Although it took a while for the breeze to fill in on Saturday, the Windy City more than lived up to its name this past weekend for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Chicago, held off the city’s historic Navy Pier—so much so, in fact, that not one but two of the six competing teams spent some time in the drink when their boats capsized.
Equally important—if not more so—the racing this past weekend saw two teams that have struggled in the past come to the fore, with Swedish-flagged Artemis Racing bagging the overall win, and SoftBank Team Japan notching its first two bullets. In the process they served notice that in this Cup cycle anything can happen on a given day of racing.
Finally, Cup organizers have got to be happy with the turnout: with thousands of race fans making the trek to the waterfront to see the action, and hundreds of spectator boats out in harbor—a sign that interest in the 35th America’s Cup may very well be building strong interest among sailors and non-sailors alike.
The fun started with a series of practice races on Friday, with winds in the high teens gusting into the mid-20s. The first to go over was Emirates Team New Zealand, in a capsize during a match race with Oracle Team USA that was eerily reminiscent of the time it nearly went over toward the end of the finals in the 34th Cup.
“These boats are pretty hard to sail, and every now and then you get them wrong,” said Emirates skipper Peter Burling. “We were going through a normal gybe, both rudders ventilated and I got ejected. It was our own doing, but this is what practice days are for. It was a bit of a shame, but the boat didn’t look too bad, and we didn’t have any problems being straight back for the next race.”
After that it was Oracle Team USA’s turn, when skipper Jimmy Sptihill was forced to avoid Artemis at the last moment during a close-crossing situation midway through the fleet race.
“We just didn’t see Artemis going upwind,” said Oracle tactician Tom Slingsby. “Unfortunately, we capsized. However, we didn’t hit them, and we managed not to destroy two boats, so even though it’s frustrating and even though we came last in the race because of that, all in all, it’s better than writing off two boats and not being able to compete this weekend when it really matters. It’s a practice day, it’s done and now we’re ready to roll tomorrow.”
Alas, for Oracle, because the wind was late filling in on Saturday, there was no way to get off the requisite races so that same practice race in which they swimming went also ended up counting toward the final standings.
Worse yet, although conditions were perfect on Sunday, with a northerly breeze in the mid-teens, Oracle took a penalty for straying outside the racing area, which along with its earlier capsize helped drop it to fifth overall for the weekend.
As for Artemis, despite a strong showing by Britain’s Land Rover BAR, which finished second overall with Sir Ben Ainslie at the helm, a first and two seconds were more than enough to put it at the top of the leaderboard for the regatta. Artemis is also now in fourth for the overall series, with Emirates in first, Land Rover BAR second and Oracle Team USA third.
Next stop for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series is Portsmouth, England, on July 24.
“It was unreal here,” said Oracle’s Spithill afterward, clearly disappointed by his team’s finish, but thrilled with the reception the regatta received by local race fans. “Let’s hope this becomes a regular stop on the series. The race course is awesome. All weekend we saw the huge crowds and we all had great support. I hope we’re coming back.”