Long time readers of this blog know how much I love the Americaâ€™s Cup, partly because I find it to be the worldâ€™s purest sport; a sport contested by billionaires and their lawyers as amateur sport should be but this is kind of crazy. Â The United States is defending the cup not at home but in Bermuda.
The Americaâ€™s Cup has generated some strange partnerships and situations in its 163 years. A yacht club from landlocked Switzerland once won the Cup in New Zealand with a crew full of New Zealanders. Another Cup match was an unfair fight between a big, single-hulled boat and a nimble, wing-masted catamaran.
But Tuesday provided one of the oddest plot twists in the long-running story line of the event, sailingâ€™s most prestigious, as an American team chose â€” with no outside pressure â€” to defend the Cup outside the United States.
Larry Ellison, an American software magnate and one of the worldâ€™s wealthiest men, spent hundreds of millions of dollars â€” only some of it on lawyers â€” hunting down the Cup, and then defending it in San Francisco Bay in 2013 with his syndicate Oracle Team USA. But after considering domestic options, above all San Diego, Ellisonâ€™s team announced Tuesday that it had chosen Bermuda as the site of the next Cup, in June 2017.
This was a first for an American team. And it was only more symbolic that the announcement came in New York, home to the New York Yacht Club, which zealously kept the Cup in the United States for 132 years.
â€I think itâ€™s a curious choice,â€ said Gary Jobson, a former Cup sailor who is now a broadcaster. â€œItâ€™s not in the United States, which I find very disappointing as a past president of US Sailing. The whole thing makes me scratch my head.â€
Bermuda has long caused sailors concern â€” consider the Triangle â€” but the worries this time are that it offers too small a commercial base for teams in search of sponsors and too small a fan base, with its population of 65,000 perched on a group of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Bermuda is a fine and picturesque place for a sailboat race. It has a rich maritime history and is already the finish line of the Newport-Bermuda Race, held every two years. Many of the Cupâ€™s stars, including Ainslie and Oracleâ€™s skipper, James Spithill, know the islands and their waters well.
But shipping the Cup to Bermuda certainly does not seem like the ideal route to building big interest in the event in the United States, which was one of Ellisonâ€™s stated goals before the last edition. Oracleâ€™s historic comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand, in which it rallied from an 8-1 deficit by winning eight straight races, generated real buzz at home as well as abroad. But instead of riding that wave in San Francisco, Ellison and Russell Coutts, Oracle Team USAâ€™s chief executive, have chosen to start anew in a British overseas territory â€” as close as the British have come to staging the Cup since they lost the inaugural regatta at home off the Isle of Wight in 1851.
â€œWell, weâ€™re halfway there,â€ said Ben Ainslie, a British yachtsman who sailed for Ellison in 2013 but is now the head of a British team, Ben Ainslie Racing.
Moving the race closer to Europe was a major reason for choosing Bermuda, Coutts said, as was the territoryâ€™s proposal to build a central base for teams and spectators. For now, there are five confirmed challengers for the 2017 Cup: Team New Zealand, Ben Ainslie Racing, Artemis, Luna Rossa and Team France. Four of those teams are from Europe.
Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyFinding the right time zone for European television â€œwas absolutely critical to us,â€ Coutts said in an interview Tuesday.