While some of my esteemed colleagues were battling balmy temps, blinding sun, and perhaps a rum squall or two during the Miami International Boat Show last week, I was dispatched to my old stomping grounds in the Bay Area. My mission was twofold: Take in the sights and sounds of the Youth America’s Cup selection, and cover the arrival of the Italian racing yacht Maserati after her record run from New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn. It was a packed week for photographer Jen Edney and yours truly, with some observations to share.
Over black bean chili and cornbread at Greens, I caught sight of the big black boat squaring off with the big red one. It was the first time that USA 17, the refurbished AC72 catamaran of Oracle Team USA, met Artemis Racing, the Swedish Challenger of Record of the next America’s Cup, for a little two-boat joust. Later in the week I got a closer look from a media boat as they screamed past at 30-plus knots, which passes for idle speed on these machines. An awesome sight for sure, with a menacing sound track to match. Think Tie Fighter in Star Wars. No wonder Ben Ainslie calls these boats “space ships." How fast can they go? No idea, but there was a bunch of AC45s racing in the vicinity, which by comparison looked like they were painted into the scenery.
Youth America’s Cup selection Part 1
Watching these young sailors from Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, and South Africa start out as wide-eyed rookies when they took their first trick on a AC45 wing-sail catamaran and develop into competent racers under the tutelage of some of the world’s best multihull sailors, was invigorating. Most of them also experienced San Francisco and the Bay for the first time, so they were dealing with sensory overload. the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and the city’s famous skyline were a dream no longer. Not to mention getting a walking tour of the Oracle team base inside a giant hangar on Pier 80 and watching the AC72 being readied for launch. My assignment was to follow the German team, which consisted of seven sailors between 20 and 24 years of age. Sitting in on meetings and cooking sessions in the communal kitchen at the youth hostel where they stayed elevated my understanding of teambuilding to a new level as I watched them go from wide-eyed rookies to competent catamaran artists within a few days. Hard work, for sure, but that did not stop them from having the time of their lives. I would also like to offer a tip of the hat to the organizers for dusting off the nationality clause for this event. The boats carried the flags of the teams’ countries, and only sailors who hailed from there. So Australia vs. New Zealand or Austria vs. Germany had the old context again: Us against them.
Maserati’s record run
On Saturday Feb. 17, at 10:31:59 local time, the old but heavily modified VO 70 war horse Maserati (ex Ericsson 3) skippered by Giovanni Soldini and manned by a polyglot crew of eight from China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the US (Ryan Breymaier) crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Beating into a rare nor'easterly on a sunny and warm winter day, they finished their 14,000-mile run from New York via Cape Horn to San Francisco in 47 days, 42 minutes, and 29 seconds (to be ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council). It was nearly twice as fast as the record set by the legendary clipper Flying Cloud, which had done this trip in 89 days in 1851 and 1854 and had held that record until 1989. The lads were visibly happy, not just about their accomplishment, but also about the smokes and the beers that were the first things thrown to them after they’d stopped the boat off Alcatraz. They had a sleighride down the Atlantic to the Falklands, but then progress slowed. The last quarter of the trip from about the latitude of Mexico northward was a test of will and patience with unsteady and light winds, made all the more difficult for the smokers on board, who had run out of cigs at Cape Horn. Soldini was all smiles at the press conference that was attended by the Italian Consul and the bosses of his sponsors, Maserati and BSI. But he did not forget to mention two women who made history on this route: Eleanor Creesy, the intrepid navigator on Flying Cloud’s record runs, and French ocean racer Isabelle Autissier, who set a record on this course in 1994 with 62 days. Four years later, Soldini rescued her from almost certain death during the Around Alone after her boat had capsized in the Southern Ocean.
Absent from the welcome party for Maserati was one of the all-time greats of multihull and ocean racing: Loïck Peyron, the iconic Frenchman, who set the record for the fastest circumnavigation in 2012 with 45 days and change on the 145-foot trimaran Banque Populaire V. In case you missed it, that’s two days less than it took Maserati to sail from New York to San Francisco. “Le Dude” as he’s known among friends, currently is under contract with Artemis Racing, trying to figure out a way to survive the challenger series for the next America’s Cup against Luna Rossa from Italy and the redoubtable Team New Zealand. The boat of the Swedes might be red, but is it red hot? They aren’t foiling yet, which might be a bit of a disadvantage in straight-line speed when the breeze is up. Final judgment must be deferred until racing starts in July. They’ll launch a second boat soon, and Peyron would like nothing more than to add an America’s Cup win to his long list of incredible accomplishments. Last time in 2010 in Valencia he tried, but he picked the wrong ride with Alinghi.
Another thing Peyron reportedly enjoys is walking the streets of San Francisco incognito. He can’t do that back home in France, where people recognize and idolize him as a folk hero, and where he’s a candidate for canonization in the church of multihull legends.
On a side note: Red Bull’s sponsorship of the Youth America’s Cup has brought some noticeable changes already, introducing something akin to the X-Games factor to Cup racing. It’s an interesting experiment that seeks to draw in a younger crowd with hostesses handing out canned drinks, a DJ truck blasting loud music for the Harlem shake, and freerunner Ryan Doyle doing backflips on the media boat during mark roundings to add some action for the cameras. Of course, there will be a smattering of Red Bull’s own TV, video, and photo crews to cover this regatta for the firm’s own marketing purposes and media outlets. If you’d seen the stratosphere jump, you'd kind of get the idea. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.