Lipton Cup Classes for 2019 and 2020 – Facts, Figures & Sage Commentary

By Roy Dunster

As you’re aware, the class for future Lipton Cup regattas is up for review and, of course, there’s a debate about whether the L26 should be dropped / what the new class should be. It’s worth reviewing some facts about the Cup.

1. In 2016 at RCYC, there were 15 boats with 4 of those from out of Cape Town (RNYC, LDYC, KYC and PNYC). RCYC won every race with HBYC 2nd in 3 out of 4 of them. RNYC was the best placed visitor in 4th overall.

2. In 2017 at RCYC, 11 teams participated, only 1 of which was from outside Cape Town. That sole out-of-town entry was LDYC (4th overall). No teams from KZN or the Eastern Cape were present. The event was effectively a 2-boat regatta with only RCYC and HBYC winning races. The end result was settled in RCYC’s favour when HBYC retired from Race 3 – as you might know, Lipton is a no-discard event.

3. In 2018, RCYC graciously gave the opportunity to host Lipton to PYC. 17 teams (from the Cape, Gauteng and KZN with one “flag of convenience” from PE) entered, but 1 boat (RCYC) won 4 out of the 5 races, losing Race 1 by just 7 seconds.

Significantly, over 1/3 of the fleet was unable to finish within the time limit in Races 1 and 5. In other words, they could not finish within 30 minutes of the winner in races which took the leading boat about 2 ½ and 3 ½ hours respectively. Various DNSs, RETs and DNFs also meant that only 2 races had more than 12 finishers.

4. Lipton Cup was gifted by Sir Thomas Lipton in 1909. Sir Thomas was a 5-times challenger for the Americas Cup and, like the Americas Cup, the Lipton Cup is held in the nominated waters of the previous year’s winner. There’s a substantial incentive to win – defending in your home waters is generally easier / cheaper than having to travel to compete against your opposition.
a. The association with Lipton, the Deed of Gift and the impressive trophy (one of the oldest in South African sport) should also give the event enormous prestige.

5. In the past, the regatta has been able to attract the best sailors in the country – that’s probably why people still want to compete in it today.

However, it’s inarguable that the quality of the racing now isn’t comparable to what it used to be like. At the moment, it seems to attract “participants” as opposed to “competitors”. While the “participants” might like the opportunity to sail because they are aware of the event’s history, most of the really good sailors don’t see the challenge and direct their attention elsewhere. Racing against a large fleet of badly prepared teams that can’t even finish in the time limit isn’t, actually, challenging or even fun.

To address the alternatives at the moment:
• The argument for keeping the L26 is that there’s an existing national fleet so that’s a way of guaranteeing participation. Of course, that explains why only one out-of-Cape Town boat made it to RCYC in 2017… . The truth is that the boats are over 30 years old and, while they might have been cool to sail in the 1980s, few good sailors really want to do so now. However, they could have a useful 2nd life as a development / youth keelboat class country-wide (exactly as the Trustees are proposing if the Cape 31 is used in 2019). You can buy a well-kitted out L26 for less than the cost of a new Laser.

• The J22 feels a bit more modern than the L26 but, in reality, was designed in 1983, just 5 years after the L26. It has a successful class association in South Africa, but almost all the boats are Gauteng-based and, with the occasional exception (usually around the time of RSA-based World Champs) fleets in coastal centres have never grown beyond 1 or 2 boats. There is a debate about whether you can buy a new boat in South Africa – having access to “most of” the moulds is quite different to actually having yachts in production.

• The first Cape 31 was launched in 2017 and is a completely up-to-date boat designed by one of the world’s best designers with a top-quality team assembled by project sponsor, Lord Irvine Laidlaw. The builder, Uwe Jasperson, is producing 1 boat a month and, although the class has not extended out of Cape Town yet, it is attracting many of the best sailors in the country.

Now, for an interpretation of the facts:

  • Lipton currently uses a boat (the L26) which is accessible and relatively cheap:
    • However, that didn’t do much to encourage teams to travel to Cape Town in 2017.
    • It also didn’t make Durban this year much of a “competition”.
  • South Africa has lots of regattas where the standard of sailing is low, and you don’t need to put in much effort to get a relatively good result:
    • The top sailors don’t bother to attend them.
    • The regattas end up being uninteresting to sail in.
    • There’s no reason why the Lipton Cup should join their ranks. Of course, given its decline over the last few years, it’s dangerously close to doing so.
  • The reality is that it doesn’t matter what type of boat Lipton is sailed in, sailors from Cape Town will continue to win it, simply because they put together more professional campaigns:
    • The L26 isn’t levelling the playing field and, because it has so little support from good sailors at major clubs, isn’t helping to develop expert skills.
    • However, via sailing academies in Cape Town and Durban, it is being used successfully to bring new people into sailing and give them a cost-effective keelboat experience.
  • According to this article (READ IT HERE):
    Gauteng has close to 50% of RSA’s US$ millionaires while KZN has about 10% of them (+-3400). Given that sailing is meant to be a prestigious sport and yacht clubs in both centres are long-established and have great facilities, it seems remarkable that they don’t think they have members wealthy enough to fund and sail R2.5m boats. Maybe their General Committees should be asking “Why?”
    If the Lipton class debate is all about “accessibility” and low cost, we should be sailing it in Hunters – they’re certainly seaworthy enough.

However, if the Lipton Cup is a halo event for sailing in South Africa, the focus should be on making it appealing for the best sailors to race against each other on interesting, fast, media-friendly, modern boats. At the moment, that only leaves the Cape 31 as the alternative. Hopefully the clubs will vote to move the event and the sport forward, as opposed to opting for the stagnating status quo.

The threat to the Lipton Cup isn’t expensive boats which, in the short-term, might reduce its accessibility. Rather, it’s the possibility of it turning into just another mediocre event which, literally, anyone can win because the best sailors don’t bother to pitch up. Its appeal is due to its historical ability to attract the stars of South African sailing and its future depends on us ensuring now that it continues to do so.