Tuesday, May 14, 2013


The AC72 Incidents:

A well known and highly respected maritime Blog asked the question last week - "Is the AC72 the Boat That Could Sink the Americas's Cup?".  By the by it is more correct to call it the America Cup since it was renamed after the schooner America.

From the perspective of NAUTICAL LOG the America Cup was sunk decades ago due to what a former AC skipper, with whom members of our family sailed in Australia, described as "plastic boats" and indeed we have come to believe his description was correct.  This latest concern for the America Cup competition is the result of the tragic death of British sailor Andrew Simpson an Olympian sailing for the Swedish Artemis Racing AC72 in San Fransisco Bay, CA.  This is the second  similar incident the first being the capsize of the Oracle AC72 boat last October

Wait a minute, a Swedish contender for the America Cup once one of yachting's most cherished competitions, how on earth did that come about.  Well its a long sad story of once superb  British and American seamanship, magnificent racing yachts with halyards, sheets and sails becoming - some describe it as degenerating to - plastic boats more accurately of fibreglass, man made fibre lines and airfoils designed purely for speed of up to some 40 knots.  While these racing machines, which are expensive, dangerous, too fragile it appears, no doubt have a place in sailing competitions it is not the America Cup competition.  How on earth did all this happen?

The America Cup competition originally began in 1851 with a race around the Isle of Wight on the South Coast of England for a trophy one of several made by Garrard & Co. donated by Henry William Paget the 1st. Marquess of Anglesey and awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron. It was won by Commodore John Stevens Cox of the new formed NYYC in the schooner America and thereafter renamed the America Cup and donated to the New York Yacht Club under the terms of the Deed of Gift.  The original idea was that it would be a competition between the British Yachting fraternity and the American (read East Coast) Yachting fraternity as represented by the NYYC.  And so from 1876 to 1967 that was pretty much how things stood, there was only the one challenger the holder being known as the defender.

The most famous challengers for the America Cup were from British sportsman.  The first challenge came from James Lloyd Ashbury in Cambria as a result of him beating the American schooner Sappho in the Solent in 1886.  The Royal Thames Yacht Club placed an official challenge in 1870 by entering Cambria in the NYYC Queen's Cup in New york City.  There was a fleet of seventeen schooners and Cambria placed eighth with the aging America placing fourth.  Remember the Cambria had to sail across the Atlantic first  in order to compete at New York, NY.  In 1876 and 1881 the Canadians challenged first with the schooner Madeleine and then with the sloop Atalanta with NYYC successfully defending the Cup.  As a result of the somewhat inept challenge from the Canadians the Deed of Gift was amended in 1881 that challengers must sail to the venue to compete and must be from yacht clubs on the sea.

Between 1889 and 1903 the NYYC adopted the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Clubs Rating Rule and the design ideas of Nathaniael Herreshoff.  These resulted in boats such as Valkyrie, Valkyrie II, Valkyrie III, as the British challengers with Vigilant  (Herreshoff at the helm) and Defender as the American boats.  About this time there was a bitter falling out between Lord Dunraven on the British  side and the NYYC.  However in 1899 Sir Thomas Lipton challenged from the Royal Ulster Yacht Club in Ireland his Shamrock boats becoming legendary in the America Cup races.  He challenged again in 1901 and 1903 but the NYYC fended off these British challenges.

Between 1914 to 1937 The Universal Rule came into being encouraging basically a smaller type of  yacht of 75 feet leading to the M Class and J Class.  Lipton kept challenging up to his Shamrock V and after his death in 1931 Sir Thomas Sopwith the aviation industrialist took up the challenge.  In 1936 the Deed of Gift was adjusted to allow hulls to be shipped to the race venue and the J boats challenged and defended off Newport, RI.

From 1956 to 1987 the Twelve Metre Rule came into being and in 1962 to 1983 the Australians started to challenge. The first changes were quietly taking place in the traditional America Cup which eventually led to challengers coming from Australia, New Zealand and European Nations.  There was now much more legal pressure by these businessman sailors insisting on their "Rights" and something was NAUTICAL LOG thinks lost (sportsmanship?) by so much loud talk and legal battles.

In 1987 things changed completely as the America Cup Race was held off Fremantle, Western Australia.  This was the era when a high-tech boat appeared made of fibreglas in turn this resulted in demands for core samples of the hull to prove that the thickness met the 12 Metre Rule.  From there on as far as NAUTICAL LOG is concerned the America Cup Race was over and a new international Race with high-tech vessels and legal battles had taken over.

So when that respected maritime Blog asked the question "Is the AC72 the boat that could sink the America ('s) Cup?" the NAUTICAL LOG answer is that it has been sunk since 1987 at Fremantle, Western Australia and these boats today are a whole new challenge with a new type of seamanship deserving of a whole new Race but not the America Cup.

Good Watch.

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