I first caught the sailing bug from my dad in 1987. We spent many late nights watching ESPN's award winning coverage of the America's Cup yacht race in Fremantle, Australia. Dennis Conner made the comeback of a lifetime by reclaiming the coveted cup he lost just 4 years earlier. In 1983, DC became the first American skipper to lose the oldest trophy in sports and in Oz became the first to win it back! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America
The big winds and waves off Fremantle made for very exciting racing and enthralled an 8 year old boy and his dad.
This past weekend, I got to relive some of that magic in person at the America's Cup World Series in San Diego. My dad and I spent the past few days taking in some of the coolest sailboat racing I have ever seen.
First, however, here's a little background on what's been happening with the America's Cup...
In 1995 Team New Zealand became only the second country to wrangle the Cup from US hands. They won again in 2000 but lost to the Swiss boat Alinghi in 2003. Alinghi won again in 2007 but received a rogue challenge from billionaire Orcale CEO Larry Ellison. Ellison had been trying to win the cup since 2003 but went home empty handed each time. When Alinghi won again in '07, Ellison felt the Alinghi camp were unfit to be custodians of the Cup and, per the America's Cup Deed of Trust, threw down with his own challenge. The challenge? Race for the Cup in gigantic multihulls.
A very complex and drawn out legal battle ensued but the match eventually took place in Valencia, Spain with Ellison and his Oracle sponsored giant taking the win. Ellison's vision of the Cup is now where we're at with a tune up series called the America's Cup World Series taking place leading up to the actual Cup match in San Francisco in 2013. http://www.americascup.com/
The real news for this Cup cycle has been the switch from monohulls to catamarans. While having cats race for the Cup isn't unprecedented, it unique that all the teams involved will being sailing them. And the cats are in and of themselves revolutionary...super light carbon boats with super efficient wing sails!
The Ellison vision is for spectator friendly action, close to crowds and with high speeds. Having now seen the event in person I say "mission accomplished". The nay sayers need only to take in one race and they will see incredible sailing athletes racing at speeds never before seen in big time racing. The tune up boats are the AC 45's, test beds for the eventual 72 foot versions that will compete in San Fran.
The boats easily outsail the wind speed by 3 or 4 times. Tactics and boat handling have to be spot on as the boats accelerate and converge at such huge speeds.
I got to watch from the water and from the shore and I came away from the event in awe and totally in line with what "Uncle Larry" has visioned for the cup. The America's Cup deserves to be sailed by the best sailors and the fastest boats. Yes, this involves corporate sponsorships and all the commercialism that entails, but it makes for a great sporting event and ensures that only the best and most committed are in attendance. We were so close to the action! It was awesome to be there for the awards ceremony and seeing Ellison and his crew take the prizes for winning both the match racing and fleet racing portions of the event. Even rusty ol' Russell Coutts won the 500 meter time trial.
The action is streamed live on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/AmericasCup) and the live commentary is fantastic. "Morning Light" alum and Olympic hopeful Jenny Tulloch does the play by play and in my opinion is sailing's version of Lindsey Vonn.
For sailors and non sailors, the event rocks. Start tuning in and you won't be disappointed!