America’s Cup and the Mountain Democrat both began in 1851. America’s Cup is the world’s oldest international sporting trophy (45 years older than the modern Olympics), and the Mountain Democrat is California’s oldest newspaper. To survive as long as they have, America’s Cup and the Mountain Democrat have learned to adapt to the times, to stay modern and relevant.
It used to be that the public rarely heard anything about the America’s Cup between races. Only when the challengers arrived to sail against each other and then against the defender, was much reported about the cup. Not so, this time around.
The 34th America’s Cup (AC34) has obliterated the old joke that watching sailboat racing is about as interesting as watching paint dry. AC34 is Olympic gymnastics on the sea. It is the Reno Air Races flown sideways, over water. The organizers of AC34 recognized that the race should be more than an event for the sponsors, syndicates and yacht clubs that underwrote the boats. It should be a race for the people.
Learning from the successes of NASCAR and the NFL, where fans follow teams, AC34 has created two pre-seasons of “America’s Cup World Series” races which storied sailor Tom Ehman, vice commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club (cup defender), describes as the “regular season between our Super Bowls” (i.e., the actual AC34 races). The next season begins Aug. 21 on San Francisco Bay with racing from Aug. 21-26, and Oct. 1-6.
Each AC World Series regatta is a combination of practice and championship racing, with additional practice sailing on-site ahead of each event. They prepare the teams and the fans for the AC34 races. From July 4-Sept. 1, 2013, challengers from other countries will compete in the Louis Vuitton Challenger Series. From that series, the winner will race the American defender in AC34 match finals, Sept. 7- 22, 2013.
The revolutionary boats sailed in the AC World Series are 45-foot catamarans with a mainsail similar to an aircraft wing, turned on end. These are half-sized versions of the 72-foot-long, zephyr-quick, wingsail leviathans that will compete for the America’s Cup. With its foresail, called a gennaker, the wing will be able to move the boat at speeds up to 40 knots (nearly 50 mph), several times faster than the wind is blowing.
“San Francisco Bay is the best venue in North America for sailing,” said Ehman, “because it’s reliably windy. At 1 p.m., you can be 98 percent sure that the sea breeze will come in, because of the heat generated in the Central Valley.” Other places where America’s Cup has been held in the past have had inconsistent breezes, but it blows consistently between 15 and 30 mph on summer days, conditions for thrilling races.
Ehman says the AC World Series races taught the race organizers to increase shoreside entertainment.
“In Venice, we ran the race in the Grand Canal before hundreds of thousands, and at Newport, we had larger crowds than when America’s Cup was originally there. The difference is that we’re running the races close to shore, with multihulls, and on short races. The races are over in 30 minutes whereas in the past it took four hours.”
Up to 500,000 spectators, many visiting San Francisco for Fleet Week, are expected to watch this October’s races, and an equal number are anticipated to be in San Francisco for AC34, next September.
NBC Sports was “very pleasantly surprised,” said Ehman, “The first race they broadcast was viewed by over a million households and over 2.1 million viewers, beating the Olympic trials and Tour de France.” As a result, NBC is expected to televise AC World Series races on Aug. 26 and Oct. 7. However, don’t let that keep you from heading to San Francisco.
Racing will occur off the Marina Green with competing boats moored at the Golden Gate Yacht Club where they’ll be illuminated at night. An America’s Cup Village will be open on the Marina Green from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with interactive exhibits, including a trampoline traverse that demonstrates what it’s like to cross a wind and sea swept deck during a race, grinding stations that show how to trim sails, as well as sailing-related exhibits. Stands will sell AC34 gear, food and beverages, and a Louis Vuitton historical display will trace the history of America’s Cup challengers throughout the long history of the event.
At 11 a.m. each morning, race commentator Andy Green (a British America’s Cup veteran) will moderate a live stage show with interviews and a review of the previous day’s racing. Green, multihull sailor Carlton Tucker, AC34 race manager Bob Billingham and U.S. women’s match racing champion, Genny Tulloch will provide “a stream of commentary all day long, at a level that doesn’t talk over the heads of the audience, but that also isn’t insulting to knowledgeable sailors,” said Ehman. During races, a Jumbotron will carry live commentary by sailing hall of famer Gary Jobson and two-time Olympic medalist, Mitch Booth.
Admission to all this is free. Only bleacher seating costs extra ($40-$50), if you don’t plan to bring a folding chair or blanket. Parking is limited and expensive, so race organizers recommended parking for free at a BART or other public transit station outside San Francisco, then bike or take a Muni bus to the Marina Green.
Can you imagine what it would cost to see the Olympics, World Cup Soccer, a Super Bowl, the World Series or an NBA Final? Here comes the oldest and most storied international sporting event to our backyard, bigger and better than ever, and it costs… nothing to see. Now, that’s burnishing the “auld mug.”
More is found at americascup.com.
John Poimiroo of El Dorado Hills is a travel writer who specializes in California destinations.