Stevie Morrison, the former British Olympian and world champion sailor, says he cannot wait to see his sport’s “heavyweights” sparring in the America’s Cup this week, live on Sky Sports.
Morrison, who competed in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics in the 49er category, is one of many sailors around the world with their eyes fixed on New Zealand.
The 36th America’s Cup match will take place in March next year and before then, there’s a thrilling lead up which includes the PRADA Challenger Selection Series and this week’s PRADA America’s Cup World Series Auckland and the PRADA Christmas Race.
- 36th America’s Cup: All you need to know
Emirates Team New Zealand, who set the parameters and chose the location for this edition of the Cup, are the defenders of the Auld Mug.
Then, there are three challengers – INEOS TEAM UK, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team and New York Yacht Club’s American Magic – vying to take them on in March.
36th America’s Cup – Live on Sky Sports
“I cannot wait for these opening races,” Morrison told Sky Sports. “They mark the start of the competitive racing leading towards the 36th America’s Cup match and for so many, myself included, the America’s Cup is the most important thing in sailing.
“These boats are a bit like heavyweight boxers; you don’t get to see them going against each other very often, until it’s crunch time.
“Now, although it’s not quite crunch time in this America’s Cup, that comes in January-February during the selection series and then again in March, these races are like really intense sparring sessions between competitors. A little preview show, if you like!”
Morrison, who sailed a boat called a 49er at the Olympic Games, can remember first watching (and loving) the America’s Cup as a child. He recalls the 1987 match between Stars & Stripes 87 as the challenger and Kookaburra III as the defender.
In that match, Dennis Conner led Stars & Stripes 87 to victory during a best-of-seven final series. Both boats were 12 metres in size and reached top speeds of around 10 knots (11.5mph).
Kia ora, honoured to be welcomed by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei at the dawn blessing and official event opening ceremony. #ACWSAuckland pic.twitter.com/NBuYGEdFOI
This time around, the teams’ AC75s are 75ft in length and will reach speeds of around 60mph, while flying a few metres above the water.
“The developments that have been made are unbelievable. If you said to someone back then, where we’d be now, they wouldn’t have been able to get their head around it!” said Morrison.
“Despite reaching these incredible speeds and foiling out of the water, you are absolutely still sailing.”
He added: “It’s still a risk management, decision-making sport and that decision-making is happening at lightning speeds, in 3D!
“Before, you were on the surface of the water and you could control the sails, the angle that you put the boat to the wind – they were the fundamentals.
“Now, you still choose the angle and control the sails, but you’re also processing and deciding on how high and when you come up out of the water.
With such advanced boats, filled with state-of-the-art technology and being made out of cutting-edge materials, it can be easy to forget about the human power involved with them.
Morrison, who has sailed with Sir Ben Ainslie and Peter Burling, is equally excited to see what these masters of the sport are going to bring out there on the water.
“It is still a sailing race and these teams all have seriously talented helmsmen, tacticians and sailors on them.
“They also have some incredibly fit individuals in their ranks; on each boat there are eight people who are effectively there as ‘human machines’, the grinders. It’s not surprising that on Emirates Team New Zealand’s boat they have an Olympic medallist in kayaking and on INEOS TEAM UK’s boat, a gold medallist rower.
“It’s a whole team effort. A lot of people liken America’s Cup sailing to F1, but I feel it’s a lot harder than F1 because of the greater number of variables. Did I mention that these variables, including the wind, are ever-changing and can’t be controlled?!”
Morrison knows sailing like the back of his hand, he’s competed at the highest level for his country and has a family history within the sport, as father Phil is a British yacht designer, involved with some British America’s Cups, and a racer.
With Ainslie spearheading the British charge, and with live coverage of every enthralling race live on Sky Sports, Morrison believes that new fans will enter the sport and become engrossed.
“America’s Cup racing is F1, in 3D, powered by nature,” he said.
“This will be something people have never seen before. The faster that these boats are going, the more stable they are. However, that increase in speed, also means that they’re closer to crashing!”
“Effectively you’re going to watch seven tonnes of boat, sail and machinery, balancing on four metres of carbon fibre and that’s all moving at speeds of around 60mph.
“The crew on board are working with that environment as their norm and are constantly trying to make decisions with cool heads. Ultimately, it’s one-on-one out there between teams and there’s no second place and nowhere to hide.”
The road to the final America’s Cup match starts with the PRADA America’s Cup World Series Auckland and the PRADA Christmas Race, which starts on Sky Sports Mix from 2am on Thursday.
“I believe that we’re going to see a really truthful reflection of where these teams are at,” Morrison added.
“Every member of every crew out there does not like to lose. I think they’ll want to push and find their opponents’ limitations, and the only way that you can do that is to push yourself.
“The beauty of the America’s Cup game is that all of these teams will continue to develop beyond this week too. They will develop right up until the last race that they sail and that means we’ve got a great period ahead of us, right the way through until the ‘big dance’ in March next year.”
Watch every moment of the America’s Cup challenge, live on Sky Sports. Coverage starts with the America’s Cup World Series on Thursday from 2am on Sky Sports Mix.
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