The America’s Cup itself has been a breakthrough event for modern sailing and one that will be remembered as a turning point for our sport. Fast boats, fantastic coverage, a venue that delivers wind all day long, and a venue that puts sailing fans up close to the boats have all been break through. San Francisco is abuzz with sailing fans enjoying some of the best sailing action we’ve ever seen. With Emirates Team New Zealand Closing in on cup victory, it’s time to start looking ahead to what the next cup might bring.
Should Team New Zealand win, will certainly bring a commercial reality back to the cup. We can expect costs to be reigned in somehow, and we all hope the great points about this cup will be maintained. There is, however, one area that the cup did not manage to break into modernity, and that is with women sailing. Even the tremendously successful Red Bull Youth AC did not manage to include any women on the water.
It’s time, and Team New Zealand should know it. ETNZ has already said there will be crew restrictions by way of a nationality rule. How about crew restrictions in terms of a gender rule. Years of ISAF ‘open’ experience and the Red Bull event show it’s necessary to write these things into the rules in order for them to come off.
The best way to enable sailing skill to dominate the boats is through a review of power generation. It’s inevitable that as boats move to ever increasing speeds that the loads from increasing apparent wind will continue to rise. Already we see in the current AC boats that the ‘engine rooms’ of 6 enormous blokes is almost purely dedicated to producing hydraulic power. Athletic – for sure, sailing at it’s best – questionable.
Team New Zealand should look very hard at including a small generator or other power plant into the future cup boats so that the sailors can focus on sailing. By removing pure physicality from crew selection criteria, and even survival like ETNZ proved in race 8, we could see the new AC class rule show off one of the best aspects our sport has to offer, mixed crews.
It’s clear from youth and Olympic participation that women want to sail great boats at the highest level as much as the men. In the first 49erFX World Championships ever there are 53 teams entered so 106 females. That’s in year 1 of inception, and already the 49erFX will rival the laser Radial for worlds participation making the 49erFX the second largest fleet of women racing in the world. That’s more than 470, more than Nacra, and more than RS:X. With over 200 29ers at each of the past two 29er World Championships that number is sure to grow.
Where can these women look to for continued inspiration. Sure, Anna Tunnicliffe and a few others have gotten their turn in the Extreme 40’s, but it’s the AC where the biggest break should come. The ex-match race teams have more than proven themselves on the world match race tour since the Olympics made the switch. AC35 must capture what’s gone well in AC34 and then push further forward for AC35 by really showing off what sailing can be and including female sailors!