The Maritime Report: America's Cup continues

The Maritime Report: America's Cup continues

Dave Bloch

THE AC ACCELERATES

Good things are starting to happen around the America's Cup races. The event is getting past the "billionaires behaving badly" stages and actually becoming a sports event that is really worth watching.

And there were real races to watch this week. On Sunday, Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Italy were out on the course. I watched this one on TV at http://www.americascup.com (it takes you to YouTube) and it really was exciting. Even though ETNZ is blowing the doors off of LR in every race, the sheer risk involved in piloting these huge catamarans creates some breathless moments.

One of those moments happened maybe a quarter of the way into the race, when we saw New Zealand's headsail, or jib, suddenly begin to flutter violently. The announcers were shocked as they described how it appeared the jib had broken loose from its halyard (the cable or rope that holds up the top of the narrow triangular sail) and was beginning to drop. My wife and I both said the same thing: "Looks like the Italians are finally going to win one."

But that wasn't going to happen. The closeup cameras showed us members of ETNZ's crew fighting to haul the sail down onto the trampoline "deck" of the boat. They tried to control it, but it caught by the wind and pulled towards the back. The crew quickly cut the sail loose (literally, it was explained later, they used sharp knives that every crew member carries in case they are ever caught in one of the lines) and it dropped into the water, being picked up almost immediately by their chase boat.

All this time, the ETNZ boat continued to sail upwind towards the marks. Once the sail was off the boat, they accelerated back up to the speed they had before. They reached the upwind mark, made the dangerous "bearing away" turn (probably the maneuver where the jib most comes into play for control and stability) and headed back down the course, speeding up and looking as though nothing had ever happened. Luna Rossa's crew must have felt terrible as they watched ETNZ expand their lead throughout the rest of the contest, beating them by several minutes. The whole thing was a real tribute to the skill and strength of the athletes on the ETNZ team.

On Monday, I went out the Artemis Racing base at Alameda Point in time to see the wing raised and mounted on their new boat, dubbed "Big Blue." (They had a christening ceremony earlier in the day; you can see photos and quite a moving video of the whole launch on their site at http://artemis-racing.americascup.com/news/4608.) They raised and attached the huge wing, and then sent a man up one of the supporting cables to detach the cable holding it to the crane. To me, that was like cutting the umbilical cord; at that moment, the boat was really free. The boat did not get out on the bay that day, or on Tuesday, but that event should happen anytime now. (There is even talk of Artemis getting in a "round robin" race or two yet this month! But we'll see; keep in mind that despite all the training the sailing team has been doing, this boat has never been sailed before - by anyone.)

Tuesday was another ETNZ vs. LR race, and for this one I went with a friend out on my own sailboat to watch. It's a little rough out there in winds over 15 knots, a strong current, and lots of other boats all trying to stay relatively stable. But it is a great way to watch the race, and getting out on the water is what you have to do if you want to watch with San Francisco in the background! (Alcatraz has its charms, but Telegraph Hill is really a much more photogenic backdrop.)

WHAT'S NEXT?

The round robin series continues with five more races until Thursday, August 1, with ETNZ and Luna Rossa racing each other - or alone, unless/until Artemis Racing is ready to have a go. Emirates Team New Zealand has already clinched the right to skip the next series, the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals, so we assume that series will be a contest between Luna Rossa and Artemis. The winner of that best-four-out-of-seven series goes up against ETNZ in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, which is a best-of-13 series that starts on Saturday, August 17. The Red Bull Youth America's Cup, which should be huge fun to watch, happens September 1-4. Finally, the America's Cup itself will pit the winner of the Vuitton Cup against the defender, Oracle Racing.

LOTS to watch this summer!

PHOTOS: 1. Another view of Luna Rossa racing downwind. 2. Emirates Team New Zealand rounds the downwind mark and heads back to the west. 3. Luna Rossa heads directly towards our boat with both hulls out of the water. 4. Defender Oracle Racing gets to use the cleared “racing box” on the bay to hone their skills. 5. You can get a good view of the racers from the “public viewing area” for boaters.