It was a beautiful day in San Diego, the sun was shining, the winds were perfect, and the harbor was bustling with the America’s Cup World Series multihull boats making heir first stop in the USA, on their world circuit of regattas.
The America’s Cup, named for the first yacht that won the race, not for the country, began in 1851. In the more than 150 years since that first race off England’s southern coast, only four nations have won what is often called the “oldest trophy in international sport.” The cup was presented to the New York Yacht Club under a Deed of Gift which made it available for perpetual international competition when challenged, and is presented to the winner of a match race between two yachts. The trophy was held by the New York Yacht Club from 1857 to 1983 when it was won by a yacht from Australia.
The World Series is designed to allow the teams to prepare for the Louis Vuitton Cup, the America's Cup Challenger Series and the America's Cup Finals. To compete for the America's Cup, one must first win the Louis Vuitton Cup, earning the right to compete against the defender in the America's Cup Finals.
There are nine teams represented in the San Diego regatta: ORACLE Racing Spithill and ORACLE Racing Coutts from the USA, Aleph and Energy Team from France, Team Korea, China Team, GreenComm from Spain, Artemis from Sweden, and Emirates Team New Zealand. The crews are made up of professional sailors, the best athletes in their field and they will be racing in fleet and match races that will test both their physical and mental strength.
This year the boats have changed to a new format, specially designed multihull catamarans known as the AC45’s, which will certainly test the skills of the teams and their skippers. The boats are cutting edge, fast, nimble and more maneuverable than the monohulls of the past, however they are also the most physically demanding boats in the world. The boats are powered by a wingsail that towers 20 meters (approx. 70’) over the boat and can reach speeds of over 30 knots. They carry a team of five people consisting of a Helmsman, Wing Trimmer, Spinnaker Trimmer, Bowman, and a Tactician. There is also room for a 6th man, which presents an opportunity for a guest spot on the boat, and a very exhilarating experience hanging onto the rope the back of the boat racing at 40 mph.
Also in attendance are several watch manufacturers, an industry that has long been connected with sailing, which began in 18th century with the invention of the chronometer. Connected with this series of regattas are brand such as Omega, TAG Heuer, Corum, and Louis Vuitton, who serves as the Official Timekeeper for the 34th America's Cup.
The two piers, Broadway and Navy, were filled with the tents of each team that are used as a base for strategy and planning as well as a place to store the sail after racing each day. Also on each pier was a crane that is used to lift the boat out of the water onto the pier after sailing each day. The team has to separate the wingsail from the hull, lay the wingsail down on rollers and roll it into the tent. This is repeated in reverse in the morning to set up the catamaran ready for racing.
Fleet racing takes places under the sun on Wednesday, the third day of racing. With the goal of logging the fastest time, all the boats hurtle down the course and around the marks, strategizing for position and speed, while watching the surface of the ocean to determine the direction of the wind and the best line to take.
The mammoth USS Midway, which has been moored in San Diego since 2004 and is used as a memorial and museum, was set up with a VIP Club, hovering over the ocean, with a most magnificent perspective of the racing. Luxury tents were set at the end of the flight deck that include wood floors, white leather chairs and sofas, several bars and gourmet dining. Along one wall of the tent is an enormous screen with live coverage of the racing and superimposed graphics showing the course and identifying the teams, as well as insider race-day analysis by sailing experts. The spectacular America’s Cup Trophy was also on display at the Club entrance.
At the starting line the boats jostled for space waiting for the horn to signal the start of the race, and as soon as it sounded, they picked up speed and headed out towards the first mark, cutting around it with the smallest space possible between the boats. Each time the boats came close to the pier, which was teeming with spectators, the cheers get louder for their chosen team, and I could hear many accents and languages amongst the support. Energy Team is the overall winner of the day’s racing and moved automatically to the match race final.
Match racing took place on the fourth day, which is a knock out battle between the teams that are in second to ninth place based on their seeding from the previous day, with the winner taking part in a best of three against Team Energy in the San Diego Match Racing Championship. The teams were whittled down and the final battle between Energy Team and ORACLE Racing Spithill took place under mixed skies and in little wind, but ORACLE Team had the upper hand and managed to block Energy Team on the turns, and take the lead in the first two races, thus taking first place overall. The crowds were thrilled with the racing and the results, but the day wasn’t over for the teams, who, at the end of the event, must pack up everything so that it can be placed on a giant tanker ship and transported to the next location and set up again.
So far the World Series has traveled to Portugal, England and now San Diego. Next stops on the tour include Naples and Venice in Italy, and then a return to the USA with a stop in Newport, RI.
The 2013 America’s Cup Finals and the Louis Vuitton Cup will be held in San Francisco Bay, California, which will be the first time the America’s Cup has been hosted in the USA since 1995. For more information on the San Francisco race visit America's Cup official page.