America's Cup publicist, Peter Rusch looks at four key moments from his perspective of the 2011 America's Cup World Series
The year 2011 was an incredible one for fans of the America's Cup. The revolution arrived - fast cats, wings, extreme athletics, and short intense races where the action never seemed to stop.
Looking back, it's been a year filled with activity and accomplishment. Consider at this time 12 months ago, there was no such thing as an AC45, there were no teams (apart from the Defender), San Francisco was just about to be named as the host city, and whether you could match race wing-sailed catamarans was very much an open question. Not to mention the TV technology… how would it work?
For me, the year can be crystallized in four moments spanning the 12 months. In chronological order…
I arrived in Auckland like many, having only seen photos of the newly launched AC45 wing-sailed catamaran. The descriptions coming back from those few who had sailed it were positive, but that was to be expected. How would it actually work when two or more were lined up? Could they match race? What kind of race course would make it possible, would make for exciting racing?
Those questions were on everyone's mind. The test session wasn't all smooth sailing to be sure. Races were started and then abandoned. Teams would take a start and not finish. Or sail off in the wrong direction. Some race courses worked and some clearly didn't. And the nascent technology behind Liveline was very much in a start-up phase.
But for me, it all came together on one of the final days in Auckland. It was windy. Like 20 knots windy. Despite that, China Team, with a newly delivered boat, came out to play. So did Artermis Racing, despite being without many regular crew members. As the breeze continued to build to near 25 knots, some of the teams exercised sound judgment and decided to call it a day. But the two most experienced teams on the AC45 (albeit with experience still measured in days, not weeks or months), ORACLE Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand decided to take a couple of starts. They blasted along within a few feet of each other, racing as close and pushing each other as hard as they would if they were matched up in 30 foot monohulls. Click. This is going to work just fine.
'It's a huge amount of fun,' was the way Dean Barker, the skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand put it at the time. 'It's definitely adrenaline sailing... The boats are great. They get up and go... It will be spectacular if we have 10 of them in that situation.' (Cue a foreshadowing of the Plymouth regatta).
This may seem like an odd choice for a highlight moment. But after seeing the boats in NZ, I had no doubt they could produce spectacular racing in the breeze. But what about at the lower end of the wind range?
Cascais is famous for its sea breezes. But on the first day of the America's Cup World Series, there is no wind. Or what appeared to be no wind. The water was completely flat. Certainly not enough wind to race in. Or is it? Actually, it was. And the racing was pretty good.
One of the promises of the new America's Cup was for racing in 3 to 30 knots of wind. These races had to start on schedule. And on day one of the new America's Cup World Series, the box was ticked for the lower end of the wind range. Three races completed, on time. It wasn't adrenalin sailing, but there was good, close, tactical racing. And you can't do that in many other boats in three knots of breeze.
This is really two moments in one. The opening Sunday in Plymouth set the stage for what would be a thrilling week of racing on Plymouth Sound. On that first Sunday, three teams joined the capsize club during a fleet race that took place in winds approaching 30 knots. Incredibly, one of the crews, Team Korea, became the first team to capsize, recover and finish the same race. All in all, that opening Sunday was an awesome scene-setter.
Then, following a week of great racing in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd on Plymouth Hoe, the final Sunday rolled around and improbably, conditions conspired to produce more thrills and spills than seemed possible in a 30-minute race. ORACLE Racing, who had struggled throughout the week, proved their mettle in the raging conditions to take the win in a race that won't soon be forgotten by those who saw it or sailed in it.
In Plymouth, Team Korea made an impression by moving up through the match race rankings, knocking off one heavy hitter after another. In San Diego it was the French Energy Team who took up the baton. But not before the other French team, Aleph won their first fleet race (as did China Team).
Both French teams had made crew changes prior to San Diego. Aleph had the talented multihull sailor Pierre Pennec on the helm for the first time, while Energy Team turned to Yann Guichard. Both moves appeared to pay off, especially for Energy Team, who qualified directly for the semi finals of the match racing.
Aleph, in contrast, would have to get in the hard way. By qualifying near the bottom of the ladder, the young French squad would need to bully his way into the semi final from the bottom seeding. They just about made it, winning three of four matches, on a thrilling day for French sailing.
Energy Team would get though its semi final match to make the final, before falling to ORACLE Racing Spithill. But this has been a banner week for both French America's Cup teams, who also finished third and fourth in the final fleet race - after plenty of ups and downs - to ensure plenty of momentum going into the winter training period.
Those are my highlight moments from 2011 and I'm looking forward to what a busy 2012 brings, with regattas in Italy (April, May), Newport, Rhode Island (June) and San Francisco (August, September) already scheduled, and more planned before the year is out.
What was your favorite moment of 2011… Hit our Facebook page and let us know what got your juices flowing.
And if you want to see what 2011 looked like to our photographers, check out the year in review here.
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