2013-10-03 / Opinion

Breathing Life into US Sailing

I t’s been just over a week since Oracle Team USA pulled off what’s been described as one of the greatest come-from-behind victories ever witnessed in sports. But almost as soon as it was over, it began anew.

On Monday, Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club was named the Challenger of Record for the 35th America's Cup, setting up yet another battle between teams from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres for the oldest trophy in sports.

And in the coming weeks, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is expected to gather with his team and lay out a vision for their defense: announcing the future boat design, format, and venue.

After his historic victory, Ellison proclaimed “This regatta has changed sailing forever.”

He may be right. The oversized and astronomically-priced AC72 performed as no other boat ever has. The on-screen technology, made-for- TV venue, and on-air commentary exposed countless non-sailors to the sport and is sure to have captured the imaginations of millions.

But the race also revealed something about the state of sailing in the United States.

While Ellison succeeded in recapturing the international appeal of the America’s Cup, his next goal should be to bring new life to U.S. sailing programs.

One possible way to do that is to make the next campaign a bicoastal event with regattas in San Francisco and Newport.

While it’s too early to know for sure where the next Cup will be held, promoting the event as a marriage between past and present would make for a compelling narrative, and Newport’s proximity to the media center of New York could help bolster viewership and sponsorship opportunities.

The success of last summer’s America’s Cup World Series should be proof enough that Newport is more than capable of hosting the type of regatta that Ellison craves. And the infrastructure improvements that are taking place in advance of the Volvo Ocean Race will only make Fort Adams even better equipped to host a Cup trial, world series, or even final.

Though the current rules provide for multinational teams, there is something a bit more meaningful when global competition is underpinned by a certain amount of national pride.

Yet, of the 11 men who sailed as part of Oracle’s defense, only one American remained on the boat in the end: Newport’s own Rome Kirby, the son of six-time America’s Cup veteran Jerry Kirby.

The rest of the team were British, Australian, Italian, Kiwi, Dutch, and even Antiguan.

Ellison and his crew should be mindful not to dilute an intrinsic component of the Cup.

To wit, when Team Oracle rounded its last mark on the way to last week’s victory, television viewers saw an American flag superimposed over the water. At the Jane Pickens, where well over 100 people had gathered to watch the race on the big screen, cheers erupted at the sight.

Often portrayed as a pastime of the one percent, seeing the sport of sailing garner front page news across the country was heartening.

So, with a blank slate briefly ahead of us, we’d like to offer a vision of our own: one in which Ellison is again on stage before a roomful of cameras and reporters. On his left is standing the mayor of San Francisco. To his right, the mayor of Newport.

The 34th America’s Cup changed sailing forever. The next Cup, Ellison might say, will change the way America sees the sport.

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