We’ve come a long way from the days of Sir Thomas Lipton, poised at the helm of Shamrock in a suit and perky bow tie. The latest generation of America’s Cup yachts requires helmets and body armor and an unprecedented level of athleticism — and guts — from sailors competing aboard these high-tech racing machines.
Indeed, the skill and acrobatics required to race a catamaran with a 13-story-tall rigid wingsail that careers across the water at speeds upward of 40 mph is unprecedented.
Alas, these latest innovations have taken the premier level of sailing out of the grasp of the layman. No longer can we weekend warriors hop aboard a boat and hope to outwit the kings and queens of the sport in handicap racing. Instead, we sit in bleachers, in awe and delight. This running of the Cup has truly gone the way of “NASCAR on the water.”
Still, there are opportunities to turn back the clock and enjoy top-level sailing and racing in retired America’s Cup boats. From vintage 12 Meters to the International America’s Cup Class, enthusiasts can hop aboard for a hands-on, high-test sail. With these America’s Cup experiences, we can still dream. And regardless of where you get your AC groove on, hosts specify that participants need no sailing experience to enjoy the outings and are welcome to pitch in or relax and enjoy the ride.
Three decades after their heyday, the timeless 12 Meters still provide a thrilling adventure. In Newport, R.I., 12 Meter Charters offers sailing aboard two classics: Heritage US-23 and Columbia US-16. Columbia was the first 12 Meter to win the Cup in this new class, claiming the trophy off Newport in 1958. Heritage competed in the defender trials in 1970. One man — Charley Morgan — designed the hull, rig and sails; supervised the construction; and skippered the wooden 12 Meter, an unprecedented undertaking. www.12metercharters.com
In St. Martin, Netherlands Antilles, 12 Meter Challenge maintains a fleet of five classics from the 1980s: Stars & Stripes USA-86, Stars & Stripes USA-87, Canada II, True North I and True North IV. Launching from Bobby’s Marina in Philipsburg, these yachts venture out in pairs for a 12 Meter Regatta, so participants get a genuine racing experience. Brisk trade winds guarantee excitement. Thankfully, the turquoise water that douses you is warm. www.12metre.com
Based in San Francisco Bay, USA-76 — built under the IACC rule for Oracle Racing’s 2003 challenge — is the most modern yacht of its kind available for public sailing. “We have kept USA-76 in authentic racing condition so guests really feel what it’s like to be a professional sailor on an America’s Cup yacht,” president Brad Webb says. “While the boats sailing in AC-34 have changed to 72-foot catamarans, the materials, technology and equipment on USA-76 are still cutting-edge.”
Webb ought to know; he was the bowman on Oracle’s trimaran that won the 33rd America’s Cup in 2010 and still actively races on the team.
Embark on this black carbon beauty from Pier 39 and experience the exhilaration of sailing a fast monohull. Take turns at the helm and feel her lithe 84-foot form accelerate as you check out the actual AC racecourse. Don’t forget to wave to the spectators ashore. www.acsailingsf.com
Dennis Conner’s America’s Cup Experience
Brad Webb’s business partner, Troy Sears, first launched a similar enterprise in San Diego, home of the Cup from 1988 to 1995. He purchased two circa-1990s “competition-tested yachts” — Stars & Stripes USA-34 and Abracadabra USA-4 — from the legendary Dennis Conner, who still keeps tabs on the venture. Add to the mix the 139-foot America, a replica of the schooner that started the Cup racing tradition in 1851, imparting its name on the holy grail of yachting forevermore.
Excursions leave from the San Diego Maritime Museum. www.next levelsailing.com.
Stars & Stripes USA-11 offers a similar program out of Shelter Island in the San Diego area. www.sailusa11.com.
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August 2013 issue