Sailing like you have never seen it, so you will want to see it: a running theme of the 34th America’s Cup. It’s the first time the races have been held in-shore, with stadium seating, and hundreds of cameras in boats, on-shore, in helicopters with the crews miked for every possible angle and grunt to be broadcast with commentary across the United States on a national network, streaming online, and airing in sailing nations across the world.
The boats are fast, dangerous, and within eyesight. Two knife-thin 72-foot pontoons float precariously above the water on finger-tip hydrofoils carrying 11 frantically moving (shiny in the case of Luna Rossa) men decked out in swat gear who are constantly fighting against their boat’s overwhelming desire to catapult them skyward. They streak by drawing gasps from crowds who flock to the shoreline to watch. Whether its two boats racing or just one, people line the tips of pier 27 and marina green.
Despite having only three challengers, and generally only one on the water since Artemis’ tragic accident, it’s still bigger than ever and drawing international sailors, curious tourists, and the coveted football/hockey/baseball/basketball crowd to bay. From there, spectators divide attention between the water and the big-screen televisions while listening to live-commentary and enjoying chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Its anything but a typical sporting event, always a niche sport, but the radical changes made for this cup are mimicking circuit track-racing and breaking the world’s oldest sporting trophy out of its custom made Louis Vuitton case and onto the stands so that the general public can Instagram themselves next to it.
At this point, its still too early to tell if we are going to see sailing break into the mainstream sports television cycle. But it is creating new fans. Out on marina green this morning, they braved the chilly wind and squinted through the fog to catch the Italian team, Luna Rossa, making her way around the course solo. Significantly smaller than the weekend crowds, this group was predominantly middle-aged and equipped with DSLRs, smartphones, and cans of beer.
Meet three new cup die-hards:
Larry Jones, 72
Oriental, North Carolina
Retired Statistics Professor
Have you watched the America’s Cup before?
This is my first time being at one. But I have watched many of them.
Do you sail?
I have a 35 foot catamaran and a 16 foot trimaran.
What do you think about this America’s Cup?
Well, I don’t know.. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love the technology. So as this event illustrates the cost of developing the technology and keeping up with it is prohibitive. It’s ridiculous to have an event like this with only four boats.
It takes a lot of the interest out of it. That’s the paradox I guess, it is truly amazing technology, a lot of it, that will carry over to other kinds of sail craft but that is going to be a while.
It has become a billionaire’s sport, not something that even pretty well-heeled racing sailors can aspire to anymore. The good side of that I suppose is that it will strengthen a lot of what happens in the other racing classes.
What do you think about watching sailing on television?
I think its great! It is terrific, in all sports, including this one. It happens to be something I am interested in is that technology. It makes all of the difference for television spectators and even just standing right here, given the size of the course there is a lot that you can see. It’s pretty cool to be able to look right there [points to television screen] and see what is going on, on the boat.
Do you watch other sports on television?
Not a lot. I mostly watch finals competitions... I don’t have much patience for mediocre sports even at the pro-level. I watch all the playoffs.
So sailing is your favourite?
Oh for sure, yea it is. It’s a shame that there is not more of it available. I mean here you have pretty good coverage but nationwide you are basically talking about extra-cost cable changes, I watch most of it on YouTube.
What do you like about watching sailing?
At this level watching the teamwork. Going back to your earlier question, one of the things that is missing here is that the strategy has almost disappeared. When you have five or six boats the jockeying for position at the start line for example is one of the most exciting parts, well that is basically gone here. And, moreover, I haven’t watched enough to say this with any type of confidence but in general what happens in these races between pairs of these catamarans is that whoever is ahead at the start is going to win, as they approach the finish line one is almost always going to be far back so there is not any real head-to-head competition involved anymore as is with any boats, including catamarans. I do a fair amount of racing and there is alot of head-to-head action particularly at the marks. At that is all gone which is a shame and removes alot of the interest, even for people who aren’t into sailing.
Martha Callahan, 57
Retired Civilian Manager of Police Department
Did you come to San Francisco for the America’s Cup?
No we just came to do a bike-ride along here. And we just sort of stumbled on this yesterday. So we put our bikes down and came down to watch it. I mean I knew it was going on. I was here a few months ago, but I just wanted to come check it out.
How do you like it?
Its just amazing! To think that wind is carrying them that quickly.
Have you watched sailing before?
My husband has a sailboat so yes we’ve watched the America’s Cup on T.V.
Do you think this one is a lot different?
Oh certainly, and its much different to see it in person.
Do you think you will watch it on television when you go home?
Oh definitely yes. I bet I will, I’m hooked now. I was wondering, my husband said he couldn’t get these on T.V. But I will definitely watch it when it comes on.
Retired Hotel Manager
Is this the first time you have watched the America’s Cup?
[My wife and I] were here last summer which got us hooked, we were here in the grandstands. We bought seats for the 45’s and we were just hooked.
How did you hear about it?
Well I have always kind of followed the America’s Cup and then when it came to the city, when it was going to be here in town. It was obviously a big event and something we wanted to be part of. I’ve always followed it over the years and this is the first time we’ve actually been able to see what is going on. And obviously this close to us.
When did you first get interested?
Well when we first lost it, Dennis Conner I think, when he first lost it and then won it back thats when I got interested. Then there was that movie Wind, which is just an awesome movie that I have watched several times.
Are you a sailor?
No I’m not, the summer camp I taught at back in Iowa, I was banned from the sailboats because I kept sinking them and dropping the masts.
What do you like about watching this?
Well it has been fun you know with the technology and I mean the difference between the single-hull boats and I mean the 45’s last year. It was almost like NASCAR, I mean these guys are bumping into each other and it was competitive and you know it seemed to be a more physical race than it used to be. The boats are so fast, even the 45’s are so much faster than the old boats so its just fun to watch them. It is amazing.
What do you think about watching sailing on television?
I love the new coverage they are doing. The way that they measure the the delta’s and the wind speeds. There is so much that they can track now that we couldn’t see before. Then the camera boat, I actually watched the thing on television where they built that camera boat that they use; how they custom built that for the races. We had season tickets for the whole season then they refunded the first part, because for whatever reason. A year ago they were talking about seven or eight boats competing for the Cup and now there is three challengers and so they refunded our tickets. So for the finals we will be over at the yacht club over there. We just came down today because I have been watching all the races on television and I wanted to see these things hydro-foil up close.
Do you watch other sports on TV?
I am a huge hockey fan, in fact I just moved up here from Southern California and I had season tickets for the Ducks. Football a little bit, I will watch it if there is a decent game on. Basketball not really.
What is your favourite sport to watch?
I’d say this. There is always a hockey game on but this is such a unique sport and the opportunity to see it like this is is great. What I like is that they brought the racing back to the masses. I mean anybody can watch these races up and down the bay here. You know, you don’t have to buy tickets. You can stand right here and see it and they have really changed it and I love the changes they have made in the sport.
Do you America’s Cup it will become more popular?
I don’t think it will get that big with the frequency that they do it. What is it every three or four years. If they did this on a regular basis you know we are all going to be fair weather friends as long as Oracle has the cup obviously the Bay area will have an affinity to it. But I don’t see how you can market this when it is so infrequent to get the viewership you want.