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Old 08-26-2001
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Dan Dickison is on a distinguished road
Jaded on the Jubilee


The pursuers and their Holy Grail. Some of the men who have chased the Cup over the last 63 years were on hand in Cowes to celebrate its existence last week.
Last week, the eyes of the sailboat-racing world were firmly focused on the historic town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel. There were over 200 boats participating in what by all accounts was the grandest of all yachting events—the America’s Cup Jubilee. And the attendees far outnumbered the reported 2,000 on-the-water participants, making this a gathering of several thousand revelers and onlookers. In many respects this vaunted, week-long occasion, conceived to celebrate 150 years of America’s Cup activity, demonstrated much of what is good and cherished about our sport, but also much of what is wrong with it. If you say that’s just sour grapes because I wasn't there, touché, you may have a point. But hear me out on this and you just might reconsider.

Granted, the spectacle of the Jubilee was something that may likely never again see its equal in sailboat racing. The organizers at the New York Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron invited some of the most distinguished and significant vessels in existence to their party. Not only were former America’s Cup contenders and pretenders on hand, but these thoroughbreds were book-ended by vessels as avant garde as the ‘90-foot German Frers-designed Stealth and as classic as the 75-foot Cambria (circa 1923). That many of these vessels had been lovingly restored for the occasion is laudable. The organizers also augmented the pageantry by inviting royalty and glitterati and gave the scene authenticity by attracting many of the sport’s super stars, both past and present. Even from a distance, it all seemed larger than life. From the gallant display by the Royal Airforce’s Red Arrows overhead on Sunday to the mid-week tuxedoed gala, to the Saturday prize giving, it was nothing short of grand. That’s a positive for the sport, right?


The impressive gathering of sailing craft at the Jubilee will live on in the images captured there, and that's a plus.

Despite all the glitz and glamour, it’s hard to avoid one lingering question: What’s the lasting value that will be taken away from all of this pomp and circumstance? Certainly many of the sport’s leading photographers captured the occasion on film and digitally for posterity; that definitely counts. And we now know for sure that most of the more recent America’s Cup boats are faster than their predecessors, which will no doubt make the designers and syndicate heads happy. And we learned that the British-based America's Cup syndicate has the potential to be a serious contender when the Cup matches take place in 2003. But what impact did the Jubilee actually have on the sport in general, and how, if at all, did these proceedings serve the rank and file sailor?

Did the movers and shakers in the sport—the powers that be who were on hand to commemorate the occasion in Cowes—make any headway on the myriad problems that face sailing? Did they use this rare opportunity to engender better ideas regarding how to make sailboat racing grow worldwide? Did they foster novel approaches to simplifying the complexity of our sport’s rules or it’s measurement systems, or come to terms with the many criticisms that our more extreme events regularly elicit?


Many of the classic vessels involved in the Jubilee were carefully restored for the occasion; score a point for the event.
I ask these questions because I think they’re pertinent. I can’t answer them because I wasn’t there, but I can only hope that between the cocktails and the cockpits, amid the hob-nobbing on shore and the bobbing on the Solent, some progressive interaction took place. I’d like to think that the answer is affirmative, but if I were to judge by the press releases that I received and the general tenor of the reports that I’ve read and heard, I’d say the event ran the risk of coming off as a slightly garish representation of the sport, making sailing seem somewhat exclusionary and its participants self-serving. I hope that I’m wrong, but interpreted through the media coverage we’ve seen so far, it seems that the only thing missing at the Jamboree, excuse me, Jubilee, was ongoing commentary by Robin Leach.

The celebration in Cowes last week was obviously a smashing success with great glitz and glitter, but what the 500 or so credentialed members of the media didn’t convey in their ample output was what the Jubilee experience meant to Joe Winchgrinder and Bobby Bowman. We know how Gary Jobson felt about the occasion because we sampled streaming video of him pontificating from the dais during the gala, but we don’t know how it all went down for anybody aside from the touted members of the afterguard.


Among the glitterati—America's Cup veteran Bill Koch salutes the crowd with one of his bargain bottles.

And that’s the point. Sailing’s populace and its future participants aren’t, by and large, millionaires and rock stars, they’re just regular folks. The Jubilee may have been a grand occasion for them as well, but if so it was left unsaid. Don’t blame the organizers, they’re efforts were well intentioned; 150 years of sporting competition deserves a little fete, even on a grand scale. And don’t blame the participants, they just wanted to sail and have a good time; it's summer in the northern hemisphere after all. Blame me and my colleagues in the media. Maybe those who were on hand were just too engaged in the celebration to spell out the enduring value of this occasion for the rest of us. Either way, it's only fair to suspend full judgement on the issue until all of the print publications have had a chance to deliver their take. With any luck, they'll help the sailing community find meaning behind the grandeur.

Sharing the Wealth

No doubt, a lot of funds were expended to pull off the America's Cup Jubilee, and you can’t criticize that because, as the saying goes, ‘money makes the world go round.’ However, when American billionaire and former A-Cup maven Bill Koch purchased 31 small bottles of Hennessey cognac for roughly $450,000 at a charity auction during the Jubilee gala on Wednesday night, comment was warranted.

Koch called it a relative bargain, and maybe it was. The proceeds, we’re told, went to benefit the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, which is indeed a good cause, but the same money or other additional funds might have been reallocated in a number of ways for the general benefit of the sport. Here are a couple of ideas for future expenditures in case Mr. Koch or any of the other Jubileers are feeling flush:

  • Purchase a fleet of Optimists and distribute them to would-be sailors in disadvantaged neighborhoods to sow the seeds of growth ($450,000 would buy roughly 150 Optis).
  • Hire a promotional staff for ISAF ($450,000 should be sufficient to attract a few professionals who can more effectively market the sport).
  • Put a down payment on getting Elle McPherson, Sting, or the Dali Lama to serve as a spokeperson for the sport.
  • Fund a feasibility study on constructing a sailing vacation village to introduce newcomers to the sport.


Suggested Reading:

Honoring America for the Jubilee by John Rousmaniere

The Crew Members' Manifesto by Dan Dickison

 

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