It’s only a coincidence that I happen to be here while AC35 is going down, but it is a happy one. Yesterday I took full advantage of it and hopped on the special weekend ferry ($10 round trip) that runs direct from Ordinance Island in St. Georges out to the America’s Cup race village in the Dockyard. It’s a 45-minute run, all the way from the eastern to the western tip of the island. As we were pulling into the race village I could see the Defender Oracle’s boat was out on Great Sound, running through her paces in a light 8-knot breeze, and soon after I actually stepped ashore I saw she’d been quickly hoisted out on to the hard.
One of the impressive, and I assume expensive, features of these boats is that enormous cranes must be deployed every time you want to go for a sail in one.
The main event yesterday was the beginning of the Louis Vuitton final series between Emirates Team New Zealand and Artemis to determine who will ultimately challenge Oracle for the Cup. I had about an hour before the racing began to scope out the village, and it was pretty much what I expected: lots of jumbotron video screens, a soundstage for live musical acts, lots of opportunities to buy over-priced beverages, food, and fashion accessories, a playground for kids, plus a few educational exhibits scattered here and there. Access cost me $30, plus if you want you can pay a big premium to get into some fancy viewing venues, but these don’t get you a better view of the action. Near as I could tell, all they get you is a nice place to sit down and a much shorter walk to a bar.
“Stadium sailing” is the big AC buzzword these days, which gives the impression you can watch everything up close and personal from shore. Bermuda’s Great Sound does make a very good stadium, but there is a reason they call it “great.” Seen from the Dockyard the middle of the sound, where the heart of the race course is located, is fairly distant. You can clearly see the boats racing, for sure, but they do look mighty small.
The good thing, however, is that the finish line is indeed very close to the race village, almost literally a stone’s throw (if you have a good arm). So I quickly perceived, once the racing started, what the best viewing strategy is: watch the bulk of the race on a jumbotron screen, then run to the wall facing the finish line to catch the finale.
Racing on Great Sound as seen with naked eyes from the race village
The finish line, viewed with a naked eye (and a slightly zoomed camera lens). That’s ETNZ winning race 1 of yesterday’s three-race series
The racing itself was fantastic. Artemis effectively won all three starts (though the last one was very close), but this did not translate to three straight wins. In the first race the Kiwis, using foils that were a bit too heavy for the light conditions, managed to come from behind. In the second race Artemis stayed ahead from start to finish. The third race was a real nail-biter. The Kiwis made up an early deficit to run neck-and-neck with Artemis late in the race, but the Swedes caught a piece of very bad luck (and cost us spectators what would have likely been a photo finish at the end) when their helmsman, Nathan Outteridge, went flying overboard while switching helm stations during a tack.
Artemis wins race 2
ETNZ makes it 2-1 at the end of one day of racing. The first team to win 5 races gets to meet Oracle in the AC final series
A hot soca band from Trinidad lights up the crowd after the racing is over
Based on what I saw yesterday I’d say either team could win this series, and I’m very curious to see how things go today. Though so far it has been raining all day. This is a very good thing for Bermuda, as the island, besieged with guests, has been running low on water, but it may put a crimp in the race schedule.
Talking to people here, everyone is very upbeat about what’s going on. There are more yachts here than I have ever seen in the 25 years I’ve been sailing to and from the island. Marine services are totally maxed out. (Many many thanks to Bermuda Yacht Services and Sparyard Marine for helping me with my engine in spite of that!) Plus there are lots and lots of random tourists wandering about wearing AC t-shirts.
Most Bermudians are following the racing pretty closely and many have picked favorite teams and are rooting hard for them. Lord knows I heard lots of hooting and hollering at the race village yesterday. The most popular team is Oracle, primarily because Larry Ellison has already announced he will keep the Cup here if Oracle’s defense is successful. No one believes for a minute that this a solemn unbreakable promise, but most seem willing enough for now to take the bait as far as local allegiances are concerned.
IN OTHER NEWS: The fleet in the OSTAR/TWOSTAR transat race from Plymouth to Newport has been savaged by a ferocious low-pressure system. Wind blowing at hurricane force and huge seas. At least one boat has sunk, others have been abandoned, but so far no fatalities. Assisting vessels include the ocean liner Queen Mary 2.
One sailing buddy of mine suggested I should take this direct northern route on my current transat delivery. Needless to say, even with all the trouble I’ve had on my more southern route, I’m very glad I did not follow his advice.
ALSO: The corporate boss owner of Cheeki Rafiki, the Beneteau First 40.7 that lost its keel three years ago on a transat delivery, with the loss of all four crew aboard, is getting his in court in the UK. Evidence has it he knowingly deferred maintenance on the boat and continued a night of bar-hopping after he first got word from the crew that the keel was coming loose. Reportedly Cheeki was known to be missing keel bolts before she departed Antigua on her ill-fated passage.