It’s been a strange Cup cycle. For all the press releases and hoopla surrounding the America’s Cup World series, AC35 continues to feel somehow distant—no surprise given it’s taking place off a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean—and this sense of distance has been only exacerbated by the lack of Cup boats. Until now.
Over the past couple of weeks, the five challengers and the defender, Oracle Team USA, have finally begun launching the AC50s aboard which they will compete beginning next month, after having expended a mandatory 28-day “blackout” period during which the boats could not be sailed. And soon to come will be months of intensive training.
“It’s a great moment to see our raceboat hit the water in Bermuda. We will be working very hard now on the final development and testing of this boat to make sure we are ready for the racing,” said Sir Ben Ainslie after the February launch of Land Rover BAR’s Rita, in what is perhaps the greatest understatement of this entire Cup cycle given his team had less than four months to figure out how best to sail its 50-knot speedster.
As they are doing so, they must also continue with the relentless physical-fitness program they, like the rest of the syndicates, have been pursuing: in the full knowledge that no matter how strong their six-man crews may be, its efforts on the boats’ grinders will inevitably fall short of what the trimmers are going to want to control their wingsails and daggerboards. Alas, for all the glamour of the Cup, these sailors will be leading a brutal existence until the end of the regatta.
Meanwhile, a whole different kind of sailing is taking place among a fleet of intrepid sailors who have decided that flying to Bermuda just isn’t good enough. These include competitors in the Antigua-Bermuda and Marion Bermuda races, and an estimated 50 to 100 sailors who will be leaving from six different ports along the Eastern Seaboard to take part in the Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO) “Rally to the Cup.” (The Bermuda One-Two also sails to the island in early June, but then promptly departs on its doublehanded leg June 15.)
Truth be told, while the Antigua-Bermuda Race (antiguabermuda.com) undoubtedly wins the glam award, with boats like Peter Harrison’s 115ft Farr-designed ketch Sojana in the mix, our hearts lie with the motley collection of boats in the other two fleets.
The Marion Bermuda Race (marionbermuda.com), for example, has long been known for its strong contingent of cruising boats. While the Rally to the Cup (sailopo.com) will undoubtedly attract designs of all shapes and sizes. OPO will also help line up experienced crew for skippers in need of additional hands.
The Marion-to-Bermuda race starts off June 9, which will get the fleet into Bermuda a few days before the start of the AC35 finals series, which begins June 17. Similarly, the Rally to the Cup sets out on June 10. Both organizations are also helping to arrange dockage (at the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club for Marion-to-Bermuda racers, and in St. George’s Harbor for OPO rally participants).
OPO founder Hank Schmitt has also leveraged his extensive experience organizing rallies to Bermuda to help arrange for a paid launch service in St. George’s Harbor for those who anchor out—a much cheaper option. Given the throngs expected to descend on Bermuda the old-fashioned way—by jet—it will also provide crews with opportunity for a brief respite from the madding crowd.
Photos courtesy of ACEA (top); Fran Grenon/spectrumphoto (bottom)