America's Cup - January 2011

With the benefit of hindsight, it's hard to imagine the 34th America's Cup was going to take place anywhere other than San Francisco. However Larry Ellison's team Oracle Racing (bye bye BMW, by the way, who have amicably withdrawn from their support of the team), played a game of brinkmanship with the politicians of San Francisco right up to the 11th hour.

In the final weeks leading up to the 31 December deadline, there was much talk and excitement about the possibility of the Cup returning to the place where it resided for 132 years, Newport, Rhode Island. A number of big cheeses from the defender team had been doing some detailed scouting around this East Coast venue during December.

But on 1 January  Ellison's hometown, San Francisco,  was confirmed as the venue that would host the 34th America's Cup in August 2013. Sceptics said Newport had only ever been used as a bartering tool in the tense negotiations with San Fran. When you consider Russell Coutts's vision for the future of the event, a brave new world of televisual excitement and commercial possibility, Newport never stood a chance. Lovely though Newport is, it's a backwater, more than an hour's drive from the nearest major city, Boston.

San Francisco, on the other hand, offers a mouthwatering opportunity to host the action right in front of a major international city, against the backdrop of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz and the panoramic beauty of San Francisco Bay. It's a photographer's wet dream.

With negotiations successfully concluded, city mayor Gavin Newsom sounded suitably thrilled. "San Francisco couldn't be prouder to host the 34th America's Cup," he said. "With our natural stadium at the footsteps of the City and our consistent, heavy winds, San Francisco Bay will be an arena for some of the most spectacular racing the world has ever seen."  There are still some major political hurdles to be overcome in the coming months, however, and Oracle's chief fixer Tom Ehman  warned that the Defender would be keeping Newport in reserve as an alternative venue. Seriously, though, San Francisco would have to fall into the sea before they seriously reconsider the venue now.

Meanwhile in Auckland, the first mini Cup catamaran has rolled off the production line, the prototype AC45. Just under 45 feet long with a wing mast more than 70 foot high, this sleek carbon cat gave a strong indication of its potential for first time it went sailing. Chief operating officer of America's Cup Race Management, Andy Hindley, commented: "It was an unbelievable first sail.  We were in 8-10 knots of breeze and we were sailing at more than double that speed, up to about 20 knots at one point. With a bit more breeze we could be going 28 - 30 knots." Bear in mind that this is just the training-wheels version of the bigger AC72 that will contest the America's Cup itself.

Oracle Racing will be putting the 45-footer through its paces in Auckland through to the end of January, when the Challenger teams will each get a week of testing time. Defender included, six teams have thus far put their money down for entry into the 34th America's Cup, and Swedish challenger Artemis will be first to take the prototype out for a spin in early February. Helmsman Terry Hutchinson is used to racing 25 tons of leaded keelboat. The AC45 weighs a ton and a half. It should be an eye-opening week of sailing for him and his Artemis colleagues. With the details of the America's Cup World Series being finalised, we expect to see the first competition in these exciting boats later this summer.

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