Russell Coutts was over the moon. The first America’s Cup World Series had just wrapped up on San Francisco Bay, right where the 34th America’s Cup match will be contested in 2013. Coutts had won the match racing in a finale sailed against fellow Oracle Team USA skipper, Jimmy Spithill, but that wasn’t why he was excited. Spithill had also just won the fleet racing, but that wasn’t it, either. Coutts was pumped because the America’s Cup had scored a breakthrough. The crowds had turned out, big time. The hometown crowd had cheered—loudly—for the home team, and the sound was still ringing in his ears. The self-appointed guardians of tradition? Won over. I’m your witness, and Coutts proclaimed it in three words: “Proof of concept!” Exclamation mark required.
Forget the good turnout for the races in Newport, with its unique Cup history. Forget the lousy turnout in San Diego. San Francisco is virgin territory. The Bay has great sailing, but the citizenry has largely ignored that fact since the advent of pro sports on television—until now. With the list of challengers dwindling to four, local papers had been running “Cup in Trouble” headlines. The turnout last August turned that around (an estimate of 150,000 people over five days is credible) and then—
And then Oracle launched the first of its AC72s and promptly broke it. A daggerboard was to blame. Test ride number two was delayed for weeks. Artemis Racing, meanwhile, had a completed boat still waiting for repairs to the wing the team broke last spring. They hope to be sailing by the time you read this. Team Korea has purportedly “ordered carbon” for an AC72, but that’s about it. The fact is only Emirates Team New Zealand, which sailed full-foil, hulls flying on test day five, managed to look good straight out of the box. The great experiment continues.
Photo Courtesy of Chris Cameron/34th America's Cup