High-Tech Boats Make Waves At America's Cup

Some American yachts in the prestigious sailing race are so advanced, few can compete. Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Susan Stamberg talks with NPR's Mike Pesca about boat races, and about a little bit of football math.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:

Slow season for sports? Not one bit. It is the season for that favorite activity of couch potatoes - yacht racing. Also, in another elegant sporting arena, some unexpected lessons at this year's Dallas Cowboys training camp. Our teacher on all this, NPR's Mike Pesca. Hiya, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hi. Yachts and the Cowboys. That goes so well together.

STAMBERG: Yeah. So, the America's Cup right now - that's the prestigious yacht sail-off -and it seems that some of the racing boats are making some very serious waves, yes?

PESCA: Yeah - or not, as the case may be. It's kind of a disaster. In fact, there, you know, were supposed to be, or they had hoped - organizers had hoped - eight to 10 yachts would be involved and different countries would be able to field teams. But we have to understand why there are only four yachts racing. And in fact, one of these, the Swedish team, is not even up to speed. And so far, all the preliminaries in what's called the Louis Vuitton races, have not raced against each other. They just race against the wind.

STAMBERG: Well, what's going on?

PESCA: Well, the winner of the America's Cup gets to set the rules for the next year. So, America won it in 2010, and Larry Ellison, who's the billionaire from Oracle who runs the America's Cup team, says here is what the rules are going to be. And he decreed that the boats that would sail in this race would be these space-aged metal fix-sail things. He said they wouldn't foil. They foiled. To get one of these things - and the technology's really hard to come by, only a few people know how to make them - costs like $100 million. This precludes a lot of countries from being in the race. They had hoped China would be in. They had hoped Latin America would be in - emerging countries. No. It's only Sweden, whose boat has suffered a disaster when a crew member died in May and Italy and New Zealand and the United States is waiting to see among those who will be able to face it in what to a lot of purists or even casual race watchers say doesn't really look like sailing.

STAMBERG: Wow, wow. It actually sounds a little like boat doping. The foiling, that comes from hydro-foiling. Is that what that is?

PESCA: Yeah, yeah. And then they achieve air. If you look at them, they look - one of the "Star Trek" sequels - I think it was number four - was about whales in San Francisco. And the Enterprise would come in and out of the water, and that's what it looks like a little bit, a spaceship. They're going so fast. I actually spoke with an editor of VSail, a magazine, named Pierre Orphanidis. And I talked to him in Lisbon because there were more yachtsmen there than there are in San Francisco - like I said, only four teams competing - and he said people are just so depressed and so down on what the America's Cup has become, just because yachting is not exactly an un-elitist sport, but it has gone the realm of only billionaires need apply.

STAMBERG: And it's making the sport less safe, did you say?

PESCA: Yeah. There was a death and deaths happen all the time. So, perhaps we can't directly correlate it to the speed of the boat, but a lot of structural engineers say at those speeds there's so much tension on the hull that they can come apart. And, you know, when you're going that fast and you're going in water it can be dangerous.

STAMBERG: So, your curveball this week, please. Something about football, geometry?

PESCA: Yeah. At the Dallas Cowboys training camp, their head coach disclosed that he was discussing the Pythagorean Theorem with his receivers.

JASON GARRETT: If you're doing it from 10 yards inside and running to that same six yards, that's the hypotenuse of that right triangle. It's longer.

STAMBERG: Give me a break.

PESCA: Yeah. He was telling - he told, for instance, Miles Austin, listen, if you line up a few yards past where you're supposed to be, you're going to be running the hypotenuse instead of the leg of the triangle. So, we all know that A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared. You're running a longer distance.

STAMBERG: It's wonderful. Thank you. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks a lot.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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