America's Cup World Series might attract wreck fans

Wednesday , August 22, 2012 - 3:13 PM

Tom Fitzgerald

SAN FRANCISCO — Do people go to auto races to see the wrecks? Some of them, certainly. Maybe the new era of America’s Cup sailing will attract wreck fans, too.

OK, it’s a far cry from stock cars in fiery wrecks to catamarans capsizing or pitch-poling -- that is, going end over end -- but in the Cup’s World Series fleet races on San Francisco Bay, one skipper said he expects "carnage."

Eleven 45-foot catamarans, representing eight teams, opened the ACWS season this week with nine qualifying match races Wednesday off Marina Green.

The top five match-race finishers from the inaugural 2011-12 ACWS season received byes and go straight to the quarterfinals Thursday and Friday.

The fleet racing starts at 2:50 and 3:25 p.m. Thursday. Here’s where the contact sport probably begins.

"It’s going to be windy and, with the tide coming in, it will create a lot of havoc on the first part of the races because all the boats will be getting to the same spot at the same time," said Terry Hutchinson, the American skipper of Sweden’s Artemis Racing White boat. "So there should be good carnage there."

Carnage? Yes, he said. "The boats will approach the mid-course mark at roughly 25 (knots), and everybody’s basically fighting for the same spot. From there, the current will be sweeping everybody downwind, so there are a bunch of maneuvers that have to happen in a very short period of time.

"I’m expecting you’ll see a couple of pileups."

But really, carnage?

"For sure," said Paul Campbell-James, the British helmsman of Italy’s Luna Rossa Swordfish. "No one’s done enough racing in 25-knots kind of stuff," he said. "San Francisco is one of the hardest places in the world to go sailing, and we’re in one of the hardest boats you can possibly sail. It should be exciting."

If sailing a catamaran for a living sounds easy, listen to Campbell-James describing what happened in practice.

"We were (turning) from upwind to downwind, and we slightly rushed it," he said. "The back went over the front; it pitch-poled. And it got worse. The stern was up in the air, then it went down to the side."

With a laugh, he said, "It was a pitch-pole with a roll in the middle. It wouldn’t have been good in the diving Olympics."

He and the crew got a mighty scare, he admitted, because the weight of the boat was on top of them, pushing them down. They escaped unhurt, but the flaps on the wing had to be cut away to minimize the damage before the boat could be righted. A spare wing was installed that night, and the boat was ready to sail the next day.

Artemis Racing Red, a new entry in the ACWS, capsized, but its Argentine skipper, Santiago Lange, said it was no big deal.

"You need to keep pushing the boat," he said. "It’s important in these conditions to learn the limits of the boat. It was a little mistake on our side. Capsizing in catamarans is part of the game. It’s not a big thing."

There will be capsizes during this week’s races "for sure," Lange said. "I hope it’s not me again."

Dean Barker, skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand, which finished second overall to Oracle Team USA Spithill in the last ACWS season, had a damaging capsize in Newport, R.I., in June and then capsized again Tuesday afternoon with minor damage to the top of the wing.

"In these conditions, you’re pushing hard," Barker said Tuesday morning. "You don’t want to give an inch, but at the same time, you’re right on the edge of control of the boat. Every now and there, there’s a little bit too much, and the results are quite spectacular at times."

INFO BOX: America’s Cup World Series

Where: San Francisco Bay, off Marina Green

When: Thursday-Sunday

Format: Match racing and fleet racing daily on identical 45-foot catamarans

Competitors: Oracle Team USA (Spithill and Coutts); Artemis Racing, Sweden (Red and White); Luna Rossa Challenge, Italy (Swordfish and Piranha); J.P. Morgan BAR, England; China Team; Emirates Team New Zealand; Energy Team, France; Team Korea.

Schedule: Thursday, match-racing quarterfinals, 2:05 p.m.; fleet race 1, 2:50 p.m.; fleet race 2, 3:25 p.m.; Friday, match-race quarterfinals, 2:05 p.m.; fleet race 3, 2:50 p.m.; fleet race 4, 3:25 p.m.; Saturday, match-race semifinals, 2:05 p.m.; fleet race 5, 2:50 p.m.; fleet race 6, 3:25 p.m.; Sunday, match-race final, 11:45 a.m.; fleet race 7, 12:15 p.m.

Information: americascup.com

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