Made in America

America’s Cup Yachts

What’s the oldest international competition operating in any sport? it’s nothing to do with football, cricket, rugby or tennis; instead, it’s the America’s Cup yacht race, which was first held in 1851. Since then, it’s been held with no particular fixed schedule, but generally speaking, it happens every three to four years, with a challenger taking on the defending champions. This year is the 37th America’s Cup.

Several nations fight it out to be the official challenger in the final, whereas the defending champions – somewhat bizarrely, Switzerland this year – have their place in the final booked. The champions also get to nominate the venue for the next competition, which is normally their home nation, but with Lake Geneva being slightly small for this purpose, the Swiss have decided to base the next completion, which takes place in October this year (the last was in March 2021) in Barcelona and its surrounding stretch of Mediterranean.

A bit like Wimbledon or the Monaco Grand Prix, this is a seriously prestigious tournament (or regatta, to use its proper name). Arguably even more so, as it only happens every few years. As a result, the world’s most prestigious brands are queuing up to be associated with it: names such as Louis Vuitton, Red Bull, Prada and Omega.

The sport it has most in common with is Formula 1, in terms of technology, aerodynamics (which in this case, translate as fluid dynamics) and sheer unalloyed expense: in fact, many Formula 1 designers (including Red Bull’s recently-departed genius Adrian Newey, who shocked the racing world by handing in his notice recently) have attempted to pen an America’s Cup yacht – with varying degrees of success.

We call them yachts, but in actual fact these vessels have about as much in common with a conventional boat as the space shuttle does with a Sopwith Camel.

They don’t even float on water most of the time; instead, they ‘fly’ on two foils that lift the entire keel into the air, skating along at impossible speeds like a demented all-carbon water skier. Want to know how fast? They probably won’t tell you, as every single technical secret is guarded with the zeal of the Kremlin in the 1980s.

Italian America's Cup yacht

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to take closer look at the Italian boat, which as an icon of Italy is sponsored by Prada and Pirelli. To ‘chase’ it during the practice runs, we used a speedboat equipped with three V12, 600-horsepower, outboard motors: that’s 1800 horsepower in total (for those whose arithmetical talents are similar to mine). And we still couldn’t keep up.

It’s also worth pointing out that this wasn’t even the actual real yacht they will use in the America’s Cup: just a practice yacht (which is still worth around a couple of million dollars). The real thing goes faster.

Each yacht has 11 sailors in total, and they practice for years for just one race which they might not even get through to, if they don’t reach the final. To work together effectively, they have all left their homes to live close to the port of Cagliari in Sardinia, where the (deep breath) Pirelli Prada Luna Rossa team is based, in a bespoke, closely-guarded facility that comprises workshops, several enormous hangers, an engineering centre, and even a state-of-the-art simulator so the crew can keep training even when they’re not able to take to the water. The level of commitment and self-sacrifice is astonishing, not to mention the amount of sheer hard work. When I arrive, the main crew is out on a gentle cycle ride across the island which happens to be around 90 miles wide.

They train every day in pursuit of their one goal, and if they fall short, they pick themselves up and focus on doing it all over again, even with the next competition still years away. If they fail in October, I asked one Luna Rossa sailor, when will they start work on the following campaign? “The next day” he answered, in total seriousness.

I’m not a yachting person at all, but the America’s Cup might just be one of the breathtaking examples of sporting endeavour and commitment that I’ve ever witnessed. The six teams now head to Barcelona, where the real competition concludes with the finals in October. Don’t miss it.

Author Bio:

Anthony Peacock works as a journalist and is the owner of an international communications agency, all of which has helped take him to more than 80 countries across the world.

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