It’s about now that I usually wake up and remember that I have an 0800 conference call, coupled with design deadlines, customer expectations and yesterday’s promises that are all too real. But that doesn’t happen today. There is no shrill chirp of my alarm clock – only the steady creaking of the backstay’s nylon webbing as it hotly chafes against the smoke-black aft beam. We are sailing in the America’s Cup World Series in Newport, Rhode Island: and this, unbelievably, is no dream.
(Rob Rich sailed aboard Team Energy's AC45 during the America's Cup World Series on June 28, 2012.)
As we cross the course, a small light blue powerboat comes alongside us and gestures to Loick as we approach the shoreline crowd. The two crews can’t hear each other, but their group gestures something and waves a video camera, and Peyron indicates that he understands their request. I comprehend nothing initially, but soon the sails are trimmed further in. The crew shifts to the upwind hull as it barely breaks contact with the water, and we are making way at a furious clip toward Fort Adams. As we draw very close, we bear off into a jibe, increasing our speed and throwing sheets of spray off the newly leeward hull.
From the water, I hear the entire crowd roar as the wing swings quietly away and the crew swaps positions again to join Peyron on the rising port hull. Shoreline spectators are an integral part of the new America’s Cup, and our skipper is putting on a show just for them.
Our next pass across the course is all business as we shoot past the starting line and I see the crew note down the time displayed on the committee boat. I’m not overly familiar with match racing, but when I hear one of the crew start counting down, I begin trying to figure out where I will sit. Up until now, I’ve crouched statically just port of the center beam, but as Artemis tacks, I see their spectator move to the high side.
My goal so far has been not to interfere, but I don’t want to hinder the boat either, so I mentally pick my spot, further out and toward the hull, for the next tacks. We’re now into the last 30 seconds of pre-start as I hear the crew count down “Trente-trois, trente-duex, trente-et-un…” Movements and speech are quicker now, and voices are louder and clearer as crew and captain call back and forth to one another.
(Pictured: AC45s off Fort Adams in Newport Harbor)
Our following legs are surprisingly short. We streak across the water, and cover large distances over a time period I can’t get accustomed to. At each tack, I move in a careful, ungainly fashion over the raised center beam. With nothing aft but air to brace against, and the tiller cross-bar immediately forward, rail meat like me needs to balance left to right (and carefully at that) to ensure the rest of the crew is not disrupted. And that Peyron’s steering remains unimpinged.
(Pictured: Moths taking flight while the racing takes place on the other side of the fort)
After uneventfully crossing the finish, the crew is silent as they quietly drain their water bottles and offload them to their support boat. The only event to break our quiet comes when the New Zealand syndicate rounds the windward mark and capsizes. I remember the guest racer who was headed out on that boat and hope he at least got a leg or two in before they flipped. It's pretty clear after the first two righting attempts that they are not going anywhere other than the haul-out crane.
Eventually Loick Peryon motions to me and says "You want to come up?"
"Uh--you want me to come forward?" I respond.
I bound forward, wondering if I'll get a chance to do something like trim a sail or even hike out.
I bounce enthusiastically over the aft beam and across the trampoline and just as I stop where the skipper was pointing, I notice the Energy Team RIB pulling alongside. I'm only disappointed for a second as I recall how lucky I am to even be here at all. I give a hand to my replacement as he boards, then dismount the carbon-fiber dragon, landing in the nicest RIB I've ever been on.
(On view from Fort Adams, the Newport-based 12 Meter America's Cup boat Weatherly passes by)
(A crane lowers an AC45 into the water before the day's events begin)