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How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love (or at Least Accept) the America's Cup
Melissa Griffin; additional reporting by Christopher Caen | Photo: Nilfanion/Creative Commons | July 1, 2013
Why San Franciscans should care about sailing's Super Bowl.
Whatever semblance of sportsmanship existed in the immediate aftermath of the Artemis tragedy, with all four teams attending a joint memorial for Simpson on the Bay, it went to pieces shortly thereafter. Eight days after the crash, the owner of the Prada-sponsored Italian team, Patrizio Bertelli, demanded lower maximum wind speeds and went so far as to accuse Oracle of laying the groundwork for a virtual slaughter. “They scheduled the challenger selection trials, the Louis Vuitton Cup, from July to August, in a period when the San Francisco Bay is very windy,” he told VSail.info. “The America’s Cup finals, on the other hand, are in September, when there is on average 15 knots. They are there, watching us slaughtering ourselves, smashing everything, and wait.”
Coutts has a different, if not exactly diplomatic, explanation for the crash: “The Artemis boat was a dog.” After the accident, a review committee made 37 safety recommendations, including reducing the maximum wind speed in which races can take place from 33 to 23 knots. As of press time, the Artemis team had not decided whether to participate in the race at all, and organizers were awaiting the Coast Guard’s review of the proposed safety measures.
Meanwhile, the Emirates Team New Zealand rules adviser, Russell Green, was frustrated by talk of changing the wind rules and implied that the Italian and Swedish teams were using the tragedy to demand more favorable conditions. He took to the Emirates Team New Zealand blog and wrote, “It is daunting to arrive at the venue after years of planning to find the goalposts moving so late in the campaign, long after decisions have been made based on the anticipated windy conditions in San Francisco.”
All this public squabbling prompted Jane Sullivan, America’s Cup communications director in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, to throw up her hands. “This Cup was supposed to be different, more transparent, and attract a whole different type of viewer,” she lamented. “Now we’re back to billionaires making up rules.”
I asked Coutts whether all this bodes ill for the future of elite sailing in the United States. After all, Ellison and friends aren’t content with throwing a one-time yacht party on the bay—they dream of a Formula 1–style league with a stable circuit of races, recognizable teams, and marketable stars. But can the current slate of egomaniacal richdude boat owners get on board with a long-term plan to democratize the Cup? “I’m not confident that this group of owners can cooperate,” Coutts said. “There is lots of history and baggage carried over from past events.”
But Harvey Schiller, former executive director of the United States Olympic Committee and vice chair of the America’s Cup 2013 advisory board, brushed off the owners’ incendiary comments as mere competitive theatrics. “Once they see the excitement around what we’re trying to do,” he said, “they will want to be a part of [a future] competition.” Besides, he added, “I’ve worked with George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner. I think I can work with this group.”
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