How Sailing Became Stirring, Stylish—and Straight-Up hot

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How Sailing Became Stirring—and Straight-Up hotcourtesy of brands

Thirty-odd years ago, British Esquire compared America’s Cup sailing to Formula 1 racing. According to our counterparts across the pond, it wasn’t only water that separated the two sports; it was also sailing’s lack of speed, excitement, and sex appeal. That was not entirely wrong. Back then, much of sail racing involved waiting for small puffs of wind to move multimillion-dollar boats above walking pace. As an exclusive sport, it left many cold. But just over a decade ago, something nearly miraculous happened.

With the advent of foiling in 2012, racing yachts gained the seemingly gravity-defying ability to rise above the surface of the water and into the air. The boats ride on thin struts called foiling arms that create lift in the water, much like an airplane wing does in the sky. Instead of chugging through the waves, these boats could suddenly fly over them. The drag of the water on the hull was reduced to almost nothing, and boat speeds rose exponentially. Sailing teams harnessed this new technology to find the perfect balance of wind and machine. Nowhere was the new technology more advanced than in the hotly contested—and hugely well-funded—America’s Cup, the oldest competitive trophy in sport.

120321 auckland nzl 36th america’s cup presented by prada america’s cup match race day 2 luna rossa prada pirelli team
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When all is in harmony, it’s quite spectacular to watch; top speeds regularly reach nearly 60 miles per hour. This may not seem fast relative to other sports, but imagine an eight-story building passing you doing 60.

When the balance is off, the results can be even more spectacular—and occasionally disastrous. This knife-edge, thrills-and-spills combination makes for great TV. Think of it as being like Formula 1 (there’s that comparison again), with all the excitement but now the added risk of drowning. Even Ferrari announced in January its intention to get into competitive yacht racing. And for the next iteration of the America’s Cup, the 37th, big fashion is in on the game, too.

Following a seven-year-long hiatus, the biggest fashion brand in the world, Louis Vuitton, is reentering the sport. As with any successful sporting event these days, there’s plenty of top-notch merch. The maison has created a Louis Vuitton Cup capsule collection, a high-fashion take on nautical style, set to hit stores in mid-July.

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Then there’s Prada, which has been connected to the America’s Cup since the ’90s. The Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli crew are kitted out in a silver-gray collaboration with Woolmark that matches the colors of their yacht, AC75, which none other than Miuccia Prada christened recently. The gear looks suitably high-tech but is, in fact, made largely from merino wool, known for its water resistance, breathability, and natural stretch. A commercial interpretation of these technical garments will be available down the line.

Belstaff, which celebrates its centenary this year, is a sponsor of Sir Ben Ainslie’s INEOS Britannia team. Ainslie is the most successful sailor in Olympic history. To mark the occasion, the British brand has created a futuristic, performance-heavy capsule­, the Belstaff Challenger Collection, available in stores in mid-June.

Timing is everything in the America’s Cup, and watches have long been closely involved with the competition as both team and overall sponsors. Omega is the official timekeeper of the America’s Cup in 2024 and also sponsors the Emirates Team New Zealand. Tudor is on board with Alinghi Red Bull Racing, the Swiss challenger, which has won the cup twice, in 2003 and 2007. The Italian maker Panerai is, logically enough, the watch sponsor of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and in April launched a whole family of watches inspired by the team as part of its beefy Submersible line.

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The America’s Cup has been the graveyard of personal fortunes and national pride since the first race in 1851. That year, 15 yachts of the Royal Yacht Squadron raced against a single adversary, the New York Yacht Club’s 93-foot schooner America, around the Isle of Wight in the English Channel with Queen Victoria looking on. America won. Ever since, the trophy has been known as the America’s Cup, the word Americadenoting the ship rather than the country. It has been won by other countries just seven times. From 1851 to 1980, the United States fended off all comers.

But new technology on the water is shaking up the rankings and making the America’s Cup more competitive than ever, while cutting-edge digital coverage on TV is making it more compelling—and easier to watch, too. Of course, there’s no substitute for being there. The excitement kicks off on August 22 in Barcelona and runs all the way until the final race in October. But if you can’t be there to drink in the carnival atmosphere, the racing will be live streamed on the official America’s Cup site as well as a bunch of sports channels.

Speed? Check. Excitement? Check. Sex appeal? Check.

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