America’s Cup Review: Fear and Loathing in Valencia

  Editor’s Note: St. John sailor Nils Erickson, owner of the catamaran Soma in Cruz Bay, will be providing St. John Tradewinds with exclusive coverage of the 32nd America’s Cup in Valencia, Spain.

By Nils Erickson

I arrived in Valencia as a member of the Fourth Estate —albeit newly-minted.

When Valencia was picked to host the 32nd edition of the America’s Cup (AC) I knew I had to go. While checking the official AC web site I saw a link to “media accreditation,” so I applied online only to find out that I needed to be representing an accredited news organization. I met with St. John Tradewinds and submitted a letter of assignment from them.

So, in the tradition of Hunter S. Thompson, I will be your Gonzo journalist, sweet-talking my way past guards, acting professional whenever possible and just generally taking advantage of all the perks offered by the organizers of the America’s Cup.

But first some “reporting.”

The Auld Mug. The Holy Grail of sailing. Say what you will, the America’s Cup is a big deal. In the three years since Valencia was picked to host the Cup, there has been over $2.5 billion spent getting Valencia ready. That’s a “B” as in billion.  $2,500,000,000.

The Cup is about far more than money though – it’s also about free stuff! The Media Center has free food and coffee and internet!
Seriously, the event is the ultimate challenge for sailors. It is a game of technology and design. It is Shakespearean in its intrigue and ego. It is as complex in its legalities as a Grisham novel.  

The Name –

The Cup is not named after the country, but rather a boat. In 1851 the American yacht “America” was the first winner. The name of every winning yacht is inscribed on the Cup, but it will always remain the America’s Cup. The fact we had the longest winning streak in sports is now a historical footnote.

How will the U.S. team do?

They’re done.

Embarrassingly so. After spending $250 million, billionaire Larry Ellison’s team didn’t survive the “playoffs.” If you do the math, that means he spent about $10 million per race. Or $6 million per hour. Or $100,000 per minute. Or $1,700 per second.

Someone once noted that competing in the Cup is like standing in the shower tearing up $100 bills while the world watches. In Ellison’s case he couldn’t tear up money fast enough by himself.

I guess that’s why he needed a team to do it.

The Format –

Unlike most sports, the Cup winner does not compete in the “regular season.” The defending Swiss team Alinghi has not been seen racing on either of its new boats.

Cup challenger Emirates Team New Zealand on the other hand survived the “regular season” and the “playoffs.” The term “battle hardened” has been so overused here by the media as an indicator of Team New Zealand’s strength you would think it was a new type of keel.

The finals are a best-of-nine series between the two teams from June 23 to July 7 – if it takes that long.

How Much Do You Win?

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. But you get a really pretty silver cup. With that said, the winner is entitled to host the next Cup.

And there is good money in that.

In Valencia, the number of hotels has increased five-fold, the airport is new and they built a huge new port. All of which will pay off over the next several decades.

Why Spain?

Whoever wins the Cup hosts the next one, whenever they want. When the Cup was won by the Swiss, no one really wanted to race these monsters on a lake in Switzerland.

As a result, the billionaire head of the team, Ernesto Berterelli, had an Olympic-style bidding contest to host the Cup. Valencia, with an industrial wasteland of a waterfront, won the contest.

So Who’s Gonna Win?

Alinghi. Or that’s the best guess now. They have been so dominant in all the racing they’ve been seen in it is hard to imagine anyone leap-frogging them.

This is the Cup though, so who knows.

Racing gets underway June 23, and I will be sending regular updates. Look for reports on the parties and the racing. The big news here is that Duran Duran is playing the opening night. After $2.5 billion of preparation, one would think they could afford someone better. Oh well.