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Soup of This Day #316: Dying, Forever Trying

June 3, 2013

Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle
The Western Australian Maritime Museum is now the dry dock for some notable vessels in Australian maritime history, including HMAS Ovens, an Oberon class submarine, Parry Endeavour, solo-sailor John Sanderson’s yacht, and Australia II, with its Ben Lexcen-designed winged keel – Photo: Greg O’Beirne, 2004. Greg O’Beirne is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I like the idea of sailing, of harnessing the zephyrs and of riding the flows.

I do not like the reality of sailing at all though. I could simply say that it is because I get seasick but that’s like explaining that a fish out of water has difficulties because it has no legs for land. The truth is that I get sick just watching boats bob up and down. I haven’t fully tested this but it’s quite possible that I’d even get sick looking at a painting of a boat – It’d be like that whole the-eyes-are-following-me-in-that-painting effect, only with a static boat not rolling on unmoving waves.

While we’re on the former – The gang in Scooby Doo often had to contend with eyes in paintings and other ghostly happenings. They were smart kids though and with a healthy dose of scepticism (Usually from the bookish Velma) always ended up exposing the mystery as a hoax, the work of nefarious criminals and charlatans.

Yet they have a talking dog in their group.

Velma: ‘Hey guys, forget that Cthulhu over there – Science and previous form tells us that it’s a rubberised fake, most likely created by a disgruntled former employee with a Lovecraft obsession going on. Instead let’s check out the ‘dog’ whose command of human language surpasses even some members of Congress. Plus I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him driving the van. That last bit is only ok in New Zealand.’

I can’t remember if I’ve shown this before but even if I have it’s worth a 2nd look. God does surely defend you New Zealanders, you beautiful souls.

Meanwhile there is no mystery regarding my seasickness and not even the wonderfully innovative folk from New Zealand could help me I reckon. I’ve pretty much always got motion sickness – I can’t sit in the back seat of a moving car, airplane travel is a problem for me (and anyone unfortunate enough to sit next to me if I’ve not had my Scooby Snacks – If ya know what I mean) and carnival rides are just not my cup of tea.

Especially that 1 that has those large spinning tea cups that you sit in. I like my cups of tea to be stable and inside me. Not so much spinning and with me inside them.

Still I can’t help be drawn to the idea of sailing. It’s the travelling slow thing – The idea that in this modern world where everything is expected to be instantaneous, that you can go on a boat which is only as fast as the breeze is blowing, is idyllic. It’s working in harmony with the planet too – Running… no… walking with the elements, binding human and nature together.

And consequently it’s the kind of walking that’s cool – It’s like Olympic walking would be if they did the whole race moonwalking – Anachronistic but somehow relevant and now.

Until the America’s Cup buggers it all up.

The America’s Cup is a yachting contest that is the Holy Grail to the sailing community. It is not, as the name suggests, purely for those in America – Instead it gets its name from the 1st yacht to win it, America, a mercenary schooner which won the Royal Yacht Squadron’s annual regatta around the Isle of Wight in 1851. The awarded trophy was donated to the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) in 1857 along with a deed setting down the conditions for a regular international challenge. The trophy subsequently became known as the America’s Cup and taking that name seriously America’s NYYC successfully defended the trophy against a global list of challengers until 1983.

That’s a 126 year streak so fair enough on the naming rights.

Strangely enough that exclusivity just made the trophy more desirable and increasing amounts of effort were put into challenging for the Cup. By 1970 there were multiple challengers and a separate regatta had to be arranged to work out who would take on the NYYC.

And then in 1983 Australia II, representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club (RPYC) finally took the Cup away from the US, defeating the defending (and in hindsight, ironically-named) Liberty 4-3 in the 7 race series, having come back from 0-2 and then 1-3 down. The key to these rallies and subsequent triumph was the revolutionary winged keel that Australia II sported, and that was declaimed as cheating (by some Americans) and acclaimed as brilliant (by everyone else).

This was big news here in Australia – It ranks as 1 of our greatest sporting triumphs, even inspiring our then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, who had watched the deciding race from Claremont, here in Western Australia, to proclaim that:

‘Any boss who sacks anybody for not turning up today is a bum.’

Yep, our Prime Minister gave us the freedom to skive off work for the day in order to celebrate us beating Liberty.

We should have named our next boat Irony.

We didn’t though, and at the 1st America’s Cup defence to be held outside of US waters, the RPYC let loose Kookaburra III off Fremantle. Sadly for us Western Australian folk Kookaburras aren’t sea-going birds and the US took back the Cup via Stars & Stripes.

And we stopped caring. Partly because once you’ve ended that whole 126 year streak then job done. Sure it would have been nice to successfully defend it but we got lots of tourists to Western Australia and pumped some much needed dollars into Fremantle, so we’re all cool down here.

I even got a free America’s Cup 1987 sun visor which I wore to victory in the Beverley District High School Cross Country of 1990. Which was even better than if we had successfully defended the actual America’s Cup, at least for me.

And probably only me.

Our apathy was also because the America’s Cup just got weird after that. It was like a kid who had been sheltered until his late teens but then discovers that he likes beer. Sure the initial blast is good but thereafter things get progressively wilder and before you know it, you’re overcomplicating a simple formula and walking the entertainment district clad from the waste down only in Mr Happy boxer shorts.

I regret nothing.

That’s what happened to the America’s Cup – Overcome by the sudden rush of interest governing officials overcomplicated a simple formula – Match racing in relatively simple 12m yachts. Soon there were gross mismatches, with multi-hulled science experiments outclassing pure sailing. And then Switzerland won the Cup, via a crew of what appeared to be New Zealanders, but Switzerland is land-locked and so they had to defend off Valencia in Spain. Which is confusing, but all of that is topped by this:

According to the voice-over it starts in ‘displacement mode’ – Which is what everyone else calls ‘normal boat @#$% mode’.

That is an AC72 class boat, the new America’s Cup standard. It has a semi-rigid wing sail and foils that can lift the catamaran out of the water in some conditions. The whole leads to some serious velocity, with these 26m, 6 tonne monsters going at up to 4 times the speed of the prevailing winds.

That’s not so much working with nature as it is exploiting it, using it for wild time but then not calling the next day. And consequently it’s dangerous, right out on the ragged edge.

Maybe even over the edge, as in pitchpoled over it. Because that’s what happened to Oracle Team USA 17 in October of 2012. And then to Sweden’s Artemis Racing AC72 in May of this year, this time with the loss of a crew member’s life.

So the America’s Cup feels like it’s lost its way – It has gone from harnessing the zephyrs and riding the flows, to enslaving the winds and attacking every eddy. It is no longer idyllic or in harmony with the environment, but is instead an extreme advert for the modern world it once gently challenged.

It’s not for me, in seasickness or in health.

Ironically those AC72 torpedoes though could cure my seasickness – I figure if I was strapped to 1 I’d be so scared out of my mind that I’d hardly notice the wave motion.

Dying, Forever Trying

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