The Boater’s Eye: Sailor, Redefined

I sit shocked and dumbfounded after reading the 19.9 online version of WIRED magazine, which features an excellent article on America’s Cup 2013—the people, the boats and the event itself.

Concept drawings of AC45 and AC72. Used with permission 2011 Copyright America’s Cup Media/America’

Author Adam Fisher documents an event involving myriad elements, including big bucks, high-tech boatbuilding, supersized egos and yes, even sailboat racing. The high-tech focus of the article comes in a few parts. As many of you know, Oracle founder Larry Ellison (aka “Larry E.”) is bankrolling the race and the computer technology being used to design the AC45s, soon to be AC72s. (For those unfamiliar with the sport, the “AC” stands for America’s Cup, and the number indicates the length in feet, not meters.) The test boats are 45’ in length and have a crew of 5, and they positively fly over the water. In some cases, they fly off the water, flip over and dump the crew into the drink. The 72’ boats will need 11 sailors each to handle them.

AC45 skippered by Spithill, get air as she trims her head sail. Used with permission 2011 Copyright America’s Cup Media/America’

Thankfully, it seems that Larry E. has eliminated much of the crap that nearly destroyed the Cup. AC 2013 has ushered in a number of clever changes. For instance, yachts are racing against yachts, not egos vs. egos. Technology is being used in an integrated fashion, with as much thought being given to the viewing and coverage of the event as to the yachts themselves.

But here’s where the story grows dark. In fact, it gets downright insulting—film noire on the digital screen, stormy sea, omninous nimbus clouds—get the picture? Fisher notes a key change in the event: the terminology being used to describe the race and its participants. Starting now, “sailors” are to be called “athletes,” “yachts” to be called “boats,” the “syndicates” to be called “teams,” “protocol” to be known as “rules”. The list goes on.

Skippers Coutts and Spithill train on identical AC 45’s on San Diego Bay. Used with permission 2011 Copyright America’s Cup Media/America’

Just as I was getting used to being called a sailor, or in some instances a yachtsman (being PC, a “yachtsperson”), I apparently need to rearrange my self-image and cope with an identity change being imposed upon me. I am a sailor, not an athlete (although I acknowledge that good sailors are often athletic). A sailor is what I am, and me wishes to be called a sailor.

To fight back, I will give you something that Larry E. has not given me or the many thousands who still cherish being called sailors: a choice. I propose a vote. Decide which name you prefer—sailor or athlete—and let me know via email at I will tabulate the results and publish them in my next blog. Include the word “sailor” or “athlete” in the subject line, and I’ll take care of the rest.

Do it soon, as I’m sure Tom Richardson, the publisher of this wonder of online journalism—once he fully understands what I have written—will send me in first-class splendor to cover the America’s Cup from now until the final canon shot.

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