How does a 160-year-old sailing contest become an extreme sport? Contenders in the America's Cup World Series (ACWS), vying for glory in America's Finest November 12 to 20, have a couple ideas. First, hoist a 65-foot wing onto a catamaran and use it as a sail. Second, shift the racecourse from the open ocean to a confined, placid body of water-San Diego Bay-and chart a few surprise turns.
Aimed at building global interest in the 2013 America's Cup Finals in San Francisco, the ACWS is a circuit of regattas that brings sport sailing to top venues around the world. In San Diego, the first domestic and third overall stop on the international 2011/2012 tour, eight teams, including San Francisco-based ORACLE Racing, will pit their speed-sailing skills against each during the nine-day competition.
"It's pretty wild," says Stephanie Martin, chief communications officer of the America's Cup. "It's definitely not what you'd think of sailing-like there's someone wearing a captain's hat and a blazer. This is very, very athletic."
Unlike in previous events, where certain teams have won races by equipping their boats with the latest technology, this ACWS levels the playing field by requiring all teams to navigate the course in stripped-down vessels that look more black ops than luxury yacht.
Known as the AC45, the carbon-fiber, wing-sailed catamaran is 45 feet long and six stories tall. Harnessing the boat's power requires a team to be physically fit, coordinated and communicative. Successful operation makes the AC45 slice through the water like a hot knife through butter; a lapse in focus can make the top-heavy boat capsize.
"I love an active and exciting waterfront, and this is exactly the kind of event that brings people out," says Scott Peters, chairman of San Diego's Board of Port Commissioners. "Anyone can come out and see some great racing and a world-class sports event right from our own shoreline."
A state-of-the-art sailboat demands that racing teams be shipshape
Meet the AC45.
You'll find no wine spritzers and caviar passed around this vessel. It doesn't even have a deck-just a taut net.
San Francisco-based ORACLE Racing designed AC45 for pure agility. Sitting on twin hulls molded from carbon fiber, the boat is light and quick. Its mainsail is a rounded, hollow wing instead of a soft sail, and with a top speed of 40 mph, this windjammer has one rule of thumb: Hold on!
Here's the sloop on what's happening landward
With the bay becoming a virtual stadium for the America's Cup World Series, views of the race can be enjoyed from along Harbor Island and the fringes of San Diego Bay. But the fun doesn't end at the water's edge-a family-friendly America's Cup Village will extend from Broadway Pier onto Harbor Drive.
By day, the Village will feature race simulators that give spectators the experience of riding an AC45. By night, DJs and bands-including San Diego's Little Hurricane and The Donkeys-will perform live.
Although no admission is required for Village events, a $10 donation is suggested to support the America's Cup Healthy Ocean Project conservation campaign.
Find updates and event info at americascup.com.