SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Recalling the old Beach Boy's tune, I felt like taking a bit of a break from motorsports this week. With the craziness of NASCAR surrounding Michael Waltrip and gang, and with the near flawless performance of S. Vettel and the Red Bull crew in F1, I thought a peaceful review of the serenity of yacht sailing would be in order. Serenity! If you have not had a chance to watch some of the America’s Cup Finals sailing races in San Francisco Bay, do yourself a favor and either catch it on TV or watch 1 or 2 races online at http://www.youtube.com/user/AmericasCup .
For a motorsports fan, sailing may seem to be a dull sport recalling images of oxford shirts and top siders sipping a cocktail while sailing at 15 or 20 mph in an “ultra-light.” Well, get ready for seeing an amazing event. Today’s America’s Cup boats are like nothing you have ever seen. From the glistening carbon-fiber hulls, to 13-story carbon-fiber wing sails and hydraulically powered foils that lift these 72 foot catamarans several feet out of the water, to the 11 athlete sailors shod in the latest dry-suit technology, these America’s Cup regattas are a site for even a hardened gear-head.
Since 1851, when the schooner named America claimed the coveted 100 Pound Cup from England’s Royal Cup Squadron and successfully defended it for over 100 years, the renamed America’s Cup has become the oldest trophy in sporting history and “a perpetual challenge cup for friendly competition between nations.”. The America’s Cup is the most difficult trophy in sport and has only been held by four countries in its history. America lost the Cup in 1983 when the Australians used a secret, innovatively designed winged-keel, beat the New York Yacht club entry skippered by Dennis Conner.
The rules of the race have changed over the years and have ranged from wooden schooners, to 12-meter sloops and multihull boats like this year’s AC72-class boats. When Dennis Conner challenged the Cup in 1987, he won the Cup back in a small, multi-hulled, wing-sailed catamaran. Legal battles ensued as to whether or not the American boat met the rules of competition, but the victory stood the battle in court as well.
Since 1987, various boat designs have been run, and after numerous legal battles, the multi-hulled concept of Dennis Conner has prevailed. This year, the multi-hulled concept has been taken to a new level with the use of “foils which lift these mammoth boats out of the water giving them speeds in excess of 55 mph. The boats travel so fast, that the course referees follow the boats in a twin-engined, off-shore speedboat making over 1200 hp. The 72’ foot, twin-hulled boats have a maximum beam of almost 45 feet and though built of carbon-fiber, weigh over 12,000 pounds. The “main-sail” is actually two fixed profile wings that can be positioned to provide varying amounts of “lift” to propel the boats. The wings are as long as that of a 737!
The boats are crewed by 11 men, each with specific jobs on the boats including a helmsman and a tactician who call the maneuvers during the race. The boats are also equipped with two retractable foils which in the case of the American, Team ORACLE boat, are controlled by hydraulics, with pressure provided by the human “grinders.” The boats are designed to literally fly over the water on the tips of retractable foils, a fixed rudder and a winged shaped section connecting the hulls.
The race format for this year is a best of 13 races. Prior to the race, the American Team ORACLE was penalized for infractions in the Americas Cup World Series, resulting in a two win deficit and the suspension of one of their key sailors. To win, the American’s must win 11 races to Challenger New Zealand’s 9 wins. After the first 4 races last weekend, Team ORACLE only managed to win 1 race out of 4. The American team was simply out sailed in almost every race. On Tuesday, the American team experienced a humiliating defeat in race 5 forcing them to take a one-time postponement of race 6. Before Thursday’s race, Team ORACLE announced a new crew with the hopes of changing their luck.
We hope that the American team can make a good show in the remaining races.