Have you ever heard of an inshore fleet race being compared to a war zone?

I asked American Youth Sailing Force tactician David Liebenberg to describe life onboard an AC45 while fleet racing in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup. His response was a first.

“Honestly, it’s like Vietnam.”


The crowds can hear the helicopters too, so they probably understand better than the TV viewers why the sailors are shouting to be heard.

David was born in the 90s, so excuse the hyperbole. But with multiple camera helicopters thundering overhead, 25 bursts of nonstop physical exertion, the sounds of wind, waves, groaning winch drums, and all the sensations of close quarter racing at breakneck speeds, it’s practically impossible to hear your own thoughts while racing in an America’s Cup stadium setting—let alone your crew.

And when winning a race depends on making the fewest mistakes, communication is key.

“People wonder why we were shouting when it’s so easy to hear us on the broadcast," David explained. "It’s the helicopters! You’re operating on total adrenaline and you can’t hear the guy next to you. What’s amazing to me is how the TV guys remove the helicopter noise from the live broadcast.”

Each helmsman and tactician wore $5,000 worth of wireless microphones, just like in the AC World Series and the Louis Vuitton Finals. David’s role as tactician was to absorb every variable on the racecourse and relay to the helmsman, Michael Menninger, where he needed sail. When you listen to the race feed, you'll hear more than one audio ‘gem’ that made commentators Todd Harris and Ken Read laugh and applaud the young team’s enthusiasm. It’s no problem to pick up dialogue between the skippers and the navigators, but they weren’t shouting for the hell of it.

As I wrote in Sailing as a Spectator Sport, the 34th AC has elevated broadcast sailing media to new heights. What most sailors didn’t anticipate was that the price of looking and sounding like pros would be the elevation of their race environment by more than a few decibels.

Watch Sail Fast for an idea of the noise level.

Read previous Digital Vagabond posts from San Francisco:

Photo: Neil Rabinowitz