Brilliant concept, awful implementation! This is how, in my opinion, one could summarize the 34th America’s Cup after watching the one-horse race that Emirates Team New Zealand sailed on Sunday afternoon in the San Francisco bay.
It was my very first time in San Francisco and, obviously, the very first time I watched any sailing here, let alone an AC72 crisscrossing the full America’s Cup course. The “race” lasted less than one hour but that was more than enough to come to the conclusion that this is, undoubtedly, a fantastic sailing venue. The breeze was on, blowing from 14 to 16 knots, the backdrop is spectacular and there were dozens, if not hundreds, of yachts all around the bay, watching the kiwi AC72 flying on the water.
The truth is that you don’t really need a boat to watch it. The “natural amphitheater” America’s Cup organizers have been trumpeting for so long is indeed true and not just PR hype. One can have a good view of the race from practically any location on the seafront, from the America’s Cup Park in the east to the Golden Gate Yacht Club in the west or a total of approximately 5 km. Judging from Team New Zealand’s sailing, there is a number of positions that provide an ideal watching spots, all of them free, with the exception of the Marina Green park where they installed ticketed grandstands.
There is also absolutely no doubt at all that the AC72’s are spectacular. I have been always critical of the boat but watching today Emirates Team New Zealand reaching nearly 43 knots (that’s 80 km/h) and doing at least four perfect foiling gybes (at least the ones I counted) made me change my mind to an extent. Of course, this wasn’t much of a race but rather a very serious training session. As a result, the kiwis were under less stress and there couldn’t be any close calls at the leeward gates.
However, what will happen when two of these monsters approach the gate, doing 40 knots each? A collision would be disastrous. This is also the reason my photos aren’t as good as I would have liked. It is entirely understandable that organizers don’t take any risk and put the photo boats at such a distance from the buoys that test the limits of my photo gear. In addition, photo boats have practically no right to move around and are confined to a small area. That is possibly an issue down the organizers’ list as this America’s Cup is fully focused on television.
During Saturday’s media tour at the Artemis base in Alameda, Nathan Outteridge stated that in San Francisco, the AC72’s need to depower by nearly 50%. If multihulls are to be used in the next America’s Cup edition, changes will need to be made. The kiwi boat was all alone on the race course today, so another unknown, still, is whether the AC72’s will provide close racing. Probably the actual America’s Cup match will see much closer action but the jury is still out.
The crowds started coming in the America’s Cup Park at Pier 27/29 although I can’t judge on Marina Green since I didn’t go there. It isn’t full house yet but there are decent crowds and there has been a notable increase in the number of passers by coming inside. Of course, when real racing kicks off, locals will have a real incentive to come down. In addition, the finish line is just a few hundred meters from the end of Pier 27, right in front of the public.
Having said that, it is truly sad to see how, despite having these perfect ingredients, the Golden Gate Yacht Club failed in implementing what was a brilliant idea and concept.
What is there to say about today’s “race”? Maybe that in any other sport it would seem farcical to see one team playing with no opponent. In any case, the kiwis were strong in that breeze and very flat seas and established a new AC72 speed record after they reached 42.8 knots in less than 16 knots of breeze. They sailed around the 16.05-nm course in 46:27 minutes, reaching nearly 25 knots in one of the beat! They are now scheduled to face Luna Rossa again six days from now. Hopefully, by then the dispute the Italians have with Iain Murray, America’s Cup Regatta Director, will have been solved and we will be able to some real racing in the beautiful San Francisco bay.