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AC34: How to Watch It

The question keeps coming up, but the answer to “How do I watch the Cup?” is simple. San Francisco Bay is a natural arena. You can see “something” from almost anywhere. The other part of the answer is this: follow the broadcast.

The question keeps coming up, but the answer to “How do I watch the Cup?” is simple. San Francisco Bay is a natural arena. You can see “something” from almost anywhere. Rooftops, hilltops—you name it. Down along the waterfront, there will also be a combination of free public viewing at Crissy Field, and free public viewing and paid bleacher seating at the America’s Cup Village at Marina Green. For ticket sales, go to americascup.com/en/experience. In addition, the America’s Cup Park at Pier 27/29 will be a great place to see the boats dock in and out on race days, while Pier 39 will be a great place to see the final leg. If you own a boat there’s always the Bay itself, although the racecourse will be surrounded by a heavily policed no-go area that will keep spectators well clear of the competitors.

The other part of the answer is this: follow the broadcast. Even if you’re right next to the action, the boats will go by so fast it will make your head spin. From the get-go, Larry Ellison intended to make 2013 the first well-televised America’s Cup, and we’ll include the Internet feed in that. For the first time, technology will make it possible to view the racecourse on a screen in a way that will truly be easy to comprehend.

Big screen or tablet, either will do. Even when the boats are close by, there will be far more information available digitally than even the most seasoned observer could ever hope to tease out by simply eyeballing the action. Watching for real will be a thrill that should be much improved by having a screen handy.

The electronic system used to analyze and broadcast AC34 is an evolution of the yellow first-down line (that isn’t really there) developed by Sportvision Inc. for football. For AC34, Ellison brought in Sportvision founders Ken Milnes and 2010 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Stan Honey to create a system called Liveline that “paints” in everything from ahead/behind lines and laylines to current, wind direction and even wind shadows to within a tolerance of 2 centimeters. The system is so precise Principal Race Officer John Craig has also adopted it for managing the racecourse, and Chief Umpire Mike Martin is using it as a tool for assessing and enforcing penalties.

To appreciate how the system benefits Martin and his crew, imagine AC 2013 umpires in chase boats, blowing whistles, waving flags and hollering at boats going 40 knots. Although there will still be umpires on the course, much of the work has shifted to a video booth, where Liveline leaves no doubt about the right-of-way circle around a mark.

Each AC72 will also be equipped with an array of colored lights to communicate things like distance to boundaries, when a penalty has been incurred, and when a penalty has been cleared using the following system: Amber—a boat is approaching a boundary: the light blinks faster and faster up to the boundary, where it goes solid; Blue—the umpires have assessed a penalty, and the boat must slow down and yield distance until the umpires turn the blue light off; Red—protest; Green—a boat is within 138 feet of a boundary: this is unique to the Cup, an alert to the crews of both boats. If a boat needs to tack to port to avoid the boundary, it gains right-of-way over a starboard-tack opponent. This is about safety in big boats making unprecedented speeds.

The entire racecourse is dynamic. “Marks” are boats geo-positioned and capable of re-positioning instantly to shorten or lengthen a race to fit a broadcast slot. Each race will begin with a reaching start off Crissy Field/Marina Green, a mile or so to leeward of the wind funnel that is the Golden Gate. The boats will then bear away around a mark just off the America’s Cup Village at San Francisco’s Marina Green and turn downwind to a set of gate marks near Pier 39. This is the windiest part of San Francisco Bay. If the fog is in, the puffs will hit where the fog breaks. Tidal currents here also are at or close to maximum for a body of water where one sixth of all that water ebbs out and floods in twice a day. Current speeds of 2-3 knots are “normal.” Sometimes less. Sometimes much, much more, and when “more” is working against a big breeze, baby, it can be epic.

The legs will be adjusted to fit a broadcast schedule, but for a ballpark think 2.5 to 3 miles for the longer ones. The hometown breeze always blows from the Golden Gate. Even if a high-pressure system takes over the region with a land breeze—a small percentage play, but it happens—expect a local sea breeze in the Gate before the day is out. That is why the America’s Cup needed San Francisco Bay.

Fog is a story in itself. Often in the summer the bay will develop a high fog, forming on top of a surface layer of cold air but not affecting visibility. Or the fog will break and dissipate right at the Gate. White-out fog is more likely on a flood tide, with cold ocean water rushing in, but it’s too much to think through every combination here. Just know (but don’t tell everybody) that the summer of 2010, after Oracle won the Cup, was so foggy that running an event would have been a disast…. no, I can’t even say that word.

In addition to starting in front of Marina Green, the first mark will also be located off that point and the boats will pass by there more often than anyplace else. With amplified pre-start interviews, finish lines and post-race interviews set at Pier 27/29, spectators there will have an opportunity to see and hear the sailors firsthand.

In the end, though, pretty much every part of the course has something to offer (again, that’s a big reason why Larry Ellison chose the Bay in the first place) and of this we can be confident: on climactic race days the bleachers will be full, as will the rooftops and the surrounding hill.

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Photos courtesy of America's Cup Event Authority LLC

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