The Maritime Report: An America's Cup Week to Remember

The Maritime Report: An America's Cup Week to Remember

Dave Bloch

The first America's Cup World Series events in San Francisco are over. The next regattas are scheduled for Venice and Naples, Italy, in spring 2013; three or four teams come back with larger, 72-foot boats for the Louis Vuitton Cup next July. (There are rumors of a winter ACWS series in Australia or China, but these are only rumors so far.) The Vuitton Cup will determine which boat goes up against defender Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup itself. (Because Oracle has two teams, there will also be a "Defender's Regatta" where those two boats, skippered by Jimmy Spithill and Ben Ainslie - who is currently sailing for Great Britain - gets into the main event.)

If you're confused, don't feel bad; you're not alone.

As I've written here before, there are different ways to experience the America's Cup events. I wrote in this space last week about being out in one of the "mark boats," the small-but-powerful boats that mark the turning points in the course. Last year in San Diego, I spent two afternoons flying around the course in one of the media boats; it was amazing how close we were able to get to the catamarans (especially on the practice day).

I started Friday with a press tour of the team bases at Pier 32. We met a representative, often the skipper, of each team and were able to take photographs. There were public areas here at the bases; the teams walked right through them to get to their moored catamarans and often interacted with the fans.

I took a media shuttle boat to Little Marina Green and headed out onto the spit where St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Clubs are located. This really was the best no-charge place to see the races (and probably will be next year, too). Although those rocks are hard and sharp, it was pretty easy to settle in and get fairly comfortable. (My little reporter's notebook gave some welcome padding, on one side, anyway.)

The first thing I noticed is that the racecourse was moved much farther out into the Bay than it was in August (and, in fact, where it was earlier this week). That was due to it being Fleet Week; the Coast Guard needed a wider path for boats on the shore side of the course. This should not be the case next year; I'm hoping that the course will be moved back in where it was, affording a much better view for Earth-bound spectators.

The public address system announcers do a great job, in my opinion. They have multiple roles; announcing what's happening on the course, stirring up and exciting the crowd, and encouraging everyone to yell and applaud when the boats come close. They are also heard by boats on VHF Channel 20, letting them know what's going on (and occasionally asking one to move out of the way of the bleacher seats).

People do not seem to have the same positive opinion of the television commentators, and that includes your reporter. In the final fleet race on Sunday - with "all the marbles" at stake - the announcers focused entirely on the front of the pack, which was our own "home town" Artemis Red team. They completely ignored the fact that the two Oracle Team USA boats, plus the Artemis White boat, were steadily moving up from far back (Jimmy Spithill started in last position; Artemis White was also last for a time), until they suddenly noticed them overtaking the leaders. Fortunately, you can still watch these races at http://youtube.com/americascup. When they cut to the wide shots, you can see the Oracle sails working their way through the pack.

By the end of the 25-minute race, the two Oracle boats were first and second, followed by Artemis White. Each place in the standings carries a certain number of points, and this last race the point value is much higher than the week's previous fleet races (for example, first place was worth 25 points in the others and is 40 points on Sunday). The rankings brought Oracle-Spithill into a first place tie with Ben Ainslie Racing from the UK, but a tie-breaking rule gives the nod to whichever boat won the LATER RACE in the regatta, giving the championship to Spithill and second place to Ainslie. Alameda's Artemis White (OK, really SWEDEN'S Artemis White) came in third.

Sunday found us out on the Bay on a friend's sailboat for the Fleet Week midday air show. We stayed to the southeast of Alcatraz, and had some fun close encounters with several of the AC34's as they sailed from Pier 30 around to the racecourse. Being out there in a sailboat is a task in not hitting other boats; the strong wind tries to blow the boat sideways (even
with the sails furled) unless you keep forward motion, but crowded waters don't always provide a place to go.

We had to sail back home about the time that the race started, so we turned on VHF Channel 20 and I fired up the "AC Race Tracker" app on my smartphone. The Tracker shows all the boats as little dots in real time so we can follow their position while listening to the announcers. It's not the same, for sure, but how amazing that you can hold this race in your hand!

The Next Few Months

So now we all take a breather, but it's not as if the America's Cup goes away. Artemis Racing is building their two AC72 boats and many of their families are living here in Alameda. Our Alameda America's Cup citizens committee is working on some events for next spring. There is a bit of a flap going on in San Francisco because the America's Cup Event Authority has pulled back from promises made to teams about hospitality facilities on Piers 30 and 32; might they be interested in joining Artemis on Alameda Point?

Never a dull moment out there on the water!

Photos by Dave Bloch. See more of Dave's photos on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/86040218@N03/sets/72157631692667287/.