Andrew Carline: Coutts has done sailing a great favour

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Sir Russell has done for the sport what T20 did for cricket, making it enjoyable to the wider public.

Russell Coutts holds the cup aloft after beating Prada 5-0 in the 2000 America's Cup Challenge series. It's hard to see cup racers returning to slower monohulls. Photo / APN
Russell Coutts holds the cup aloft after beating Prada 5-0 in the 2000 America's Cup Challenge series. It's hard to see cup racers returning to slower monohulls. Photo / APN

A friend of mine recounted a story to me a few years ago - he was hosting an American company executive for a few days and had decided to take him to a one-day cricket international at Eden Park. It was a New Zealand vs Australia match, which was one of those very exciting games where it all came down to the final few balls being bowled before a result was known (I believe New Zealand won that particular match).

Afterwards, my friend asked his American colleague what he thought of the match, to which the American responded, "It was great, but do you guys have a short version of this game?"

Of course this was funny at the time, as the ODI was the short version of the game, but several years later the advent of T20 has compressed the entire cricket concept down to just a few short hours and, it would seem, gained huge worldwide appeal as a result.

As I sat on the edge of my seat yesterday morning watching Emirates Team New Zealand racing Oracle Team USA in the giant AC72 catamarans, I was struck by just how truly exciting this America's Cup has been as a spectator sport.

Sir Russell Coutts' vision was undoubtedly something like what we are finally seeing as an audience (after the disappointing racing of the Louis Vuitton event) - high-speed, high-excitement, high-danger racing over a comparatively short time frame. The proximity of the course to the San Francisco shoreline also is a major bonus for the viewing public.

Now don't get me wrong - I am a sailing purist, an avid America's Cup follower since the Auld Mug was first wrested off the old boys at the New York Yacht Club back in 1983 by the radical Australia II. I have followed every campaign since then, watched every race that I was able to watch on television, or when it was over here, live on the water.

I love the tactics, the ploys and the drama of a proper match-race in monohulls; the tacking duels, the downwind runs, and the bottom-mark roundings, where dropping your spinnaker in the water meant possibly losing your narrow lead to the chasing boat.

That is proper match-racing, tactical, skilled but sadly appreciated by a fairly small minority even here in sailing-mad New Zealand. But this America's Cup is something else.

You don't need to sit down for two hours before you know who is going to win a race, in fact, you can fit one in before you leave for work if you're not too far from your workplace.

You don't need to know the intricate ins and outs of sailing, about lee-bows, mast-lines and sailing your proper course.

You just need to appreciate things that go fast - and the boat that is ahead is usually the one that is going faster.

So in that way, the match-racing of days gone past is akin to test cricket - tactical, complex and adored by the people who fully understand it. But it is time-consuming and those not passionate about it may even label it boring.

What Coutts has done for sailing is what T20 has done for cricket - he has introduced mass-appeal to something that seen as arcane and uninteresting to those who were not followers.

It is not "proper" match-racing by any stretch of the imagination, in the same way that T20 is not "proper" cricket, but it sure is exciting and I can't honestly see anyone involved with America's Cup racing wanting to go back to big, heavy monohulls after this event is finally over.

Andrew Carline is an avid armchair fan and part-time sailor.

- NZ Herald

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