FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Honours even

Posted in England, Portsmouth by folkestonejack on July 25, 2015

The America’s Cup World Series is one part of the rather long winded process of selection for a challenger to face Oracle Team USA in the next America’s Cup, scheduled for Bermuda in 2017. Luckily for us, the series began this weekend in Portsmouth (later rounds will take in Gothenburg and Bermuda) and I went along to watch the first two races out of four scheduled for the weekend.

Team Oracle USA flies past Sandbank Fort during the first race of the day

Team Oracle USA flies past Sandbank Fort during the first race of the day

Six teams are competing in the series, with Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR team clearly winning the favour of the crowds on the strength of the huge cheers that accompanied any mention of their name. The oft used label of ‘local support’ was absolutely appropriate today as the team’s new headquarters opened in Old Portsmouth a month ago (it is pretty hard to miss with a giant Union Jack decorating its doors!).

The view from the water was quite spectacular, with a line of boats of all sizes stretching out on either side of us and the distinctive shape of Spitbank Fort ahead. We might have been a little more distant than the crowds on the shoreline but the racing was still surprisingly easy to follow from our position, assisted by the tactical explanations provided by the race commentary (broadcast over FM radio). Adding to the excitement, the continual movement of our ship meant that we had to keep swapping from one side to another to keep track of the six catamarans!

The jostling for race position and unceasing thrill of watching the boats lift out of the water made for a compelling spectacle that I couldn’t take my eyes off. It was about this point that I began to understand why the dedicated fans amongst my fellow passengers were so enthralled, though I’m sure I still missed plenty of the nuances in the tactical decisions being made by the teams. Any first-timer doubts that I had about sailing as a spectator sport had been completely banished in the process, though I think perhaps it is another of those sports that really benefits from being there (like track cycling) to get a complete perspective of what is going on at any given moment in the race.

Ben Ainslie's Land Rover BAR team were clear crowd favourites (seen here between races)

Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR team were clear crowd favourites (seen here between races)

The long build up to the first race of the day finally gave way to excited chatter as the catamarans got the signal to start racing, but this quickly turned to dismay as it became clear that Land Rover BAR languished in last place. No-one had much time to dwell on this as the team’s smart deployment of the Code Zero sail soon helped set the team on the path that would take them from last to first. A chorus of groans on board our ship turned into cheers.

Land Rover BAR grabbed the lead from Emirates Team New Zealand on the fourth leg and didn’t look back, flying on their foils to put an increasing distance between them and their nearest rivals. Meanwhile, Oracle Team USA found their way past Emirates Team New Zealand at the close of the race to grab second. Absolutely thrilling to witness and a great result to boot.

The teams gather for the start of the second race

The teams gather for the start of the second race

The tables were turned in the second race, which saw Emirates Team New Zealand take a dominant lead after picking up the shifting winds after the first mark. A strong start from Land Rover BAR came quickly unstuck with a tactical error that saw the team drop back to fifth, setting up an exciting charge back through the field to second place.

The day’s racing saw honours evenly split between Land Rover BAR and Emirates Team New Zealand, with a win apiece, but the final points ranking gave Land Rover BAR a slender single point lead over their rivals going into the next day’s racing.

1st Land Rover BAR 19 points
2nd Emirates Team New Zealand 18 points
3rd Oracle Team USA 16 points
4th Groupama Team France 13 points
5th Softbank Team Japan 13 points
6th Artemis Racing 11 points

At the end of the afternoon the small boats that had gathered quickly dissipated – a large flotilla of small boats headed off towards the Isle of Wight whilst another line of boats headed back in to Portsmouth Harbour.

Back to Portsmouth in 2016...

The perfect setting for an afternoon of racing

We made our way slowly back into port, following the high speed catamaran ‘Normandie Express’ (a veteran of the Cook Strait in New Zealand where she operated under the name ‘The Lynx’) on her way in from a channel crossing and disembarked as HMS St Albans (guardship for the event) returned to her berth at the naval base.

After the weekend the series moves on to Gothenburg (27-30th August 2015) and Bermuda (16-18th October 2015), followed by a further four to six races in 2016. I thoroughly enjoyed my day watching the races from the water and would happily come back in a year’s time to see the series on its return to the UK.

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