Today’s the day. May 7 is finally here after months of excited anticipation. Wondering what all the fuss is about? After a 92-year hiatus, the America’s Cup is back in New York. As I write this column, right before I head out for NYC, my head is so full of over-the-top excited anticipation that I feel as if I am a young child again waiting impatiently for Santa to arrive. That is how thrilling this historic event is.
A bit of background for those who haven’t been following the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) as much as some of us crazed sailors: America’s Cup class racing is returning to New York Harbor for the first time in nearly a century. In preparation for the big day, NBC Sports personality Bob Costas hosted the six competing skippers in a public press conference at Brookfield Place Winter Garden in Battery Park City. “The America’s Cup is a great international event,” said Costas, who will anchor NBC’s coverage of the Olympics for a record 11th time in August. “I can tell all of the skippers are of a hail-fellow-well-met variety. It’s a tremendous event that’s a scenic event. People are fascinated by it. You don’t have to know everything about it to be enthralled by it.”
The teams and their score coming into the event: Emirates Team New Zealand (192), Oracle Team USA (186), Land Rover BAR, England (185), SoftBank Team Japan (161), Artemis Racing, Sweden (161) and Groupama Team France (150).
The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series New York is the fifth lead-in regatta before next year’s 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda. It is also the first World Series regatta since Oman in February. Emirates Team New Zealand heads to the water as the overall leader of the series, having totaled 192 points by placing in the top three in all four completed regattas. The Kiwis are led by skipper Glenn Ashby and helmsman Peter Burling, but it’s the first time they’ll be sailing together since Oman. “Everybody’s looking forward to getting back to racing here in New York,” said Ashby. “It’s our first time racing on the Hudson River and it’ll be interesting with the shifty conditions and ferry wash. Anything can happen.”
The last time that America’s Cup racing was held in New York was in 1920, but it was outside of the harbor. Racing on the Hudson River offers unique challenges, with the wind blowing through the skyscrapers and currents running up to 4 knots. “Here in New York, you’re bang in front of arguably the biggest city in the world,” said ORACLE Team USA Skipper Jimmy Spithill. “You don’t get a better stadium than the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline,” said Spithill. “There are some iconic ballparks and stadiums in New York, but one that’s underutilized is the Hudson River. It can host the most people, it’s free, and families can dome down and see some of coolest boats in the world tearing around the river.”
The last time the America’s Cup was raced nearby the competing boats were Sir Thomas Lipton’s 110-foot Shamrock IV and the New York Yacht Club’s 106-foot Resolute. The “designs of the day” both weighed around 100 tons. This weekend the “designs of the day” is the AC45F, a 45-foot catamaran that can achieve top speeds of 40 knots, approximately 46 mph. Their horsepower comes from a combination of a wing sail and hydrofoils, which allows the hulls to lift clear of the water as if they’re floating on air. But with great speed comes great risk, and the boats have been known to collide or capsize in the heat of the moment.
“It’s fair to say that, at times, you’re sitting there wondering what will happen next,” said SoftBank Team Japan Skipper Dean Barker, who nearly capsized the AC72 with Emirates Team New Zealand during the 34th America’s Cup Match in 2013. “The adrenaline is way different than the sailing I grew up with. The guy steering has the best run of it. You sit there and watch the other four guys get pushed to their absolute physical limits. At [the] end of a 15-minute race they’re completely spent. Then, 10 minutes later, they have to turn it around and do it again. The guy steering tries to help out the best he can with maneuvers, but there’s no denying that the boats are very tough on the guys onboard.”
The America’s Cup isn’t all about big, fast-foiling catamarans. The Friday before the event was the AC Endeavour Youth Day in New York, where 100 students, ages 13 and older, participated in a program called STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). This is the first time that the America’s Cup Endeavour youth education and sailing program will be in the U.S. The program provides a youth sailing initiative and an internship opportunity for U.S. collegiate sailors and coaches. Students sailed on the Hobie Wave catamarans that feature bright yellow sails that were donated by North Sails—and branded to reflect the iconic New York taxicab. Don’t you just love it? After Friday’s event, the Hobie Waves will be donated to local youth sailing programs, along with legacy funding to help run the programs going forward and grow the sport from the ground up. Next week’s column will be an up close and personal review of the ACWS.