Superb Competition creates 6 winners at America's Cup races in San Francisco.
Special Nordstjernan report from the races
Superb competition for the week created six winners: Oracle Team USA-Coutts; Luna Rossa-Piranha; Oracle Team USA-Spithill; Larry Ellison; San Francisco; and, all spectators.
It was a week for novices and expert sailors alike. And thanks to the superb graphics provided on broadcast and closed circuit television, everybody was able to learn and be excited by the races. The week began with a ceiling of low-lying fog hugging the roadbed of the 75-year-old Golden Gate Bridge, obscuring its towers but not the race course. Tuesday was a practice day, so while the catamarans raced back and forth across the bay, I familiarized myself with the America’s Cup (AC) village on Marina Green fronting the bay.
Just outside the entrance in Fort Mason’s parking lot, the Bike Coalition had set up a space where they would valet a bicycle while the owner wandered the fair grounds. At the entrance was information about the grounds, the teams and their crews as well as a program describing the events scheduled throughout the week.
The America’s Cup pavilion contained a giant projection screen with comfortable couches for viewing and sets of monitors where one could learn all about the competition, its history and current features. Outside this tent were several displays where one could test one’s strength in several key AC athletic skills, such as grinding: how fast could you unfurl a sail? Here, too, were daily scoreboards and this area featured a Red Bull catamaran tilted up sideways to gain a feel for the size of these craft.
Beyond this area were the stage and a huge projection screen beside it, bounded in back by the technicians’ booth and a small elevated stage for press photographers. The morning show aired daily, explaining the highlights of the day and the teams in each of the races; at the end of the day the interviews with the winning skippers were held here. On Sunday, this is where the winners and their top two challengers were celebrated. Mayor Lee awarded each of the three crews their bronze, silver and gold medals with a commemorative engraved silver platter going to the winner of the San Francisco 2012 America’s Cup.
Further down the fairway were food concessions, the garment and memorabilia shop, and, facing the water, the private team tents where teams entertained visitors before taking them onto the bay.
Let the races begin!
The actual races began with qualifying races for boats and crews that were not seeded during the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) held in international ports during the year. The new teams—China Team, Ben Ainslie Racing and Artemis Red—were tested in match races against veteran boats. Of these only the second team won a spot in the first of the true qualifying rounds, the next day.
The races of Thursday through Saturday then followed a predictable schedule: two match races followed by two fleet races, each about half an hour apart; the shorter match races took about half an hour; the longer fleets less than an hour. Match races are a duel between only two boats in which all other boats are successively eliminated from competition, leaving only the top two to compete against each other on the final day. In contrast, fleet racing has all eleven boats racing against the pack in six successive races. They were scored cumulatively through all these races, for the first six races, with the winner awarded 12 points and the other competitors, according to their finish, one to 11 points.
Another aspect made these fleet races particularly exciting: Three of the teams had two boats each, while the other teams could only afford one boat and crew. USA had Oracle-Coutts and Oracle-Spithill, Sweden had Artemis Racing-White and Artemis Racing-Red, and Italy fielded Luna Rossa-Swordfish and Luna Rossa-Piranha.
In the Quarter Final Match Races on Thursday, Sweden’s Artemis-White boat eliminated the Italian Luna Rossa-Swordfish; and the USA’s Oracle-Spithill eliminated the other Italian boat, Luna Rossa-Piranha. On Friday, USA’s Oracle-Coutts bested France’s Energy Team and New Zealand’s Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) knocked Great Britain’s Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) out of the competition. Saturday’s semifinals saw the two USA boats beat their competitors, Sweden and New Zealand; however, because Sweden was higher in the overall standings, it took third place in the match races—with the other boats ranked as follows: 4th ETNZ; 5th Energy; 6th Piranha; 7th Swordfish; 8th Ben Ainslie; 9th Team Korea; 10th China Team; and 11th Sweden’s Artemis-Red. Notice that 8th through 11th were all novice teams which hadn’t raced during the ACWS.
It’s also important to understand when we’re mentioning nations’ boats that the teams are typically international and professional. There were several Olympic gold medalists on the crews. Much was made by ACWS’s advanced promotion when Brian Ainsley arrived to race in the ACWS-SF a week after he won four golds in the Olympics. In the 2013 ACWS races he is expected to join the Oracle team; however, as a novice to this sailing regatta, his threat never materialized. In contrast, one of the most exciting new sailors to this event was Nathan Outteridge, another gold medalist sailor in the recent Olympics. Although he garnered about half a dozen penalties, he learned from each and never gave up, while consistently leading his Team Korea-White Tiger boat through the pack. He is definitely one to watch in 2013.
