Monday, August 17, 2009

Putting Culture into 33rd America’s Cup by Racing in Arab Dhows

Cultural Sterility
There is a cultural sterility about the 33rd racing of the America’s Cup which could well be overcome if Alinghi and BMW Oracle fought for the ‘Auld Mug’ in traditional Arab dhows on the Persian Gulf.

According to the Deed of Gift, the America’s Cup was “to promote friendly competition among nations” but the modern day legal battles have put paid to ‘friendly competition’ and the national makeup of the teams has eroded much of the cultural and national expression.

Have you ever seen such a cultural hotchpotch? The 33rd America’s Cup will see the Swiss boat Alinghi with its Swiss President, Ernesto Bertarelli and leader of the campaign, Brad Butterworth, a Kiwi from Te Awamutu, New Zealand.

The challenger will be BMW Oracle headed up by American Oracle Corporation Founder Larry Ellison with another New Zealander leading the campaign, Russell Coutts from Wellington and Australian, James Spithall, at the helm.

Artificial Venue
To add to the cultural artificiality of the 33rd America’s Cup, the competition will take place from a man-made venue, a new 22 hectare purpose built island that is still to emerge from the Al Hamra Village lagoon out from Ras al Khaimah.

How much of a Middle Eastern, Emirati flavour will the 33rd America’s Cup possess or will RAK simply be host without having much input into the shaping of the overall event?

Traditional Arab Craft
What would inject some local culture into the competition would be if the two teams were to fight it out in dhows (Arabic داو), the traditional Arab sailing vessels with their characteristic lateen (triangular) sails. These were the boats that have been used for centuries to carry spices and fish around the Gulf and south to Africa. They are still used for trade and tourism but some sleeker models are raced at the sailing clubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The dhow comes in different sizes and sail settings so Alinghi and BMW Oracle would have some latitude to develop their own style and technology.

Arab Regattas
It is unlikely, especially at this late hour, for the defender and challenger to make a change to their boating designs for the sake of culture.

It is hoped that preceding the potentially short, best of three America’s Cup competition, there could be some dhow racing to bring some Arab flavor and maybe the racing of abras, those much loved ferries that zig-zag passengers across the Dubai Creek.

How else might the local culture, in this first Middle Eastern America’s Cup, find expression in the 2010 competition?

On Related Sites
Preparing for Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates, Experiencing the Emirates, 17 August 2009.

Branding Fujairah, Fujairah in Focus, 13 August 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Ask him for details about advertizing and links on his sites.

Image: The traditional dhow.