Get ready for the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco

Oracle Team AC45 boats streak toward San Francisco

Oracle Team AC45 boats streak toward San Francisco

Looking at the familiar San Francisco Bay, normally dotted with small sailboats, nimble windsurfers and the occasional ponderous tanker, I stood gaping at the huge, black triangular sails bobbing near Crissy Field. I blinked as they streaked across the bay toward the Golden Gate Bridge, whipped around and jetted back toward Alcatraz. I had never seen anything move that fast across the water, leaving other vessels in the proverbial dust.

The excitement is already building in San Francisco among sailors, spectators and sports enthusiasts of all stripes in anticipation of the America’s Cup finals to be held two years from now on September 7-22, 2013 on San Francisco Bay. The 150 year old sailing race was last held in U.S. waters in San Diego in 1995.

Leading up to the finals are several other races to be held in San Francisco, including one of the inaugural America’s Cup World Series races in 2012, and the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2013, both of which will provide previews of the main event. Millions of visitors are expected to descend upon San Francisco as this event ranks third in spectator volume, after the Olympics and World Cup Soccer.

A specacular crash of the AC45 during a training run

A specacular crash of the AC45 during a training run

The boats that had me mesmerized were Oracle Racing Team AC45s, the revolutionary 45 foot forerunner to the America’s Cup AC72 boats.  Launched this year in New Zealand, the multihull, wing-sailed (rigid sail) catamaran was designed for speed and close racing, ideal for the confined and notoriously windy conditions of the San Francisco Bay. Oracle’s team, based in San Francisco, was training in the Bay, affording visitors and residents a thrilling promo of what the World Series and America’s Cup will look like. The America’s Cup AC72 boats will be much larger at 72 feet long, which will no doubt result in spectacular racing images with 130-foot high wingsails set against the backdrop of the picturesque City by the Bay, with speeds in excess of 30 knots (a little more than 30 mph).

While training last week one of the Oracle Team’s sleek, black, feisty boats, dubbed “little sisters [of the AC72] with attitude”,  capsized spectacularly, pitching members of the crew into the chilly 50 degree water and necessitating a rescue, demonstrating the power of the boat and the challenges the expert team faces as they learn to control  the newly designed craft (see You Tube video and note crew dropping into the bay).

 

"Little Sisters with Attitude" with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop

"Little Sisters with Attitude" with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop

Visitors to San Francisco may have the opportunity to see the Oracle boats training this summer and will start to see changes in a number of areas along the waterfront between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. The public Race Village will be erected on Piers 27 and 29, along with regatta operations on Pier 23 and the Media Center on Pier 19. Team bases will be located at Piers 30 and 32.

Sailing fans will want to scope out the best viewing spots among many excellent venues, including the Embarcadero, Marina Green, Crissy Field, Golden Gate Bridge,  Cavallo Point (Sausalito) and the Marin Headlands.

There are a number of reasons why this America’s Cup will be special.

  • This will be the first time in the 150 year history of this venerable event that the race will be visible to thousands of spectators from miles of viewing spots in the natural amphitheater of the San Francisco Bay. In previous years the race has been held far offshore, making it challenging for onlookers to get involved in the action. That distance kept the race at arm’s length for the average person and contributed to its elitist reputation.
  • The small size of the Bay, compared to the open ocean, will necessitate a completely different, revolutionary design of the racing boats, already seen with the AC45 design.
  • The race format, in part dictated by the size and natural features of the Bay, including Alcatraz and Angel Islands, as well as the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, will be focused on tight, tactical racing at high speed.
  • New racing formats and venues in the inaugural America’s Cup World Series, which leads up to the America’s Cup, will provide new opportunities for the professional sailors and fans.
  • A new Youth America’s Cup to enhance development of the next generation of sailors, who will race in the AC-45 is also being developed.

America’s Cup World Series

Oracle Team AC45s under the Golden Gate

Oracle Team AC45s under the Golden Gate

The first ever America’s Cup World Series will commence this year in Cascais, Portugal on August 6-14, 2011, racing with the AC45 design in 2011. The second race will be held in Plymouth, UK September 10-18, 2011. The third race will be held in San Diego on November 12-20, 2011. The remaining schedule, to take place in 2012, will be announced in October 2011. One event is slated for San Francisco, allowing the city a dry run to test transportation and venue management, as well as give competitors a taste of the bay. In 2012 the teams will switch to the monster AC72 boats for the first time.

Louis Vuitton Cup

Challengers from around the world will vie for the coveted honor of racing against the Defender of the last America’s Cup race, Oracle Racing, in the 30th annual Louis Vuitton Cup July 13-September 1, 2013 in San Francisco. This is a significant race because it prepares the challenger to race at the same level as the Defender, and four out of seven times the challenger has gone on to win the America’s Cup.

The next two years will be exciting for visitors to San Francisco who might be able to see teams training, the racing events leading up to the America’s Cup and the transformation of the waterfront .

Photos by Gilles Martin-Raget, with permission.

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