20 September 2013

America's Cup Racing

I started a post several weeks ago which would have been more timely, but the moment hasn't past.  Yet.  Though the moment is imminent.

Many of my formative years were spent racing sailboats on the San Francisco Bay.  There are many bucket list races in sailing but the ultimate is The America's Cup.  The superlatives surrounding are an unending list of cliche's.   Oldest trophy, longest winning streak etc.  Back then (late '70's) we dreamt of seeing America's cup racing on the San Franciso Bay.   And it's finally here.

You see the SFBay is a very different sailing arena than the any where else in the world.  The tidal/wind dynamics set up an entirely different sailing environment from the norm.  A lot of sailing the bay boils down to "keeping the boat in the water*.

Past AC races were held 10 miles offshore where maybe a boat would give you a "front" row seat and the action was akin to watching  grass grow.      Boats started sporting on board cameras and mics on the skippers in the late 70's/early 80's which helped a lot...  Though it probably gave some producers some heartburn as I recall a particular race hearing "what the f**k was that" over the air from a certain captain following a blown tack.

This is the first time races have been held in view of shore view and in "boats" exciting to watch.  Last time there was a sailing event designed as a spectator sport was the St. Francis Laser Slalom**.  These AC races are a couple orders of magnitude beyond.

The "boats" are high tech machines topping 50 MPH under wind power.  Back in the day the rule specified keel displacement boats.  Current rules allow not only catamarans, but hydrofoils!   72 foot "hull" length (as if that matters now that hydrofoils are allowed) with 130 foot vertical wings for power.

Look Ma, no hulls!  We are flying!
Back then day we'd spend about 3 hours grinding around the "city front" course.  These boats fly around a similar course in the 30 minute range. 

The score as of now is 8-2 New Zealand with the first to 9 takes home the cup.  NZ only needs one more win to take home some extra luggage while Oracle Team USA needs another 7 wins to retain the cup.

Oracle Team USA struggled at the beginning of the cup but have rallied recently with several recent wins.  Odds are on NZ to take it home, but Team USA is running strong with a win today to keep the cup on home shores another day.

Anyway  you slice it, the races are exciting and available to all.  The races are broadcast live on NBCSports (DirecTV channel 220, check your local cable listings).  Also a couple hours delayed on youtube, look for the America's cup channel.   There you will find all races archived.
Hint check out race 10 where there were more lead changes than any other AC race in history.

* The bay creates a chop of short period and steep waves.  It's a combination of the tides and wind.  We once won a race having learned to keep the boat in the water.  I could show you but I don't think I could put it in words.....  

** St Francis Laser slalom  was a simple race...  Two racers would each tack up around four bouys then across to jibe downwind around the opposite pair of four bouys, tack back up the same four marks, then jibe around the original four upwind markers.  First to finish wins.

Each heat race only takes a couple minutes and there are endless crashes providing much spectator amusement.   Catch is the Laser is an unstable boat made stable by the skill of the skipper.   Add in waaaay too much wind and you have a good time in a can.

They had a couple open slots one year I was on site and at hand due to a youth sailing conference the week leading up to the event.  I was invited to participate (as in how would you like to participate in our "wrestle with alligators" event"). I declined and still 45 years hence do not regret this decision.

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