I wish my Dad were here. He died in 1959, way too early. He was the real yacht racing fan. He would not have believed what I was seeing on TV, but I can see that his love of racing sail lives on. I haven’t sailed in about 30 years, but I’m still in “shock and awe”.
I happened to tune in to a cable TV station called Versus. I was looking for something that wasn’t a Discovery re-run. A serious jolt of something new and something old: here were the most magnificent racing sailers I have ever laid eyes on. They are having the 32d America’s Cup Races in the Mediterranean. At the moment the Kiwis are beating the Italian team, 3 races to zero. Boats have sponsors like Prado (isn’t that what the Devil wore?) and Louis Vuitton (handbags?). You get the money to build these multimillion dollar racing thoroughbreds wherever it is available.
The Louis Vuitton Cup is the prize for the winner who will then get to go against the current holder in the 132 year old America’s Cup races. I was watching The New Zealand go against Luna Rossa.
These sleek racing boats run about 75-80 feet in length. They carry an unbelievable square footage of sail on towering masts of about 112 feet height. I did not catch downwind speeds, but noted that they make over 10 knots tacking into the wind. To watch one of these things, the racing hulls do not sail through the water so much as skim.
I used to sail 6 foot El Toros on the landlocked Lake Merritt, in Oakland, CA, when I was a kid. They plowed and scudded through the water. The only time I came close to winning a race is when the wind was so high people were retreating back to the boat house. I broke masts and booms learning to push the Toros past their limits, and then moved out of the secure little world of life at home into the great workaday world.
What I was doing back then was like comparing little balsa wood gliders to what NASA does with the space shuttle launches. The pros are running the “big boats” again!
In the 1930’s Sir Thomas Lipton mounted a series of challenges to take the America’s Cup away from the Yanks. Like the racers of the 2000’s, these behomeths were called “J Class”. The Shamrock V, pictured below, is said to be the last to be built of wood. It is hard to get dimensions of these craft on the web – I guess you are just supposed to know. According to the link above, Shamrock V was actually rebuilt and lived to race again.
This photo was scanned from “Shamrock V’s Wild Ride Home”, by Captain Irving Johnson, Milton Bradley Company, 1933. It describes the voyage home to Europe after the unsuccessful Amerca’s Cup challenge in Newport. I had a tough time getting an image for The Vuitton Cup. The image at the beginning of the page was a bitmap screen capture and I regret that I lost the credits information for the web site providing it.
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