Desk

Queen Victoria asked, "Who is first?"
          "The America has won"
"Who was second?"
          "Your Majesty, there is no second."

     Most landlubbers simply cannot understand nor appreciate the America's Cup Yacht Race.
     In fact. Most have no idea that it is more than A race.

     The Challenger's Series, the Louis Vuitton Cup, to determine who will race the Defenders for the Cup is in itself a production of World Wide proportions. Currently there are almost a dozen teams vying for the role as Challenger. Three American Teams, one of which is skippered by Dennis Connor. Two Italian syndicates, one each from Germany, France, even Switzerland, known for its fine offshore sailing waters, among others.
     They race for three months in various trials in a Round Robin Match. The races cover miles working around marker buoys and covering over twenty statute miles at sea (18 Nautical Miles) in New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf, about half of which may be against the wind giving rise to those dramatic tacking duels where these multi-million dollar boats slice within a few feet of each other at full speed. Three months. A hundred and twenty races. Just to get to the Cup Races.
     So to call it a 'race' is a bit of an understatement. Regatta, while it sounds high-falutin', may be more suitable.

     The Desk has seen Exactly One America's Cup boat in person in its life. It was an older boat that had been retired, the Desk isn't even sure which one it was. But it does remember one thing in particular about it. While the boat itself was long and the mast dizzyingly tall, the crew area was cramped.
     Most of the crews of these things number sixteen people. There is a 'seventeenth man' who is an on board observer. Everybody, even the seventeenth man, has a job. Trimming sails, navigation, grinding, and....
     Yes, grinding.
     The grinders are the grunt labor on the boat. If you watch race coverage they are the ones you will see standing in front of those pedestals with the hand-cranks on them, furiously working away without even looking up. What they are doing is powering the winches that control the trim of the sails. And when you are sailing in the open ocean against a crew of equal ability the difference of a few seconds in getting the sails set could be the difference between that win and Queen Victoria's "who was second."
     Sixteen finely tuned men on a finely tuned boat.

     Well. To call these things a 'boat' is a bit of an understatement too.
     But they are boats. Inasmuch as the US Grand Prix winning Ferrari's are cars.
     The Ferrari's have four wheels, they are powered by an internal combustion engine, they have a driver... and that's about the end of the similarity.
     So it is with the 12 meter yachts of the America's Cup.
     They are the Ferrari's of the boating world. Unless the boat is sponsored by BMW, which one of the teams is.
     The hulls are made of exotic substances and compounds, some of which are top secret, getting the maximum of strength and drag reduction. The masts are engineered to actually add speed to the boat as it flexes in the wind. The keels are streamlined, winged, super-slick and weigh more than the rest of the boat (the Swedish boat ORN weighs 2.2 tons, the keel bulb weighs 20 tons).
     Everything is tested and re-tested. Some syndicates have research staffs that read like a university department. In fact, some universities are involved in the Cup. The worry about 'sail lift', they discuss stuff like "k3 is a function of 1/AR with induced Drag Coefficient", and they understand what "MSA = (P-0.5) * (E1+4*E2+2*E3+4*E4+E5)/12 - C0*E5/2" means.
     And it's a good thing. Just to comprehend the 12 meter formula you have to have some heavy credentials from someplace like Cal Tech or MIT. Oh, yeah, a Professor at Cal Tech is involved in one of the USA teams.

     One question the Desk has answered on occasion is what does Twelve Meters have to do with the boats?
     Well, almost nothing. In the sense that the boat is NOT twelve meters long, or the mast is that high, or whatever. It is a mind numbing formula expressed as

12=L + 2D + square root of S - F divided by 2.37
The formula, which must yield a number not exceeding 12, is based on measurements in metres of length, beam, sail area and the shape of the hull at critical points, divided by a constant of 2.37.
[formula information from Cowes High School America's Cup program in the UK.]

     Somehow all that works out to Twelve Meters. And now it is referred to the International America's Cup Class because of something that happened a few years ago.


     In 1988 a group of clever engineers in California constructed a catamaran for Mr. Conner which answered to the Rule and then simply blew away the competition, in this case a Match Race Challenge from New Zealand. But just as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway bosses had to close a loophole in their rules which allowed a turbine powered car to nearly lap the field several years ago, the Cup Bosses found themselves in a pickle. The New York Yacht Club, the Cup's custodians, cried foul and stripped the San Diego club of the title and the cup. It resulted in a three-year legal fight. But now all boats must be mono-hulls.


     Now add to the mix some very colorful personalities, like Mr. Conner, who, incidentally, had the small misfortune of having his boat sink during a trial run off San Diego. No one was injured and the boat was recovered and returned to service shortly thereafter with a few red faces seen among the team. And Ted Turner did his time at the helm in defense of the Cup as well.
     New Zealand's defense team has lost some key members, and the core group that won the cup in the first place is lacking.
     Even the Swiss are in on the act. ALINGHI CHALLENGE is a boat from the land locked country representing the best la Société Nautique de Genève can muster.
     Italy has one sponsor, Prada, for their boat LUNA ROSSA. Others have several, the other Italian team's website looks like an online shopping mall. Sweden's main sponsor Jan Stenbeck died of a heart attack in August leaving the effort's finances in a lurch, but they have vowed to sail on. The Syndicate of STARS AND STRIPES has raced before, others are rookies.
     ORACLE has capsized, other boats have taken damage in the trials. As was mentioned earlier, Conner's boat sank at one point.

     While it may not be a sport everyone can get involved in, and hours of boats tacking against the wind is not something that makes good TV watching, it is interesting to follow in that while the syndicates have made rocket science of building a sailboat, if the wind doesn't blow, they all sit there and sunbathe.

     When good Victoria commissioned the 100 Guinea cup, 134 ounces of silver, for the winner of a boat race, she had no idea it would turn into the state of the art ocean free-for-all it has become a hundred and fifty years later. Incidentally, since that first race in 1851, the Cup has not touched British soil. Every four years, or when a Match Race Challenge is issued, the Cup is contested. The Cup resided in New York for 132 years until Australia II beat the US in 1983. Since then it has been back and forth from Down Under to the US then to New Zealand and there it sits today.
     February 2003 will see the America's Cup decided between the Best of the World against the New Zealanders within sight of Auckland, the City of the Defender's of the Cup.

some of the original links died after the event, several new links added as of 2/05

UPDATED: Official Site of the America's Cup Official Site

NEW LINK Spain hosts the next race in 2007:

A Site for the Louis Vuitton Challenger's Cup Series.

New Zealand Tourism: With maps and links and info and stuff.

OTHER SITES With links to the challenger's sites.

New York Yacht Club

Bucklands Beach Yacht Club the Challenger Series host.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron is the host of the Cup Races

[NOTE: The Desk is in No Wise affiliated with Anything to do with the Cup or its syndicates other than being a land bound fan.]

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