October 3rd 2012. By John Burnham.

The New America’s Cup: West Coast Style

In the first of two “World Series” events, America’s Cup racing in wing-sailed catamarans made its new home in windy San Francisco over the summer, blending the high-speed sport with iconographic landmarks ranging from ATT (Candlestick) Park to the Golden Gate Bridge. Photos by Neil Rabinowitz.


Stadium sailing in San Francisco

The America’s Cup Match and preliminary eliminations will take place in 2013 in larger similar-looking catamarans, but the 45-foot one-design version used for the America’s Cup World Series in August 2012 makes its own bold statement.


International teams against skyline

Teams representing France and Britain (shown), along with New Zealand, China, Sweden, Italy, and Korea race upwind past the tallest building in San Francisco, the Transamerica Pyramid.


Golden Gate Bridge

Just to the west of the World Series racing area stands the most famous feature of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, under which the thermal winds of summer regularly blow at 20 to 30 knots.


Oracle under the Golden Gate

Under the Golden Gate, Oracle Racing’s AC45 sails at faster than 20 knots, flying one hull. Its mainsail is an articulating laminate-covered wing while the forward sail is a “traditional” laminated roller-furling gennaker.


sponsors and boats

The new boats carry sponsor stickers and bold graphics on their sails, while still cutting a traditional form as they fly across the gray waters of San Francisco Bay.


Oracle and Artemis

Oracle and Artemis offer a look at the structure of their wingsails, two super-light adjustable sections supported by a rotating carbon mast at the front. The main trimmer can make the sail fuller or flatter to adjust its power.


Boats against Alcatraz background

America’s Cup champ Russell Coutts, who won the match-race portion of the World Series, guides his cat downwind past Alcatraz Island, just off the City Front; note how tightly the sails are trimmed due to the forward wind created by the speed of the boat.


International fleet

The international fleet awaits its next race beside the harbor breakwater, providing the large crowd of spectators with close-up views of the boats at the World Series event.


James Spithill plays to crowd

Oracle Racing skipper James Spithill, who won the fleet racing segment of the World Series, steers past yet more shoreside crowds. The backdrop includes the Presidio and the Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.


Artemis close up

A close-up view of the Swedish Artemis Racing boat, skippered by Terry Hutchinson, shows the complexity of the boats, and the athleticism of the crews. Artemis Racing plans to be back in 2013 with a 72-foot Cup challenger.


Ben Ainslie racing

Fleet racing features a reaching start and a crowded first mark rounding with plenty of all-star company. Here, Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie (J.P. Morgan) rounds beside Loick Peyron, one of France’s best multihull sailors.


James Spithill plants bow

Bearing away from the wind, James Spithill accelerates and digs his bows deep, but their streamlined shape, on deck as well as below, usually permits recovery.


Flying past Marin

Against the backdrop of the Marin Headlands, water flies on this windy practice day aboard skipper Dean Barker’s boat, Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis are one of three teams likely to have a 72-foot challenger on the Bay in 2013.


Crowded mark rounding

At a crowded mark-rounding during the series, Emirates deploys its gennaker while boats from the Prada and Oracle teams wait their turn to turn downwind and set their biggest foresails.


Wet ride for passenger

Enjoying the wet ride behind skipper Terry Hutchinson, a guest crewmember for the day wears helmet and lifejacket. Gold-medal sprinter Michael Johnson achieved notoriety as guest crew for Russell Coutts when he fell off as the boat accelerated.


China Team capsizes

Emirates Team New Zealand and China Team (shown) both capsized in World Series practice sessions. Re-righting a capsized boat is achieved with help from support boats; the wing sails sometimes comes through unscathed.


Ferries and catamarans

San Francisco Bay provides a dynamic field of play for sailors; competitors must plan their courses to allow for strong, shifting currents and incessant ferryboat traffic.


Sunset Golden Gate Bridge

And when the regatta ends, the Golden Gate has the final word. The second America’s Cup World Series event begins October 3, 2012.

John Burnham

John Burnham, Managing Editor, lives in Middletown, Rhode Island, on the East Coast of the United States and would rather be sailing, or afloat on any boat, whenever possible.