Picture this.

Ten 45-foot catamarans tear out of the starting gate. The fleet, screaming along at 20 knots in 12 knots of breeze, is bearing down on a crowd of spectators standing on shore. The first sprint is to a bear away mark, roughly 1000 yards from the start. Six of the ten leaders are within two boat lengths.

From shore, the fleet looks like a multi-million dollar game of carbon fiber Twister.


Portugal, France, and USA were three of the eight countries reprsented at the Red Bull Youth America's Cup. Photo: Neil Rabinowitz

The leaders round mark one, fighting to keep their leeward hulls from stuffing into a wash of white spray, and accelerating even faster as they bear off and deploy code-zeros within earshot of a roaring crowd.

That was the scene during the first race of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup on Sunday, September 1st. Roughly one-third of the waterfront bleachers along Marina Green were filled, not bad for an event that was hardly promoted. Regardless, the atmosphere was electric.

The event proved that 100% national teams of 19-24 year-old aspiring professionals could deliver the same level of entertainment –and better boat handling, thanks to an extra crewmember - than their professional counterparts in the America’s Cup World Series. Over four days of racing there was not a single capsize or injury.

A tight racecourse with strict boundaries never allowed the AC45s to sail too far from shore. Each day, seven of the boats were outfitted with onboard cameras. Each team’s helmsman and tactician wore a wireless microphone. Overhead, an armada of black helicopters thundered above the sailors, equipped with $500,000 Cineflex gyro-stabilized aerial cameras. America’s Cup TV produced a live show, on par with any professional sporting event, with commentary by Volvo Ocean Race skipper Ken Read to keep the sailors happy. NBC’s Todd Harris –with the help of Stan Honey’s graphic displays- allowed a viewer in South Dakota to feel like a Bay area local.

Despite having the final race–worth double points—cancelled because the wind peaked just above an inane 18-knot wind limit, the RBYAC was the most exciting and closest regatta I’ve ever seen. Every sailor onboard USA1 agreed on two points:

1. It was the best sailing of their lives.
2. It’s going to be one hell of a shame if this event doesn’t become an America’s Cup staple.

If you missed it, watch The Best Young Sailors in the WORLD - Red Bull Youth America's Cup.

And just like the Louis Vuitton and America’s Cup finals, the fully-produced package was displayed in real-time, on waterfront jumbotrons that bookended the stadium bleachers along Marina Green. Here’s the scene at Marina Green when Oracle earned their first win in the AC finals:

Finally, sailing has broken into the realm of spectator sport.