Ed Baird has achieved much in his illustrious sailing career, including winning the America’s Cup.
But among the trophies to elude the accomplished American sailor is the King Edward VII Gold Cup, the oldest trophy in the world for competition involving one-design yachts.
“I never won it, which was disappointing,” Baird said. “But I did win the America’s Cup.”
While the sailor never had the distinction of hoisting the Gold Cup, the event did have a profound influence on a match racing career that ultimately reached dizzying heights.
“Bermuda was the first place that I sailed in a match race, the King Edward VII Gold Cup,” Baird said. “It launched my match racing career, which I progressed all the way to America’s Cup.
“I actually came one year and did television commentary when it was very new to the on the water umpiring and those sorts of things going. I helped with the television broadcast and as I watched it really excited me.
“I worked to get invited and the next year we came back as an unseeded skipper and made our way through and finished fifth in that first event, which was very exciting.
“One of the fantastic things about that, even sailing in Hamilton Harbour, was that you just had the boats that were next to each other, and very slowly working out a lead, and then you had to defend that little lead and people could watch it happen.”
Baird won the World Match Racing championship in 1995, the same year he coached New Zealand to their first America’s Cup victory and was named United States Yachtsman of the Year.
In 1999, he skippered Young America in the Louis Vuitton series to determine the challenger for the following year’s America’s Cup, which ended in failure.
However, better fortunes awaited the sailor at the 32nd America’s Cup in 2007 as he led Swiss defender Alinghi to victory against Team New Zealand.
The 32nd America’s Cup took place in Valencia, Spain, making Alinghi the first defender to defend the “Auld Mug” in foreign waters.
History may well repeat itself when Oracle Team USA defend the America’s Cup in Bermuda next year. It will mark the first time that an American defender will defend in foreign waters, and first team to do so by choice rather than force.
“It’s a very unique situation because the venues in the United States are pretty capable of hosting the event, and yet here it is in Bermuda,” Baird said. “It is quite an interesting piece of history we are experiencing, and it’s a fantastic thing for Bermuda.
“You are going to be amazed at the publicity, the support and the many, many people that are going to come to visit the country. And, of course, if the defending team is successful, who knows, they may want to keep having it here.”
Baird has mixed views on the modern day America’s Cup.
“I think that the equipment that has been developed, the foiling catamarans and the wing sails are incredible technology and it’s definitely going to change the future of sailing,” he said. “From someone who has watched the America’s Cup since I was a little kid, and finally been part of it myself, it so dramatically now changes the racing and I’m not so excited about that side of it.
“First of all the racing is much smaller, so it puts a premium on the very first two or three things that happen at the start and after that. The racing is much more shorter, so it’s much more difficult for the trailing boat to have a chance to catch up.
“Secondly, the boats are so fast even when you go downwind your wind is coming from ahead.
“One of the wonderful things about the World Match Racing Tour and the America’s Cup in the last 30 years is that there’s a lot of encouragement by the way the course was set for the trailing boat to have a chance to pass, and that’s now more difficult. It’s not impossible, but just more difficult.
“One of the other things that was captivating when you watched cup boats race each other was that slow gaining or losing in that battle between the guys fighting on tacking and gybing. That’s all happening so fast now there’s less of it, and the battle is over very quickly. So for the person watching, you don’t get absorbed and dragged in.”
As for the controversial restrictions in certain design elements of the 50-foot wingsail foiling catamarans that the teams will race in the Great Sound next year, Baird added: “Certainly a lot of the development opportunities have been restricted and that’s going to change how the game works.
“One of the things that restricting that development does is that it allows weaker teams to have more of a chance.
“The long history of the event has been one where there was a lot of development, and that was part of the charm and excitement to find out who got it right at the end. There’s still going to be lot of development. But it’s much more in the timing, positioning and team work aspect, and there will still be some technology.
“The reality is it’s not going to be who has got the slightly smaller rudder. This is going to come down to who knows their boat, has the strongest understanding of how their equipment works, when to use what and how to work best as a team. They’re going to be the strong team at the end.”
This story appeared in The Royal Gazette on March 4, 2016.