After almost a hundred years – 96 years to be exact – the America’s Cup returned to New York as part of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series. It was an exciting time and I was fortunate to be part of it as a stake boat at the finish line marking the course boundary.
I must say, it really doesn’t get better than that in terms of front row seats – except it was quite the challenge! Anchoring in 60 feet of water with silt at the bottom of the river, combined with a 3.5 knot current, gusts up to 28 knots and prop wash from large ferries spinning just 40-50 feet from us, didn’t make it easy holding the GPS position we were given by the race committee. I ended up having to keep the boat in idle forward, sometimes a tad more to keep Sedna in position. However, despite all that, it was wonderful to be on the water and witness first-hand the America’s Cup back in New York.
Rewinding a bit, it was an exciting week here at Liberty Landing Marina as the containers arrived, the technical village was set up and the boats were assembled. I learned quite a bit about the boats during that week, including that the back part of the boats were bolted on as the 45 feet length of the hulls are too long for the shipping containers. Also, I was able to see fist-hand how the boats are assembled on land, picked up by a crane and lifted into the water (see photo page).
Friday was designed as a practice race day and a dry-run to ensure that all stake boats and marshal boats knew their positions, the marks could be anchored correctly depending on the wind direction and the race directors could communicate with everybody involved. All-in-all, it went well despite having drizzle, fog and little to no wind. What did not disappoint however, was the strong current in the Hudson River, and many boats including the AC 45s, the anchored stake boats and the marshal boats were struggling to cope with the current. And, it wasn’t just the boats either. At one point, one of the finish mark’s anchor didn’t hold and we watched it drift right by us. It was a good practice day to get the kinks out!
The official race days were Saturday and Sunday, and although Saturday was a disappointment in terms of wind, the teams put on quite the show for the estimated 75,000 people lining the promenade of Brookfield Place and Battery Park. Each team’s support boats towed the AC 45s, bringing them up high on the foils for a ‘fly-by’ for the crowds. This was done perhaps only a couple hundred feet away from the seawall, and the throngs of spectators loved it! It was their first chance to see these ‘Formula 1’ racing catamarans up close and personal.
At Sunday morning’s race briefing, it looked like it would be a fantastic race day with plenty of thrills and spills. Alas, the wind did not cooperate as much as the teams and racers would have liked. Because of the location right off of lower Manhattan, the winds were quite gusty and variable – spoiled by the skyscrapers along the waterfront. Needless to say, due to the strong adverse current and the gusty and variable winds, winning the individual races came down to a certain extent to those teams who positioned themselves the best for the gusts without being swept out of bounds by the swift current. Having said that, there were some exciting moments with the cats coming up on foils or lifting suddenly in the wind gusts.
The location was not the ideal place to hold the race from a wind perspective. For those of us who sail regularly here, we know that off of Governor’s Island or Robbins’s Reef by the Statue of Liberty is much more consistent in terms of wind. However, in terms of drawing a sizeable crowd and introducing a large number of people to sailing in general, and the America’s Cup in particular, the Battery Park location is ideal. On Sunday, there was an estimated 100,000 people, and it was by far was largest crowd I have ever seen along the seawall for events (excluding the Macy’s fireworks) since I’ve moved to the New York area. Although sailing purists have derided the logic of holding an America’s Cup venue in New York City, I would like to see it come back. From a spectator perspective, I think it was very successful and if the NBC TV broadcast on May 21st pulls in sizeable ratings, then we could see the LVACWS return to the City in a few years. fingers crossed.