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Maybe Cork Itself Would Pay For Staging America’s Cup?

23rd October 2021
America's Cup contenders at Auckland – it's an abiding and evocative image, but at what cost?
America's Cup contenders at Auckland – it's an abiding and evocative image, but at what cost?

According to one usually reliable line of information, yesterday was to be the day in Auckland when Team New Zealand and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, as Trustees and Holders of the America's Cup, were due to confirm the location for the AC37 series in 2024. But it seems to be on hold in light of the New York Yacht Club withdrawing its team on Wednesday, and the revelation on Thursday that the defending Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron would actually prefer to stage their third iteration at home if the resources could be raised, despite having put it out to international tender.

It's of considerable interest in Ireland, or would be if any announcement had been made, as Cork Harbour had been hailed by enthusiasts as being the preferred overseas bidder. But the small though powerful group of project promoters in and around the Southern Capital were so bedazzled by their own vision that it seemed they'd done insufficient groundwork with the rest of the country. Thus Ireland was somewhat bemused to find that the Rebel County assumed that the rest of Ireland would joyfully join them in divvying up at least €150 million in hitherto unplanned infrastructural spend in order to accommodate the event.

The modestly-housed Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has revealed its true feelings this week.The modestly-housed Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has revealed its true feelings this week.

All this is at a time when the gap between rich and poor in Ireland is conspicuously increasing by the day in an era when our economy is so dominated by multinationals that we don't really know for sure how much Irish national wealth and income is expanding, if indeed – with inflation moving back in – it is genuinely expanding at all, other than in a few very favoured sectors.

Thus the optics were not good – in fact, they were terrible - in launching a project in which the government was given first one, and then another impossible deadline to commit to, when they'd very reasonably asked for six months, which to many observers seemed little enough.

We'd got to the stage on 17th September when it was revealed there'd be no further announcements until October 22nd. But in the meantime, other aspects of the supposed four bids emerged. Valencia in Spain – despite having the infrastructure in place from staging the 2007 America's Cup – withdrew from the fray, but the Spanish Government took up their option on a "maybe" basis.

MIDDLE EAST CAVEATS

There was serious interest from hugely-rich nations in the Middle East, but it emerged that American teams would be Governmentally-discouraged from going there. Consequently, this left New Zealand and Ireland the only venues in official contention, and as the AC coffers are empty in Auckland, Ireland found itself being made an "unrepeatable offer" which was dependent upon almost immediate acceptance.

This may have seemed utterly reasonable to those immersed in doing the negotiation in Cork and Auckland, but it had a rather unpleasant whiff of coercion, stalking horse, patsy – call it what you may – about it for the rest of us, a feeling which was emphasised the further you got from Cork to other parts of Ireland where it was thought that if this America's Cup idea is so utterly brilliant, then why aren't more top sailing nations fighting to get a bit more of the staging action?

Part of the problem is that the Cork promoters greatly exaggerated the global significance of the contemporary America's Cup in international sporting terms. Relatively speaking, it actually got more public attention back in 1903 when Thomas Lipton challenged with Shamrock III against Reliance, as seen in this early snippet of newsreel, which shows Shamrock ahead, but Reliance coming through while Shamrock seems to have had to dodge the spectator steamer on which the film camera was located.

In those days, popular arena sports were still relatively undeveloped, with horse racing probably the number one interest, while yachting at the America's Cup level maintained a certain prominence largely through the ludicrous wealth required, and the gossip-column figures involved.

But these days, we've wall-to-wall sport endlessly streamed with always advancing sophistication every which way. While the AC36 may have attracted more than 90 million screen viewers worldwide, their attention span was often extremely limited. In order to attract them and keep them watching, the 36th series was televised in such a way that it looked for all the world like some sort of video game dreamt up in a brain-storming session in Dundee, making some folk wonder why they didn't just do that in the first place, and thereby do away with the expense of actual expensive foiling boats and high-maintenance teams……..

Early stages of turning it into a video game – the 35th America's CupEarly stages of turning it into a video game – the 35th America's CupTechnology develops – the America's Cup 36 as re-shaped for the easily-distracted.Technology develops – the America's Cup 36 as re-shaped for the easily-distracted.

The fact is that as sailing has become more democratic with greater numbers involved, it has lost much of what might be called casual vulgar interest. Ordinary folk sailing ordinary boats with self-absorbed enjoyment isn't news at all, and though Cork sailors – and indeed sailors throughout Ireland and visitors too – might find some benefit in the improved harbour infrastructure after the America's Cup circus has left town following two or three stagings, it's a bit difficult to imagine that such longterm benefits will justify a sudden unplanned commitment to a spend of €150 million in 2021.

Then too there's the feeling that we don't really have skin in the game. While eight of the challenges between 1886 and 1930 had strong Irish links, we aren't involved at all these days. So in effect by bending over backwards to bring the America's Cup 2024 to Ireland, they're turning Cork Harbour into a sort of "Sailing Wimbledon", in which the locals don't get a look-in at all during the serious action.

