Cup ‘World Series’ a Spectator’s Delight

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The Oracle team took top honors in the fleet and team portions of the event.

The Newport Indy was invited to cover the America’s Cup “World Series” races in San Diego last week.  This was a fun event to watch with nine top sailing teams from around the world racing on San Diego Bay in state-of-the-art catamarans.

Racing was held all last week in identical 45-foot racing catamarans.  Unlike in past America’s Cup events, these high-performance catamarans routinely sustained impressive speeds around the course, typically averaging 15 knots or more, and peak speeds could reach 25-plus knots during races.  In addition to traditional AC match racing events, the organizers also threw in fleet races and speed trials right off the shoreline of downtown San Diego.

Umpires monitor the racing.

Oracle’s top racing team, led by skipper James Spithill and tactician John Kostecki, dominated both the fleet and team racing portions of the regatta.  And in the other event, the second Oracle team lead by Olympic sailing medalist Darren Bundock won a speed trial with a 500 meter speed run averaging 25.9 knots!  In fact, all nine teams completed speed runs that exceeded 24 knots in a moderate 15-knot southerly breeze last Sunday.

The San Diego event was a precursor to future America’s Cup racing events that will start in San Francisco next summer in custom 72-foot catamarans.  While there will be future regional races around the world in the next year in the 45-foot catamarans, racing in San Francisco will be exclusively in these new custom 72-footers.  The big cats are expected to be custom built for each team, and will be used solely in San Francisco for the 2013 Louis Vuitton Cup and America’s Cup finals.  Additional events in the 45-foot catamarans are scheduled for Naples, Italy, in April 2012, Venice,Italy, in May 2012, and Newport, RI, in June 2012.

Some general notes and observations from the last week in San Diego:

  • From a spectator’s standpoint, the AC sailing on the water last weekend was outstanding.  The racing was run just feet off the stern of the USS Midway, and the action between the boats was easy to follow.  A lot of local Balboa/Newport sailors found time to get down to these events, and thousands of spectators made their way to the waterfront during the week.
  • At a time when traditional sporting events are seeing more than their share of issues (lock-outs, off-field scandals, steroids, etc…), has the America’s Cup finally found a recipe for making sailing an alternative spectator sport?  The event in San Diego attracted thousands of spectators, and the America’s Cup village – free and open to the public – offered a wide variety of interesting events and activities, including music concerts, sailing simulators, and wine, beer and champagne tasting.  There was also direct access to the sailing team compounds, and spectators got a firsthand look at these incredible racing boats.  And when trophies were handed out, the professional racing teams stood there shoulder to shoulder with spectators at the public trophy presentation.
  • So is it possible for sailing to become a spectator sport?  At least for one week in San Diego, the answer is definitely “Maybe.”  Maybe even “Potentially.”  And San Francisco, with the new 72-foot catamarans racing, is already looking very promising.
  • We got a chance to spend a little bit of time watching the racing from the water this week.  One unique aspect of getting out on the race course on a spectator boat is that while our boat was restricted as to where it could go, the competitors out on the water routinely drove their high-performance catamarans right through the middle of the spectator fleet between races.  While we were out on the water last Saturday, the Spanish “Green Com” racing team sailed their cat at full speed directly at our boat (we were stationary at the time), and they waited until they were only about 50 feet away before they slammed a tack and tore off through the spectator fleet in another direction.  OK, they got my attention here …
  • Is there any chance that Newport/Balboa could see any AC racing events locally?  Probably not.  But this also doesn’t mean Newport and Balboa sailing interests are ignored by the America’s Cup committee.  There are already a dozen local sailors involved with the AC teams and organizing committees.  And at a recent AC lecture at Newport Harbor Yacht Club, the AC organizing committee promised to return to our area regularly to speak with local sailors.  They also specifically mentioned a particular interest in being involved with next summer’s Governor’s Cup at Balboa Yacht Club, an event that several current AC racers participated in as kids (including Oracle’s Spithill, among many others).

Upcoming Racing

Dec 3 – 4, Sunkist Series/CHOC Regatta, BYC (One Design, PHRF)

Dec 4 – Winter Series (Harbor 20, Lehman 12, Finn)

December 10 – 11 – Anteater Regatta (UCI/NHYC – top HS, College racing in CFJ’s)

Photos by Jim Collins

Nine of the 45-foot cats approach the start of a fleet race.
Artemis Sailing, representing Sweden, narrowly edges Team China at the match race finish line.
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