Having lost their individual contests in the match races, the Italians were formidable throughout the fleet racing. The French were also good but not as consistent. The incredible disappointment was New Zealand—always a strong team and on the winners stands since 2003—they dropped precipitously in the standings and will have a lot to do in rebuilding their team and reputation. Sweden’s veteran Artemis-White boat skippered by Terry Hutchinson was a tough competitor, reaching third on Wednesday and fourth on Friday, but too often further down in the pack by the end of the race. We can count on them being leaders in 2013.
Wednesday and Thursday were blanketed above with a layer of fog, like Tuesday, but again the racing course along the waterfront was clearly visible and the temperatures were in the 50s. The fog kept the breezes somewhat slower but also cut the chop on the waves. The same day Artemis-Red, with its new helmsman Argentine Santiago Lange, lost in the Match race, he managed a very respectable second in the fleet race, just ahead of teammate Terry Hutchinson in Artemis-White, though “Santi” was never higher than sixth other than that.
So by the end of Saturday the fleet racing standings and cumulative points were as follows: 1st Oracle-Spithill (61); 2nd Energy (48); 3rd Team Korea (45); 4th Piranha (45); 5th Artemis-White (39); 6th Swordfish (35); 7th ETNZ (35); 8th Oracle-Coutts (29); 9th Artemis-Red (28); 10th J.P.Morgan-BAR (26); 11th China (9). Given that the Championship Fleet Race on Sunday awarded steeply greater rewards—40 points for 1st; 25 for 2nd; 20 for 3rd; and decreasing successively—each team could see what they had to accomplish to better themselves.
One thing must be explained first: Why was Coutts, the four time ACWS champion, in 8th place? Even at 50 the master had won the first fleet race by a sizeable margin, giving a lesson to the students in all other boats. He was typically consistent in bolting across the starting line just as the gun sounded. This is a remarkable feat in itself: First, eleven catamarans are jostling for position hurtling across the line. They must time their approach perfectly; a moment before the gun gets a penalty. And Coutts is a master in such timing. On Friday, he was intending to come in just below his team’s other boat. He was not anticipating teammate Spithill’s competitive spirit, which cut him off and forced him to crash into the starting boat. Both boats were slightly damaged and that was the end of Coutts’ racing for that day. His chase boat inspected the damage and his boat limped off to the team’s dock to be inspected and repaired throughout the night. Reportedly Oracle Team CEO Coutts did not even speak to his Skipper Spithill that night. Instead he anticipated his revenge in the finals!
All-American match race on the final race day
As exciting as all of the days leading up to the final had been, nothing could have topped Super Sunday. Even the weather was cooperating with bright sun and temperatures at bayside in the 70s, allowing much greater winds (more than 20 knots).
On the weekend as expected there were very large crowds onshore and on the bay. The most interesting aspect of this was the fact that there were many young families and young adults. Many said they had never seen a yacht race but were interested to see and judge for themselves. By the end of the day everyone was a fervent true believer!
The match race was all USA: Oracle-Coutts vs Oracle-Spithill. Again Coutts bolted through the starting gate and had the better of Spithill for several lengths. But if Coutts is reknowned for capturing the start, Spithill is famously tenacious for working his way through even a pack of boats to be within striking distance of the prize at the end. Indeed the lead changed hands several times as the boats raced through half a dozen legs downwind and upwind. By the final gate and then the turn around the Louis Vuitton boat at the last mark before dashing across the finish line, Spithill had caught up, but then the old master forced a penalty upon him, which required him to slow two boat lengths in the final dash but even so, after much of an hour jockeying for position, Coutts beat Spithill by one second to claim the Match Racing title.
The crowd was beside itself throughout the entire race and let their cheers be heard by both boats, encouraging them to ever-greater competition. Like all the previous races, this one showed the greatness of this revolutionary yachting race. The race was entirely visible for free from Marina Green, but people were on the bridge, and lined the shoreline from Crissy Field in the Presidio to Fort Mason. The view was incredible, aided on the huge television behind to check on positions and race conditions. Indeed, some members of the audience turned their backs on the bay to watch the races more intimately on the Jumbotrons. But wherever they were, everybody was glued to the race and the results. The finish itself was exquisite, as both boats raced across the finish line toward the packed crowds.
As it turned out, that finish merely whet the appetite of the spectators and the adrenaline of the competitors. An hour later was the final fleet race. This time the course was extended quite beyond that of the match races. Now the entire fleet was lined up near the Marin shore by the Golden Gate Bridge only to come hurtling down to the first mark between the St. Francis Yacht Club, local home of Sweden’s Artemis Team and the Golden Gate Yacht Club, official home of the Oracle Team and trustee of the America’s Cup. At that mark they veered sharply to port paralleling the Yacht Road jetty to come rocketing forth before the public and racing beyond Alcatraz toward the Bay Bridge.
