The Chicago Match Race Center’s Grade 2 Invitational now has its official count in and the event last weekend drew a whopping 30,000+ people to Navy Pier, making this one of the most-watched match race sailing events ever held in the United States.
Spectators at the east end of Pier enjoyed fast-paced match race action in conditions that ranged from benign to frightening, proving once and for all that for combining excitement and ease of access for spectators and sponsors alike, 'stadium sailing' is here to stay.
Grand stands, live commentary from Annie Gardner, Dobbs Davis and Scott Dickson, and race courses set just yards away from the Pier by Principal Race Officer Bill Canfield and his team all contributed to the success of the event in attracting such a large crowd.
Another element in the success was of course the source of entertainment: the ten teams from five nations participating in the event put on quite a show. Throughout the event but especially in the final day's howling breeze there were numerous close matches featuring penalties, wipe-outs, collisions, and even a skipper thrown overboard to give the crowd plenty of action.
And with the row of American flags flying behind them, it was natural to have the crowd cheering on Bill Hardesty (USA) and his team in an exciting Final against rival Laurie Jury (NZL), where Hardesty prevailed in a hard-fought 2-1 series. Hardesty's victory fly-by under spinnaker in over 25 knots of wind had this crowd roaring their approval.
According to CMRC Director Tod Reynolds, the Grade 2 Invitational was a dress rehearsal for the larger CMRC Grade 1 Chicago Cup held over September 28th - October 1st, where an even high-ranked field of skippers and teams will be featured to compete for Grade 1 points and $65,000 in prize money. By winning the Grade 2, Hardesty earned an invitation to the Grade 1.
'We are really pleased with the success of this event,' said Reynolds. 'It helped prove to us, Navy Pier officials, the Coast Guard and other agencies, and to all of Chicago that this kind of sailing can be brought to spectators and sponsors in a unique and exciting way. We are looking forward to improving on this to make the Chicago Cup even bigger and better.'
Another significance to the CMRC Grade 2 event was that it kicked off the start of four consecutive Grade 2 events in the US Grand Slam Series, where the overall winner scored in all events earns an invitation to the Grade 1 Congressional Cup to be held next March in Long Beach, CA.
The next event in the Grand Slam Series is this week's Detroit Cup, held over August 18-21 at Bayview YC. Taylor Canfield (ISV), Nicolai Sehested (DEN), Laurie Jury (NZL), Jordan Reece (AUS), Shawn Ryan (USA), and Will Tiller (NZL) will all be continuing to Detroit from Chicago for this next event raced in Ultimate 20's.
Detroit Cup website
Chicago Match Race Center website