A Cup Half Full

The America’s Cup in Ber­muda was an ex­tra­or­di­nary af­fair but lacked the fan ex­pe­ri­ence.

Sailing World - - Wet Notes -

Out in the open, Emi­rates Team New Zealand’s shore crew in­sert rud­ders into its AC50. PHOTO :D AV E R EED

Nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring for­est fires are Mother Na­ture’s way of cleans­ing it­self of dead wood and in­va­sive species, al­low­ing dor­mant new growth to rise anew. That’s how I equate the out­come of the 35th America’s Cup Match. Emi­rates Team New Zealand came to Ber­muda, laid its pile of tin­der, and then threw a match on the en­tire thing. The era of Or­a­cle Team USA went up in an in­ferno to be re­born in Auck­land in 2021.

Larry El­li­son un­der­wrote an in­cred­i­ble chap­ter of the America’s Cup, push­ing the tech­nol­ogy in a way that was so pro­gres­sive it left old old­timers wish­ing for the re­turn of nor­mal match racing and boats with sails that go up and down. El­li­son brought the Cup and high-speed cata­ma­ran racing to the shore­lines of San Fran­cisco and ev­ery­where else the World Series trav­eled, putting sail­ing in front of mil­lions more eye­balls. In the end, El­li­son and Rus­sell Coutts de­liv­ered on their prom­ise to make the event more ex­cit­ing and eas­ier for the ca­sual ob­server to fol­low. The AC72S were mar­velous, the AC45S were cool, but the AC50S were tech­ni­cal won­ders.

Be­hind the scenes, how­ever, the in­tegrity of El­li­son’s Cup be­came in­creas­ingly and markedly com­pro­mised as it marched for­ward to its con­clu­sion in Ber­muda. I missed the grandeur and the big crowds of San Fran­cisco, but I en­joyed the in­ti­macy and warmth of the iso­lated com­mu­nity in the mid­dle of the At­lantic. While cov­er­ing the event for most of May and June, I never saw much of the is­land, save for the America’s Cup Vil­lage and the of­fi­cial me­dia ho­tel out by the air­port. The digs were good, the view over­look­ing Grotto Bay was ex­cel­lent, the break­fast buf­fet was in­cluded, and the leg­endary Swiz­zle Inn was just up the road. What more could a work­ing jour­nal­ist need?

It was at least an hour’s ride by road to get to the Vil­lage, so or­ga­niz­ers ar­ranged a daily ferry for the me­dia, which in­cluded journos from ma­jor news­pa­pers, the tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion crew, and pho­tog­ra­phers with their big-wheeled hard cases. Like clock­work, we de­parted from the ho­tel dock at 8:30 a.m., and the ferry car­ried us round the out­side of the

is­land be­fore de­posit­ing us in­side the America’s Cup Vil­lage 45 min­utes later. It was a morn­ing com­mute I now miss.

The Race Vil­lage didn’t of­fi­cially open un­til hours later, so the place was a ghost town. Thank­fully, the New Zealan­ders were al­ways on sched­ule and gave us some­thing to do. We’d hang out be­hind the bar­ri­cade wait­ing to get some face time with any one of the sailors or shore crew. The rou­tine of launch­ing the AC50 never got old be­cause it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch a mil­lion- dol­lar piece of crafts­man­ship sus­pended over­head as men in yel­low hard hats slot rud­ders into the hulls from un­der­neath. There was a lot to ob­serve: what foil tips they had on for the day, what rud­der el­e­va­tors they chose, and what the mood was.

The Team New Zealand base was in­te­grated into the America’s Cup Vil­lage, al­though sub­tly so, which proved to be a good thing: The en­ergy and ex­cite­ment of the crowd that cheered them off each day was a mo­ti­va­tor. The Kiwis were al­ways there, front and cen­ter, and part of the Cup. Far away and out of sight at their base were Or­a­cle Team USA, al­ways in lock down, in­ac­ces­si­ble and earn­ing lit­tle to no ado­ra­tion from the ca­sual Cup fans who paid good money to walk through the en­trance to see them.

The orig­i­nal de­sign of the America’s Cup Vil­lage had a long “pit row” con­cept lead­ing out from the Vil­lage and to the nearby Royal Navy Dock­yards where Or­a­cle had staked its flag years ear­lier. Fans were sup­posed to be able to walk the row, in­ter­act with the teams, peer into their bases for a glimpse of the sailors going about their busi­ness. But some­where along the line, some­one in­stalled a chain-link fence and manned it with se­cu­rity, pre­vent­ing all but team per­son­nel and VIPS from en­ter­ing.

Each day be­fore racing, the vil­lagers would as­sem­ble around the New Zealand bar­ri­cades, even those peo­ple sport­ing tiny Amer­i­can flags. The de­fender had zero pres­ence. After racing, the same was true; the Kiwis were vis­i­ble and ac­ces­si­ble. The Amer­i­can boat re­turned to its base, with­out a sin­gle sailor ever step­ping foot in the Vil­lage, ex­cept for Jimmy Sp­ithill, who was dis­creetly es­corted to and from the me­dia cen­ter. Sadly, the chore­ographed Dock­out Show, which was a daily high­light for fans in San Fran­cisco, was al­to­gether aban­doned. When I asked why, I was told by the ACEA’S com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor: “We just de­cided to tighten up the sched­ule a lit­tle more. Sim­ple as that.”

Well, you know that mo­ment at ev­ery ma­jor sport­ing event where the play­ers run or walk onto the field or the court be­fore the game? The spec­ta­tors ac­tu­ally en­joy that. As far as I’m con­cerned, that’s one of the most im­por­tant el­e­ments of the fan ex­pe­ri­ence.

So ev­ery day I watched the New Zealan­ders dock out, jam­ming my­self among their fans, ev­ery sin­gle one of them wav­ing a flag of some sort. It was im­pos­si­ble not to get swept up in the emo­tion and even­tu­ally find my­self a Team New Zealand fan. I even grabbed a flag to bring home for my kids. In fact, it was the only me­mento I brought back from Ber­muda. I’ll have to bring it with me to Auck­land, where I hope to see na­tional crews racing ex­tra­or­di­nary high-per­for­mance boats. Q Helms­man Peter Burl­ing takes a bare­foot stroll to work with a Kiwi wave to friends and fans. PHOTO :D AV E R EED

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