ron.jpg (6720 bytes)

From the Boatshop
by Ron Magen 

The ‘Cup Issue’

Maybe it’s because we’re NOT ‘in’ it; I haven’t paid much attention to this America"s Cup regatta. The last I watched was several days ago; "Alinghi" was up, 3-0.

This morning I was sitting at the kitchen table having coffee when it occurred to me - I hadn’t been watching, or heard anything on the evening news. I asked Joanne if she had read anything in the paper. "So what? Nobody’s interested; it’s ‘Our Hired Guns can beat your Hired Guns’, anyway". This from a woman who only goes sailing to humor me.

Several years ago {a couple of ‘Cups’ ago} Joanne & I attended a presentation about the {then} latest Cup Regatta. It was by Gary Jobson to benefit some sailing program in his home town of Annapolis [So? . . . I bribed Joanne with crabs at ‘Buddies’]. Because of this it was an intimate and very informal situation. At that time {pre-Bill Koch and multi-billion dollar individual ‘sponsors’} one of the questions I asked him concerned the dichotomy of ‘sailing skills’ vs. ‘buying’ the ‘Cup’. I prefaced my inquiry by stating that it was a ‘given’ that modern technological developments eventually would ‘filter down’ to the typical small-boat owner/sailor. However, was the almost total use of these things a true test of the SAILOR, or his WALLET ? After all, a great many of the ‘working participants’ had honed their skills on the ‘Match’ and ‘Class’ circuits. His immediate answer . . . "That’s a good question".

[To throw a little history lesson in here:

  • The original title was the "100 Guinea Cup" {and it’s a ‘ewer’, not a Cup}, and it was to be awarded to the winner of a race around the Isle of Wight. HOWEVER . . . after a group of upstart ‘colonials’ SAILED their boat ACROSS the ATLANTIC and pulled a ‘horizon job’ on all the other competitors from the perceived Rulers of the Seas, it was henceforth called, the America’s Cup . . . after the name of the BOAT, not the country. A further bit of lore is that Queen Victoria, upon seeing the finish at Cowes and trying to mollify the defeat, asked "Who is second ?". The response was, "I’m sorry, Your Highness; there is NO 2nd place".]
  • While the United States held the Cup for the next 130+ years, some have said it was due to manipulating the Rules {changing the ‘Deed of Gift’} to favor us. That the ‘Deed’ has been changed in the ‘modern era’ is evident. ‘Challengers’ no longer are required to sail to the racing venue, "on their own bottom"

    True, many of the developments have led to common place use for the ‘weekend sailor". Improved sail and halyard materials, sail controls & techniques {ex. The ‘Cunningham’ - named for Briggs Cunningham, or the ‘Barber Haulers’}, and basic construction materials. A great many came with controversy as to their use; "The only reason to use aluminum {for the hull} is to CHEAT !" . . . ditto, and louder, when they started with FRP { "Fiberglass"}. Or had dubious value when removed from a ‘Big Boat’ environment; the Australians ‘secret’ Winged Keel . . . later an ‘option’ on a less than 16 foot waterline Capri16.

    HOWEVER, one concept seemed to hold fast - NATIONAL HONOR. As in the Olympics, it was a ‘friendly’ contest among countries for the "Bragging Rights" as to who were THE best sailors. It drew people together, and Winners respected those who persisted in the ‘QUEST’. This was how all America, and the NY Yacht Club, felt about Sir Thomas Lipton {Take a look at the sketch of the man on a package of Lipton Tea - that’s ‘Sir Tommy’ in his yachting cap, aboard one of his "Shamrock" ‘s}. On a more ‘recent’ note, remember the commercials shown on Australian TV? {and favorably commented about on US TV} . . . The young boy by the side of the road, or in the sailing dinghy? Their win gained a Knighthood for {Sir} Peter Blake. {unfortunately, later killed by South China Sea pirates}

    The present Cup? DEATH THREATS against the skipper {a Kiwi} of the Swiss boat because he is sailing against {and WINNING} his ‘own’ {the ‘Defending’ New Zealand boat}, by his own countryman !!

    Of course, the ‘Challenger’ comes from a ‘landlocked’ country, ‘their’ crew is comprised of the people who won last time {Kiwi’s}, they are already talking about ‘their’ Cup defense in the waters of ANOTHER {non-competing} country, and one of the ‘crew’ is the multi-billionaire who, conceivably, financed the majority of the sailing program. ALL the BOATS look like floating billboards, with their ‘national standards’ hardly in evidence.

    By the way, the term "Hired Guns" isn’t my invention. I remember this is what the sailing press called Paul Cayard when he ‘jumped ship’ to sail for the Italians. There was discussion of the particulars at that time. If memory serves, the ‘non-citizens’ had to have about a 2-year ‘residency’ [ NOT citizenship - the Olympics requires citizenship of a nation’s competitors - although they may be naturalized as well as by birth]. Do the participants KNOW it’s a not-so-subtle ‘cheat’ - OF COURSE ! Why else have them move {to the ‘home country’}, yet establish a ‘waiting period’ that is a good deal shorter than the amount of time it takes to develop a competitive program.

    One ‘solution’ might be to drop the pretense. Call it an "Open", or "Masters", or "Experimental" class. Drop the concept of ‘Nation vs. Nation’.

    Right now it sounds like the motto for an international law firm:

    "The Best Defense that Money Can Buy"

    Ron Magen
    Backyard Boatshop