Hooray for the Hudson!
The Hudson River was the perfect stadium for the America’s Cup World Series AC45F raced in foiling catamarans. The Manhattan skyline provided a dazzling backdrop to on-the-water drama.
New York lived up to its reputation as the ultimate sports venue. An enthusiastic crowd, estimated at over 100,000, lined the river and hundreds of recreational spectator boats took to the water to watch six international teams compete over two days.
After being absent from the captivating metropolis for almost 100 years, America’s Cup class racing returned to the birthplace of the competition. As Jimmy Spithill, skipper of ORACLE TEAM USA, said “It’s a privilege to race here in this iconic stadium.”
Spithill in search of his first World Series victory hoped to be the home town hero with a win in New York.
The urban environment presented huge logistical challenges for the organizers and sailors: constant ferry traffic, commercial tugs and barges, sloppy conditions on the water, floating debris and up to 4 knots of current. Plus the soaring skyscrapers of Manhattan funnel the wind creating puffy conditions with sudden 28 knot gusts between the lulls.
Racing promised to be intense as Emirates Team New Zealand was just ahead of ORACLE TEAM USA on the ACWS scoreboard with Land Rover BAR only one point behind. World Series points count towards earning the right to challenge defender ORACLE TEAM USA, at the 35th America’s Cup to be held in Bermuda, June 2017.
Since the AC45F is an identical one design overcoming local hazards and conditions is the key to success. In the end it’s the best skipper and crew that wins on the day, but having some luck doesn’t hurt either!
Race conditions on the practice day and on Saturday, the first race day, were disappointingly light. Racing proved to be very frustrating for both the Race Committee and spectators as light breeze oscillated from the north all the way round to the south west.
Local authorities had agreed to suspend ferry and commercial traffic for two hours, no small concession, but time was running out for the Race Committee – a real problem when you are trying to create both a television and spectator friendly major sports event. Precise timing of starts to coincide with broadcast slots won’t happen unless Mother Nature co-operates.
On Saturday two races were started in light air but were quickly abandoned. At the last minute the wind picked up to 5 knots, marks were quickly repositioned and a provisional race was completed. Commentators compared the idea of a provisional race to hitting a second golf ball when you’ve lost your first with not much chance of finding it again.
Dean Barker, skipper of SoftBank Team Japan, got off to a great start and had the best strategy to beat the strong ebb current and sailed a perfect race leading the entire way around the course.
Too bad for Dean in the end the provisional race would not count.
Super Sunday where the points count double turned out to be totally different with lots of wind and lots of intense action. Clearing skies brought winds from the northwest at 17 – 24 knots. Ideal conditions to get the AC45s foiling on the Hudson River. At one point there was even a chance of postponement when the wind gusted to over 25 knots the upper limit under Race Rules.
The Race Committee started the first of three races right on time which kept the networks happy. The course called for multiple short legs with many tacking and jibing opportunities as boats played the unpredictable wind shifts. Sometimes it paid off and sometimes it didn’t. Artemis Racing took first place but their luck was short-lived as they ended up last in the next two races.
In race two it was Groupama Team France who sailed a clean race, with no penalties unlike other teams, read the wind correctly and got their lucky break finishing ahead of Oracle.
The final race of the day was a nail biter. The top two teams, Emirates Team New Zealand and ORACLE TEAM USA were tied with 32 points and there was a three way tie for third place.
There was drama at the start when the New Zealand team snagged one of the starting buoys and crewman Blair Tuke jumped into the Hudson to unhook them. Oracle looked like they had the race in the bag when their luck ran out and they sailed into a hole on the next to last leg. Snatching their opportunity Emirates Team New Zealand did an end run from behind, found their lucky streak of wind, hopped up on their foils and screamed into the last mark rounding ahead of the fleet.
The crowd of race fans went wild as they watched the exciting finish right in front of the Battery Park seawall and the AC Event Village. You could not have asked for a better finale – sunshine, wind, throngs of happy sport fans. Hopefully it won’t be another 100 years before America’s Cup racing comes back to the City.