MAKE IT A TOTALLY CORK THING

Nevertheless, when faced with the almost-boyish enthusiasm of the group promoting the idea of bringing AC37 to Cork, it's tempting to look at it another way. By all means, go ahead, but make it a Cork thing. The Port of Cork has been developing steadily into an entirely new and efficient infrastructure for several decades. In the bigger picture of Port of Cork expansion and expenditure, the addition of an America's Cup hub would not involve an unfeasible amount of money when seen within the Cork – or perhaps the all-Munster – context.

So maybe the rest of Ireland is really thinking: "America's Cup in Cork Harbour? Grand idea, lads. Feel free to go right ahead, and we'll cheer you on. But please realise it'll be your own money. However, after it's all over, you'll be entitled to all the credit. Go for it!"

The former Verolme Cork Dockyard – perhaps it could be best re-developed as an America's Cup hub using local resources?The former Verolme Cork Dockyard – perhaps it could be best re-developed as an America's Cup hub using local resources?

Stranger things have happened in providing America's Cup hubs – just ask them in Perth, Australia. But if the Cork infrastructural project does shape up, let's be clear the problems may be only beginning. As Marcus Hutchinson – who has been involved in the running of five America's Cups – pointed out in a fascinating interview on Afloat.ie with Lorna Siggins, if it's staged at the height of the 2024 summer, it will be head-to-head for publicity with the Paris Olympics, where the sailing will be at Marseille.

Global attention is the lifeblood of the AC37 proposal. And if it's put back to 2025, the big one that year will be the Centenary Fastnet Race. But nevertheless in both 2024 and 2025, there'll be room for another big world-wide interest sailing event. But there's another factor that really needs attention, and that's the Irish weather. For sure we have climate change taking place, but it remains a fact that Irish summers can serve up whole weeks of grim meteorological conditions.

Cork Harbour as it can be on a perfect summer's. Nevertheless it has to be remembered that this is further from the Equator than any previous America's Cup locationCork Harbour as it can be on a perfect summer's. Nevertheless it has to be remembered that this is further from the Equator than any previous America's Cup location

The reality is that, except for the initial race won by the schooner America round the Isle of Wight in 1851, no America's Cup series has been staged at a location further from the Equator than 41.5 degrees of latitude. Yet when the world's top sailors do the Fastnet Race, they reckon they're virtually in the Arctic as they round the Rock, and Cork Harbour is even further away at 51.9N, even if by Irish standards we reckon it's in the deep south.

In the midst of all the turmoil which these factors are engendering, certain heavy hitters who have winning the America's Cup very firmly in their sights have been busy, and none more so than the British Ineos Britannia campaign headed by Ben Ainslie and backed by Ineos, the chemicals company.

Immediately after the previous series, the Britannia group as Challengers of Record were proposing a straight match event for AC37 between themselves and Team New Zealand, to be sailed from Cowes, but that didn't get very far. Yet what is more interesting is that while other teams fall away, Britannia is beefing itself up.

Although its challenge will have the Union Jack wrapped round it in the usual conspicuous display, it could more accurately be described as the Austro-Germano-English Challenge, as they've linked up with Mercedes genius Toto Wolff – who is Austrian – so the technical might of his Mercedes Formula 1 team with its roots in Germany is now into the equation, and the Ainslie challenge has more highly technical constructional and performance expertise to draw on than maybe all the other potential challengers combined.

Toto Wolff of Mercedes – a very impressive addition to the resources of the Ineos Britannia challengeToto Wolff of Mercedes – a very impressive addition to the resources of the Ineos Britannia challenge

All of which makes it a very brief time-span to 2024, and further increases the pressure on Ireland to make a positive input. In view of the commercial and prestige advantages which will supposedly accrue, you would expect that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment would be actively involved, and the best brains of the Department of Finance too.

But in fact it's just that one extraordinary portmanteau setup, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport & Media (foreign readers please note, we're not making this up) which has the first and last decision on this AC37 proposal.

The Department is headed by the personable Green TD Catherine Martin. To get some idea of the challenges and decisions which this uniquely Irish Government Department places on its Minister's desk, on Thursday Catherine Martin had the final call on whether or not night-clubs would be allowed to fully re-open, notwithstanding the newly-rising COVID-19 figures.

She gave the night-clubs the go-ahead despite opinions to the contrary voiced by many medical experts. Then yesterday she may well have been giving further consideration to the proposal to spend money around Cork Harbour in order to facilitate the staging of a specialist sailing extravaganza which will see the harbour over-run with superyachts and the super-rich in all their tasteful glory.

Night-clubs and superyachts…..Was it for this that Childers and Asgard ran the guns in July 1914?

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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