Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How to Improve the 2013 America's Cup

The 2013 America's Cup has once again proven to be a showcase for the pinnacle of sailing technology.  However lack of spectator involvement makes it hard for the laymen to appreciate the advancements in the sport.  Here are some recommendations on how to improve the Cup so that more fans may enjoy the worlds oldest sporting trophy.

Decrease the Size of the Boats:
To begin with, it is true that the current AC 72 class of boats is amazing.  The New Zealand boat has hit a top speed of 41.5 Knots or 50.8 miles an hour.  This is an impressive speed when you consider that up until 2007, the world record for any type of sail powered boat was 41.14 knots over a 1 mile course and that the speed limit on the Golden Gate Bridge overlooking the America's Cup racing is 45 miles an hour.  However speed alone will not attract a following.  The first change should be to the boats.  With the current boats, the speed is so fast, that when you try to view the race on land the boats are only in your field of view for a few minutes and then disappear around a corner.

The large wing sail makes an impressive sight on the bay but the sheer size of the boats has increased the cost to a point where only three countries were able to mount a challenge this year.  Using slightly smaller boats would decrease the top speed but it would also decrease the overall costs and allow more countries to compete.  More competitors would increase worldwide interest and allow for more racing that could be watched.

Dock the boats at the Pavilion:  People come to the pavilion because they want to have a closer relationship to the boats and the people involved in the sport.  With the compounds located away from the pavilion in San Francisco, it is hard to see your local hero.

Here is a picture of the dock in Newport for the 1984 cup when Australia II finally won the the cup.
Americas Cup boats at the dock in Newport RI, 1983

While experts can argue about the merits of hull shapes and keel wings, it is easy for the laymen to notice the similarity of the boats at dock to thoroughbred race horses lined up to for a start and appreciate the building tension as the race approaches. 

The start of a horse race:

Increase Shore-Side Activities:
Currently the South side of the harbor is taken up by large yachts.  Instead of excitement, there is a hush as people are afraid to talk around all the wealth.  Instead, the dock should be taken up by classic America's cup boats that offer rides.  At $50 a person for an hour tour with just the main, the endeavor would be cash-flow positive, the classic boats would get some usage and people would get a chance to ride on a legend.  For the boats that are too fragile to sail, just allowing people to walk on the boats would be a big hit.

One of things that is constantly talked about is how the physical exertion by the crew during the race and the biggest symbol of this is the winch grinder.  A booth should be set up that allows people to have a go at using the winch.  Since people can relate to the weight of water, a rope from the winch could be lead to a bucket that picks water up out of the bay and makes a big splash when the bucket reaches the top of a pole. 

 Winch Grinders on an Ocean Race, Man vs Nature

A fundamental challenges of sailing is that the sea already forms a natural barrier between the competitors and the fans.  One way to overcome this is by having a series of mini races close to shore in boats like the Hobie Wild Cat.  The small races would give people a chance to watch several races in a short time helping people understand the patterns in sailboat racing.  Think of it as watching the junior rodeo while you wait for the real bulls to come out.  There must be thousands of college sailors around the world that would be willing to sail on a daily basis for a summer in front of a crowd.

A diversion while you wait for the America's Cup to start

One of the hardest things for people to relate to is the fact that boats have to follow a zig zag pattern to get around the course.  To clarify this concept for spectators, a mini course should be set up on shore that mimics the real course.  People would run along lines drawn on the ground to mimic tacking up wind and gybing down wind.  The color of the line would determine what tack you were on and the contestants would have to follow simplified sailing rules as they avoided other racers.

This America's Cup continues to be a showcase for man's mastery over the wind.  However it is hard for the average person to be interested in the races due to natural barriers and a lack of understanding of sailing. Following these suggestions may help to improve appreciation for the sport.  This should lead to greater spectator involvement and renewed interest in the the greatest sailing event in the world.

1 comment:

Greg Greunke said...

Great article Ward. I'd add one more thing, the 72's, or any boat design, is much more fun to watch when there are more boats fighting for position. They should never allow less than two boats for any race but the final.

The past two months watching two, and sometimes one boat, race along the course has completely sucked the excitement out of what was left of this event.

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