June 07, 2008

The Godzilla Regata

In 1983, I watched the New York Yacht Club’s 132 year winning streak terminated by an invasion of gibbering australopithicines, who carried the America’s Cup off in triumph from Newport to their antipodean lair. It was quickly recovered by Dennis Connor, the skipper who had lost it, but in 1988, it became necessary to defend it on short notice against a New Zealand challenge. This precipitated a return to the original spirit of the race, perhaps best summed up as “Who can built the fastest yacht in the world?” within the rules, (which we reserve the right to rewrite if we feel like it)

In the 1988 case this precipitated the design and deployment in under a year of a 60 foot catamaran, a Burt Rutan carbon fiber wingsail creation which, though of exhilarating performance—I spent some hair raising hours helping keep it from becoming fully airborne, I was obliged to describe as “Resembling a pterodactyl on steroids.”

Now the landlocked Admiralty court that interprets the arcana of the 19th-century Deed Of Gift ruling the racing rulemakers has decreed another catfight. Scuttlebut has it that a matched pair of 90-foot catamarans will determine if the cup stays in Geneva, home to the Alinghi syndicate that last won it off New Zealand , or ends up back here—the current victim of America’s Cup fever being the head of Oracle, who seems to prefer power boats, since, well, he likes power.

Fortunately, paleontology has been keeping up with radical yacht design, and an even weirder Big Bird has been dug up to contend for the mascot slot in a giant wingsail catamaran regatta.  Clear the deck, pterodactyl and Quetzalosaurus fans. I’m nominating an Azharkid as the flying marine dinosaur du jour for this Americas Cup:  it sure looks the part , with strong bilateral symmetry, gnarly wing design and the fashion sense of a Siberian Gulag Commodore’s first wife. In short, like the boats, it’s built for the job, which is scaring away the competition and affording a minimum of windage for a maximum of advertising area.

But fast—this is going to be a lot more fun than watching the grass grow.

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