Brian Hancock, Creative and Media Director for SpeedDream, reflects on the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race. This and many more interesting articles can be found on the SPEEDDREAM BLOG:
I, for one, think that the new AC 72 catamarans are one of the best things to happen to the sport of sailing in a very long time. OK, I can already hear the disagreement; they are too expensive, too much to handle, too fast and too dangerous, but that’s what I like about them. For a sport to evolve and grow you need to innovate and these boats ooze innovation. They also ooze sex appeal and that’s a key ingredient for any sport. Even my non-sailing friends are blown away by the sight of a massive, fixed-wing sailboat gliding high above the water at speeds approaching the speed limit on the New York State Thruway. The elegance, styling and thoroughbred performance of the AC72’s is simply mind blowing.
Contrast this with the downsized, slab sided Volvo Ocean 65’s. Forgive me, I am a huge fan of the event, a former competitor who did his first Whitbread when hanks were the norm and rollerfurling had not yet been invented, but I feel strongly that they have taken the wrong approach. I want to believe, but I can’t. There is nothing innovative about their new One Design boats and if the Vendée Globe sailors sailing alone on their 60-footers were matching the best days run of a fully crewed VOR 70, I doubt the smaller 65’s will impress.
The issue, of course, is cost and it’s a fine line to waltz between out-pricing yourself and having no one show up for your event, and a cheaper, less sexier race. So here is my suggestion. The America’s Cup has always been a playground for billionaires so I say let’s let them play. The event will likely survive just as most dictatorships have survived over the past century. At least those driving the competition are looking toward an exciting future and not retreating to an ignoble end that may come with a whimper and not a bang.
I sympathizes with Knut Frostad and his VOR team as I know they are stuck between a rock and sponsor to please, but to my mind it’s time for a completely new around-the-world race. A new design, some fresh thinking and a realization that there are hundreds of talented sailors who would give just about anything to add a circumnavigation to their resume. Let’s start with a design. How does a boat that costs a little more than a Class 40 yet performs closer to an IMOCA 60 sound? Well it’s in the works. What about the idea of a boat that bridges the gap between those that want to race solo in an event like the Vendée Globe, and those that want to race fully crewed. Surely a set of class rules can be developed that allows the same boat, with only minor modifications, to participate in both events. The Vendée is an amazing race, but they too are in a quandary about what to do with future events. The attrition rate in the last two races has been unacceptable and sponsors are wary about plonking down hard cash until something has been done about it. Granted it will take the negotiating skills of a seasoned diplomat to build a bridge between the French and the rest of the world, but I hear that Hillary Clinton is looking for work.
Now to the course. The Volvo Ocean Race is an expensive undertaking not because of the cost of the boat but because of the cost of racing that boat all over the planet to please a sponsor. It’s no secret that the teams have been unhappy with the logistical and financial means needed to drag shore support, family, friends and kids to a dozen out-of-the-way places as the VOR girdles the globe. The early races were simple, easy for non-sailors to understand, and followed in the wake of some pretty impressive seafaring voyages. Let’s start the race in Europe, stop in Cape Town, Auckland and Rio, and finish back in Europe. The three stopover ports are iconic of global circumnavigation races and should be included not because they can afford to pay a bucket load of money to the race organisers, but rather because they are the right cities in the right place along a route that offers all the challenges you would expect from a race around the world. Oh, and there are no pirates and no need to load the fleet on a ship to skirt a danger zone.
Lastly let’s wire up the boats and crew like Nascar. One new idea for the next VOR that I really like is replacing the Media Crew Member with an Onboard Reporter. By dropping the word crew they are making a deliberate statement that the job description is all about reporting and not about sailing, and the kind of person for the job will be very different from what we have seen in the past, and this is a good thing. The onboard stories are phenomenal. We live in an age of technology so let’s embrace it all from mapping crew sleep patterns to live, unedited camera feeds from on board to replacing corporate driven interviews with from-the-heart speeches that describe how life on board really is. Ellen MacArthur became a sporting superstar as much from her incredible sailing talent as her ability to look directly into the camera, break down in tears and tell it, from her heart, what she was experiencing.
It’s not rocket science. It’s just time for younger, more innovative and more daring people to get involved. Cut ties with some of the entrenched interests that have bogged down thinking, the kind that lands us with a new One Design boat that does not include much new thinking and a course that excludes Cape Town, because they have no money, and includes Newport, a city that also has no money, but one that is close to some major metropolitan areas that have no interest in the event.