The Television Treatment for Sailing: The America's Cup is employing a series of ambitious augmented reality graphics to explain pro sailing to the television audience.
Why sailors will have to stop swearing like sailors for the next America's Cup
Weighing in at 32.4 pounds, the America's Cup trophy arrives at events carried by two men in navy blazers and white gloves.
The sterling-silver ewer, made by the London jeweler Garrard, is nearly 4 feet tall, decorated with flying scrolls, and engraved with details from each race since 1851.
Let's be honest: It doesn't smack of egalitarianism.
New technology will allow America's Cup TV viewers to see details like the course boundary (in red) and finish line (in black and white)
Fifteen years ago an irate New Zealander significantly changed the cup's appearance with a sledgehammer, and it was repaired.
So the oldest trophy in international sports is actually more mutable and modern than it looks. As is the competition itself.
Organizers determined to defuse sailing's snooty image and draw bigger crowds have, this time, reimagined everything—from broadcasting to boats.
It takes guts to overhaul something so ancient.
The technical challenge is precisely determine the exact position, orientation, and movement of the new high-tech racing catamarans, and then overlay that data along with computed distances and laylines to the marks on the race course onto video being shot from helicopters over the racecourse – in real time so it can be provided to broadcasters for live television coverage.
The 34th America's Cup next year in San Francisco Bay will be raced in AC72s, a brand-new wingsailed, multihull boat.
There hasn't been such a radical redesign in two decades, if ever.
The 2013 match will also be the first that's truly visible, both physically (we'll be able to watch the whole race from land) and in spirit.
They've decided to use technology to make real-time race decisions and competitor progress transparent to fans.
"It's taken 160 years to reach some of these quite obvious conclusions," Russell Coutts, chief executive and helmsman of Oracle Racing, told me.
"This industry was so secretive before."
Boats are fitted with KVH CNS-5000,
used to determine the position and orientation of the raceboats on the course
Now sailing is getting less opaque and more nimble, onboard and off.
July 1 is the first day that Sweden, New Zealand, France, Italy, Korea and the defender of the cup, Oracle Team USA, are allowed to launch their 72-foot-long catamarans into the bay, to start practicing for next year—and these new cats can go 40 knots.
That's almost 50 miles per hour.
A system that will bring excitement and understanding for covering the America’s Cup yacht race
Superimposing geo-positioned graphics and data streams over live race video, LiveLine "paints" virtual boundary, finish and ahead-and-behind lines on the water during a broadcast.
This live-televised technology was pioneered with hockey in 1996, to track the puck.
Then came the yellow first-down line in football, the virtual strike zone in baseball and Nascar tracking.
It's a bit trickier applied to sailing, with video shot from a moving helicopter.
But LiveLine's GPS can still track the America's Cup boats to within 2 centimeters.
LiveLine constantly adjusts for hue, too (water color fluctuates in a way AstroTurf does not), recognizing what is fluid and what isn't, to avoid "painting" a line over a boat or a buoy.
"To a guy like Russell, he probably gets less out of LiveLine," says Stan Honey, director of technology for the America's Cup Event Authority, who developed the system.
Great sportsmen already have a sixth sense for how close they are to the turn mark or out-of-bounds line: "They can't see it, but they know where it is."
LiveLine is not for them.
It's for us lay sailors and landlubbers, to give us a taste of that acute athletic instinct.
The feeling that we could win.
Making sailing more accessible is the right way to go—even if organizers are making a virtue out of necessity.
Elitism, from sports to politics to education, doesn't sell any more.
And, of course, sailing's reputation has been alternately pompous and perilous, sometimes both.
(Percy Bysshe Shelley lauded the sport—and drowned in Ariel, a boat he helped to design.)
Beyond the clichés, though, sailing teaches you not to overthink or oversail, but to adapt.
Can the organizers actually do that?
Rebrand not just a contest but a whole sport?
Will they charm the international new guard, without alienating the old?
I was at the black-tie 150th-anniversary party of the America's Cup, just a decade ago, at Queen Victoria's Osborne House.
It was really fun, not revolutionary.
Have things changed that much?
Consider perhaps the riskiest innovation yet.
The new boats are now dotted with high-quality microphones to transmit onboard race conversations to fans on land.
And in next year's match finals and the World Series leading up to them (like this weekend's in Newport, R.I.), races will be streamed on YouTube and many televised by 19 broadcasters, including NBC (U.S.), Canal+ (France), and Star (U.K.). Live.
So Oracle Team USA has instituted something really bold: a no-profanity policy for the entire outfit. Swear jars are now accepting both dollars and euros.
"It's changed the culture relatively quickly," says Mr. Honey.
And surely, if sailors can stop swearing like sailors, then anything is possible.