“BOR, Ey!” A Concorde Moment in the History of Sailing

Warp speed ahead, Larry! PHUTURAMA is examining the interdependency between legacy technology and tomorrow's naval design principles (photo courtesy BMW Oracle)

At the 33rd America’s Cup race course offshore Valencia the sailing world witnessed a unique ‘Concorde Moment.’ Never in history of match races a comparable amount of money, man-power and highly sophisticated technology were concentrated to shoot-out between two competing teams – and ever will. BMW Oracle Racing (BOR) Team’s revolutionary 68 m wing sail powered trimaran USA clearly won this match outright. [1] The American team, founded ten years ago by software mogul Larry Ellison (the role model for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in Iron Man?), achieved its ultimate goal when they powered across the finish line of Race 2 with a margin of 5 minutes and 26 seconds to defeat the Swiss defender’s Alinghi 2-0 in a finally all too short Best-of-Three competition mode.

With a rich heritage and tradition dating back to 1851, the America’s Cup is often called the oldest trophy in sport. But with its more than controversial latest match cycle – for months suspended by the two competing billionaire’s juridical turmoils over rules and formulas – the “Auld Mug” competition burst into a new technological era of high-tech sailing which might change the game of how we are perceiving technological progress.

The contemporary America’s Cup race yachts are often compared with the automotive Formula One – budget-wise, technology-wise, media-buzz-wise and, off course, ego-wise. [2] But to really hit the mark, F1 race cars ought to be soap box derby racer straight out of the high-tech carbon ovens with computer-controlled chassis-suspension, drive-by-wire steering and going fast as hell: The 33rd America’s Cup Match umpires in their not really underpowered off-shore motor boats had their problems to catch up with the unleashed race multihulls, if close to the wind with one or more hulls spectacularly up in the air.

Some critics will say that this extraordinary expenditure into high-tech yachting is just the splendid hobby-horse of freewheeling nabobs. But, I don’t think to claim an oracle post, when predicting this is a breakthrough in maritime history. Carbon composite multihulls, aeronautical wing sail rigs and power-engined hydraulic trimming will irreversibly result in a renaissance of sailing technology in the naval future.

Actually these 33rd America’s Cup hi-tech racing monsters won’t be part of this future. This overpaced breed goes straight away into naval museums. They are too dangerous and too unpredictable to race under heavier conditions, too expensive in maintenance and fitting. And like the unforgotten Concorde they will ultimately remain a class of its own: To attract a broader circle of teams and owners the upcoming 34th America’s Cup yachts will be ruled by a more accessible, more affordable and a bit demurer formula for an economically succesful match racing in the future.

[1]  The Official 33rd America’s Cup Website
[2] BMW Oracle Racing Team’s Website

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