Not the yachts of yore

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Click to enlarge (Image: RedBull.com)

They bear little resemblance to the magnificent 12-meter America’s Cup yachts I watched for so many years. The water-skimming, wind-driven flying machines of today have 131-foot-high wings instead of sails, twin instead of single hulls, daggerboards instead of keels. The terminology and most of the technology and technique are foreign to someone who, decades ago, loved sailing leisurely around the nearest lake in a 19-foot centerboard Lightning.

Giant (72-foot) catamarans crisscrossing San Francisco Bay at outlandish speeds (up to 54 mph). They are magnificent. Fascinating. Dangerous. They bear little resemblance even to their tiny, skittering Hobie cat cousins at the local dock.

To me they are no longer sailboats. They aren’t America’s Cup yachts. They don’t sail through the water; they fly above it. They are a new and very different kind of high-speed racing machine, affordable only by corporations, not sportsmen from the yacht club. They should be competing for some sort of new, high tech trophy. A crystal wing on a base of titanium and fiberglass, perhaps. Something more appropriate than the elegant old cup so reminiscent of yachting’s history, tradition, and gentility.

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The America’s Cup is the oldest active trophy in international sport.

10 thoughts on “Not the yachts of yore

  1. I completely agree with you. Technology has replaced tradition. A whole different set of skills is need to sail these wonders who spend more time above the water than in it. They are like race horses owned by corporations instead of stables and breeders.
    I find these new boats exciting, but the traditional sailing vessels and skills – and old sailing traditions of the Cup should be tied to this trophy….another one for the modern versions is a great idea – never too many races on the water – the more that are drawn to sailing, the better.
    Well written

    1. Thanks. Yes, these boats are exciting to watch, but for me it’s like watching high speed auto racing. There’s a lot under the hood I don’t know about and can’t identify with. About all I know is who gets to the finish line first and who crashes. The old boats were slower, but I knew how they operated and what the skippers were thinking. I’d handled sails and lines and tillers myself. I could identify with those guys!

  2. Yes a very different breed of boats – closing speeds around 100 mph. I have a friend that is on the design team for the wing.

    Not the boats I am used to. But a very interesting technical problem.

    1. I’m envious. Your friend must have some fascinating stories to share. I saw a very interesting article somewhere describing some of the design considerations, and it definitely sounded more aeronautic than nautical. Flight engineers and aerospace designers, or something like that. I suppose you could say these boats are a whole different breed of cat. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.) I got a pretty good idea today of how those daggerfoils work, and it’s complicated. Not like anything I’ve ever seen. I give a lot for ride on one someday.

  3. Friend is an aeronautical / aerospace engineer – used to design airplanes but also had a many year interest in a designed some mulit-hull sailboats and has sailed most of his life. He had a proposed design on his web site for a winged boat, the Oracle crowd found him through his web site and he was in Valencia as part of the team, when he retired from aerospace he went to work the next day or the Oracle group for this cup defense.

    Has some interesting things to say about wings and stuff in general, but when I tried to get him to do a journal (blog) he declined as there was just too much stuff that was proprietary to their design and he was a bit busy also .

    1. Ha, some retirement that turned out to be. Getting to use his skills on something totally different. And with the thrill/pressure of it being in defense of the cup. Maybe he’ll have time to blog about it someday, without giving up any secrets. Meantime, sounds like you have an inside track on those stories. Tell him we’re all pulling for Oracle!

  4. Competition. It’s what makes the adrenaline run. But racing aerospace-style catamarans is so expensive it has to be in a category all it’s own. I’m thinking it’s like polo for Romney’s person-hood corporations. Not exactly something that engages many spectators, I’m thinking, but maybe that’s just me.

    I prefer the human competitions, both one-on-one and team sports, but even there they run into problems trying to make it fair. Boxers have weight divisions and typically use tricks to pare pounds before a match. There was that runner without feet who used springs instead – still don’t think they should have permitted it. Then there’s the enormously popular auto racing. I’m sure they tightly control the specs on car designs, so it seems to come down to pit-crew efficiency and endurance of concentration. I’d rather watch paint dry, personally. If there’s a crash, I can catch the highlights on the news.

    1. That’s why I think they need some kind of new “Corporate Cup” for these boats. It’s just doesn’t seem right that these flying boats should be competing for that stately old yachting cup. But the idea was to generate enough excitement to bring the crowds (relatively speaking) back to America’s Cup racing. I haven’t seen the numbers yet, but if they brought the crowds back, it wasn’t to America’s Cup racing; it was to something totally new and different.

      Most people probably share your view that watching sailing is like watching paint dry or grass grow. I think there may be many sports like that — of interest only to those who have some experience with it.

... and that's my two cents