The unique document that enshrined many of the archaic traditions of the Auld Mug has been twisted and turned by many over the years, but none as radical as the changes wrought under the hand of Sir Russell Coutts in the reign of Larry Ellison’s Team Oracle USA.
When the all new look America’s Cup World Series kicked off in Portsmouth, Coutts had engineered a new era of America’s Cup racing. At the last Cup in San Francisco the move to giant foiling multihulls, sailing at 30+ knots, confined to a restricted sailing arena before shore-based spectators, was a step on the journey to the holy grail of sailing – a TV media friendly event – starting on time, with a finite finish time.
But it needed more than just fast boats and short courses. For the television audience it had to be repeatable, and understandable. Popular big audience sports may have archaic rule books but the basics are straight forward: you score goals, you sink putts, you hit winners and you do it on a known playing field.
Sailing obeyed none of those rules, except it has a mind bending rule book.
With the 34th America’s Cup Coutts set the wheels in motion for the breakthrough and the eventual final series could not have played out better. The now infamous loss of an 8 to 1 lead, with every race a win or lose situation, was made for the media and the media loved it.
Critical to the understanding of the on water maneuvers were the new graphics packages and the tightly controlled sailing area, coupled with on board cameras and mics.
Coutts pin-points the Eureka moment to that iconic image of Oracle Team USA crossing the finish line after a nail-biting final race, with the Stars and Stripes graphic on the water. This was something everyone could understand, this was a marketable sport.
For the 35th America’s Cup Coutts has taken it to the next level, a constant rolling series with the America’s Cup as the grand final. This is sailings World Cup. The intro cost has been lowered, but the standard has been maintained, and possibly raised.
The level of the skills and athleticism of all the crews on the AC45s is of the highest order – these are athletes who have paid their dues in the sailing world. At National, World and Olympic level, their presence on these boats, sailing them at speeds never contemplated before, marks a new pinnacle of sail racing.
All of this, if successful, will justify Coutts dramatic re-writing of the America’s Cup. If it flounders in a mediocre series of predictable, lack-luster races as many critics predict, he will be remembered not as the saviour, but as the man who trivialized the oldest international sporting trophy. His reputation and more importantly that of the America’s Cup is on the line . . . Be careful what you wish for.