If you haven’t been paying attention to America’s Cup yacht racing—and from prelim event TV numbers and our own readership data on yachting stories, we know you haven’t—you’re missing what promises to be the second most exciting sportscast on TV this weekend. (Even I can’t argue with the 49ers vs. Seahawks.)
It’s true. Last weekend, after yet another Kuiper “and that’s the ballgame” call of a Giants loss, I channel-surfed over to the NBC Sports Network, where the racing hooked me almost immediately. Let me be clear: I detest almost everything about yachting—the wealth, the outsized America’s Cup economic impact projections that feel like fraud, my own personal inclination toward seasickness. Yet. As a televised sport, the America’s Cup is simply astounding.
Imagine the speed and close proximity of NASCAR racing, but instead of cars there are speeding skyscrapers—outfitted with trampolines. Add to it the swirl of the biggest, baddest race factor of all: mother nature, with her winds and tides.
Yes, there has been controversy over rule changes. And it has been a Kiwi blowout. And Larry Ellison is clearly a Bond Villain. But flip around to the NBC Sports Network this weekend (1:15pm each day), and you’ll see what I'm talking about. Namely:
The furious hand-pedaling. It’s done by guys called “grinders,” who look like linebackers when “griding,” but like ballet dancers when they hustle across the trampoline thingy to tend the hand pedals on the other catamaran when “tacking.” I now have respect for the athleticism required to manage these 131-foot-tall behemoths.
The close calls. In NASCAR parlance, it’s called “tradin’ paint.” In yachting, apparently, as you’ll see at 1:01 in this video, it’s a “dramatic high-speed dial down!” Still, it’s pretty remarkable to watch.
That torquing noise. It may simply be the melody of a sail or rudder change, but I envision it as the dramatic torque of the catamarans. Either way, the onboard cameras capture this periodic pulse that sounds like an elephant playing a vuvuzela—and it makes every moment feel more important.
The TV graphics. Watch down at the waterfront, and you’ll learn only that the boats are much bigger and faster than you expected, and that Kiwis are super cool people who love to party. But watch on TV, and you get speeds down to the 10th of a knot, plus superimposed hash marks, boundaries, and current arrows—it looks downright like a sports field. And there’s the time difference clock, so you actually know who’s winning.
Granted, the Kiwis will probably close out their sweep this weekend and—if you watch even a few minutes of the action—you’ll see that they deserve it. But even if our unloved hometown team goes down ignominously, the whole damn debacle may still have been worth it, if only for providing some riveting TV.
No matter what, it beats the Giants!