It was a glorious day for Sweden, with Terry Hutchinson’s team holding the lead for half of the race but rounding the third gate and into the fourth leg he could not find the wind and flagged. Luna Rossa’s Piranha had been dogging him and raced ahead, leaving Artemis with dead air. At this point Jimmy Spithill was ninth down in the pack. But true to his persistence and determination, he began whitling down the lead and overtaking others in the pack. Soon Piranha was being chased by Korea’s White Tiger. But as Spithill kept gaining, Piranha couldn’t shut down Korea, as they normally would have, for fear that Spithill would overtake Korea.
It wasn’t until the final gate that Spithill was within striking distance. By the time both boats were turning the final mark to dash for home, Spithill did to Korea what Coutt’s had done to him earlier: He forced Korea into a penalty and tilting on one hull as he banked, with the other hull sailing over and above the White Tiger, he overtook that boat. Meanwhile Piranha was just about to cross the finish line but now itself was acutely up on one hull and almost in danger of capsizing. The Italian team forced the other hull back into the water just short of the rocks at the jetty and crossed the finish line with Spithill but one second behind them. So, Luna Rossa had held off Oracle to win the Fleet Racing event.
The fans were delirious now! But wait! Because of the cumulative standing—showing how important in this sport it is to be persistent and consistent—remember that Oracle-Spithill entered the race with 61 points, whereas both Piranha and the Tiger were tied at 45 points, with 25 points for second and a mere five points separating second from third. So, while Piranha won the race, Oracle Team USA-Spithill won the 2012 San Francisco America’s Cup Championship by 86 v 85 points!
Just guess what the hometown crowd thought of that when they learned the news: a clean sweep for USA—the old master Coutts wins the Match title; the young master Spithill wins the championship for Oracle Team USA! You probably heard the cheering as a sonic boom wherever you live.
We are proud of Sweden’s Artemis. Artemis-White wound up third in the match races and sixth among the fleet; with Artemis-Red coming in 9th in the fleet. Skipper Hutchinson indicated they must continue to trust themselves and their plan. Admitting there’s a lot to do before the beginning of next year’s America’s Cup World Series (July-September 2013), when international teams race the new AC72s, he was proud of his team’s onboard effort. He said they must work more on technique development. Now it’s a whole new game with a magnitude of difference: competing on AC72s.
And that’s the way we enter the 2013 ACWS, whose championship will be held next September in San Francisco, when AC72s will magnify the excitement. I can guarantee there are now thousands of people in the Bay Area who will return and many more friends who will accompany them. And two more factors will magnify that number even more: First, both Oracle and Artemis received their AC72 boats last week and will begin racing them on the bay shortly; and second, the AC45s will return on October 4-7 to San Francisco Bay for the beginning of the ACWS season—during the Blue Angels annual visit to the city. There are even rumors that there may be a new venue in Asia next year, possibly in China?
Who were the winners? Everyone! But certainly six in particular: 1) Coutts won the dueling match races; 2) Italy won the fleet race; 3) the Champion Spithill became a superstar with the most consistent performance of anyone and a dominating presence for Team USA, as the team to beat in 2013; 4) Larry Ellison’s vision of a radical rethinking of the America’s Cup as an extreme sport of the best sailors on the fastest boats at a stadium city with superbly challenging sailing conditions, before thousands of free spectators rooting for every country and a competition covered by the most innovative and informative broadcasting which converts all who see it into fans!; 5) San Francisco demonstrating what it takes to be the premier stadium city, presenting a competition of skill, daring and design pitting national team against team and all against nature; oh yes, and 6) all the 150,000 spectators who witnessed this competition—those surrounding the bay (on Super Sunday alone there were 40,000 onshore and 450 boats on the bay) and by those watching television with an additional half million watching online. Not bad for one week!
See for yourself: www.americascup.com
or YouTube—America’s Cup
1. America’s Cup — Bay & Bridge [© ACEA 2012/ Photo Gilles Martin-Raget]
2. Oracle USA Winners (Spithill & Coutts) celebrating [© ACEA 2012/ Photo Gilles Martin-Raget]
3. Oracle Team USA raced each other to both be winners. [©ACEA 2012/ Photo Gilles Martin-Raget]
4. Artemis Red & White boats (Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing)
5. Artemis’ AC72 arrives in SF (Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing)
6. Artemis-Red: a competitive newcomer (Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing)
7. The main competitors (L-R): Oracle USA-Spithill; Team Korea-White Tiger; Italy’s Luna Ross-Pirhana; Oracle USA-Coutts; Sweden’s Artemis Racing-White; Brian Ainsley Racing (GBR); Energy Team (Fr). [© ACEA 2012/ Photo Gilles Martin-Raget]