The race is under way
RG: In our opinion
With yesterday’s confirmation that Bermuda will indeed serve as the venue for the 35th America’s Cup, defending champion Larry Ellison has made good on his intention to remake the venerable sailing competition in his own unconventional image.
The co-founder and chairman of software giant Oracle Corporation, the multibillionaire entrepreneur, sportsman and philanthropist became the first American cup-holder in the 163-year history of the Auld Mug to opt for a defence of the title outside the United States.
The 2017 Bermuda regatta will also be the first time that a defender has sailed the races in foreign waters by choice rather than necessity.
Mr Ellison, a whirlwind of energy, ideas and innovations, is renowned not so much for breaking rules as rewriting them in whatever field captures his interest.
So his decision to plump for Bermuda over San Diego — in theory, the more obvious and pragmatic site for the next Cup — will have come as a genuine surprise only to the yachting world’s traditionalists.
They will doubtless be crying into their Stingers tonight at yacht clubs all over the world because of yet another unorthodox move by the maverick computer mogul and two-times Cup winner to reposition high-end sailing as a sport with mass appeal rather than an elitist, exclusive pastime.
For Mr Ellison’s view of sailing is as very far removed from the hidebound world of yachting caps, brass-buttoned blazers and gaff-rigged sloops as his computer programming is from the abacus.
He sees the America’s Cup and the preliminary regattas to select the challenger to his Team Oracle USA as sailing’s answer to the Formula One World Championship, its stripped-down, aerodynamic catamarans that race over the water at speeds of up to 50mph as the seagoing equivalents of Ferrari racing cars.
It was his determination to further popularise the Cup that ultimately led Mr Ellison to Bermuda.
And, ultimately, geography played as much of a role in his choice of the Island to host this world-class mega-event and some of the lead-up selection series as did local sailing conditions, the Island’s infrastructure and its tax advantages.
Since Bermuda is ideally located for broadcasting live race coverage to both the largely untapped European market and the US East Coast, it was this factor that decisively tipped the scales in our favour.
So for the third time in less than a century, the happy accident of Bermuda’s geography has led to a genuinely transformative moment in our long Island story.
Modern tourism found us in the 1920s and 1930s when our unique accessibility drew, first, Furness-Withy’s luxury ocean liners and, later, pioneering airline operators to Bermuda, turning what was then a failed agricultural community into the destination of choice for wealthy North Americans for almost half a century.
Now, if Bermuda maximises the full potential of the America’s Cup, we are perfectly positioned to reinvent ourselves for the 21st century.
And make no mistake about it, December 2, 2014 marked a potentially watershed moment in Bermuda’s modern history.
With hundreds of millions of dollars in new infrastructure investment and revenue likely to come the Island’s way in the next few years, and tens of thousands of visitors poised to descend on the Island, the America’s Cup represents that elusive rising tide which will finally lift all boats — small craft as well as the yachts.
No matter if your interest in the water is limited to the ferry timetable or your office’s annual sunset swizzle cruise, the impact of the Cup will be felt by every Bermuda resident without exception.
From new hotel and retail developments to long overdue waterfront improvements to construction of an America’s Cup “village” and spectator seating, the world’s third most popular global sporting event will be a supercharged engine for job creation and economic growth.
After six years of economic decline and stagnation, Bermuda has now been given an unparalleled opportunity to revitalise its tourism sector and to reintroduce itself to the world as a savvy, sophisticated destination with a cosmopolitan ambience and amenities that are among the wonders of the natural world.
This is not the type of opportunity that will come our way again in any of our lifetimes and it is not one we can afford to squander.
Just as Larry Ellison is intent on remaking the America’s Cup in his image, we must remake ourselves and our Island in time for a sporting event that will capture the attention of the world and shape its view of Bermuda for years to come.
Buckle up your safety harnesses, Bermuda. The America’s Cup may not begin until 2017, but for us the real race got under way yesterday.
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