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Vincenzo, You Were Right…Yacht Racing Is Forever Changed

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September 25, 2013


By Tom Weaver,

In February 2010, the America’s Cup challenger BMW Oracle Racing defeated the Swiss Alinghy team on the water in a “deed of Gift match” to claim the oldest international sports trophy.  This 2-0 race series was preceded by a horrendous period of litigation in the New York Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, after unimaginably winning 7 straight races, Oracle Team USA has forced a final, winner-take-all race 17 today between the defender Team USA Oracle and Team Emirates New Zealand.  These two embattled crews will square off this afternoon in 72-foot carbon fiber hydrofoiling catamarans that travel at speeds up top 58 MPH,  2 ½ times the wind speed, while flying above the water on foils.  They have airplane-like wings to power them, the crews wear oxygen bottles in case of a “crash” and the rules dictate that they can head towards each other at closing speeds over 70mph…with NO brakes.

A pause for thought, how did we get here? THIS IS NOT YOUR GRANDPA’s YACHT RACING!!

On that February day in 2010, the commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht club accepted the challenge from the Italian  Yacht Club Savioa headed by a mercurial Italian shipping owner Vincenzo Onorato who was a “friendly”  between Team Oracle USA.  Make no mistake, the driving force behind USA Team Oracle is Russell Coutts, the most decorated Americas Cup sailor ever.  Mascalzone Latino (Vincenzo Onorato) and Oracle (Russell Coutts) “agreed” on a set of parameters which the 34th Americas cup should be raced.  Giant, wing powered, foiling catamarans…. BOOM.

Personally, I have spent some of my career racing much bigger mulithulls than you see out there today and I believed in the vision of Russell Coutts and Vincenzo Onorato.  It is fundamentally going in the direction of the sport of sailing as we now see it, BUT in my wildest dreams I could never have predicted the competition we have going right now.  The boats are battling it out, flying above the water, “rubbing is racing” and most of all we have a series where after 18 races we are tied, who would have thunk it?

Vincenzo Onorato told me in 2010, “history will tell us if we made the right decision, choosing these catamarans.”

Well Vincenzo, you were right, the world of yacht racing is forever changed, for the better. Whoever wins the competition tomorrow, the sport of sailing is the big winner.

Bravo Russell and Vincenzo…you guys got it right!

I had the pleasure of watching yesterday’s racing with Fred Hecklinger.  He is 77 years old, has never raced in a “cup,” but he has worked shore side for various syndicates including Mariner in 1974.   Fred is a marvelous historian and remembers every race like it was yesterday dating back to before I was born.  To paraphrase him, “today was the most exciting and enlightening sail boat race he has ever been a part of.” He was watching it on television on a bar!

I have had the privilege in my career to race a sailing boat at speeds exceeding 40kts,  I have also been lucky enough to compete for the privilege to race for the America’s Cup ,  but seriously what we are witnessing this week has changed the game for ever. Today is THE winner take all race for the America’s cup, race number 17 (technically) first team to win 9 races,   it has happened before in 1983 when the Australians came back from a 1-3… but not at 55 MPH with closing speeds of close to 70mph as the crews push each other beyond limits that they even imagined.

The Americas Cup final has been under way for just over 2 weeks and the boats have improved their speed by over 20%,  a remarkable feat for each team. The hired guns of Oracle and the Larry Ellison’s nearly unlimited funding versus a home grown team from a VERY small South Pacific island with government funding,  One and a half weeks ago, Emirates Team New Zealand was 8-1 up needing to win won more race to put the “Auld mug” on a plane and enjoy the party,  we are talking about 8-1! Game over, the series is now tied and history will be written by the victor at about 2pm PT on Wednesday 25th September 2013

I do have a dilemma, a scheduled root canal surgery at 1pm Pacific,  should I cancel and witness history or take one for my team? Emirates Team New Zealand…. and go under the knife.  Luck and superstition are going to have a lot to do with the outcome, ETNZ will have the favored “port” entry , Kia Kaha

Annapolis-based Tom Weaver is the former CEO of the Mascalzone Latino America’s Cup syndicate and was crewmember on Steve Fawcett’s “Playstation.” He’s been a professional sailor for the better part of his life and he and his business parter Mick Price design and build the highly popular Eastport 32 (among other boats). Check it out HERE.

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