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VIDEO: Cup catamaran capsizes

If recent test sails by America’s Cup defender Oracle Racing on San Francisco Bay are any indication, spectators and sailors will be in for a new Cup experience that is seeking to replicate some of the X Games’ thrills and spills.

On June 13, Oracle Racing’s CEO Russell Coutts learned the hard way that hitting the point of no return on an AC45 catamaran in a fresh breeze means pitchpoling and falling a long way — right through the skin of the powerful yet fragile wing sail.

“These [AC 45] boats and the bigger AC72s aim to test the best sailors in the world,” says Coutts. “It's about pushing boundaries and gaining confidence so that your team is sharper than the next. It could be the difference between winning and losing.”

Click play to watch video of the AC45 capsize.

The mishap stole some of the limelight from the presentation that introduced the competitors for the 34th America’s Cup, which has shrunk to nine syndicates from eight countries, considerably fewer than the 14 announced earlier this year.

After the high-profile departure of Mascalzone Latino, the Italian Challenger of Record, because of fundraising difficulties, Cup organizers have been scrambling to reduce entry fees and dispel the notion that the event will be too expensive to attract broad participation.

Currently entered are:

  • China: China Team, Mei Fan Yacht Club
  • France: Aleph-Équipe De France, Aleph Yacht Club
  • France: Energy Team, Yacht Club de France
  • Italy: Venezia Challenge, Club Canottieri Roggero di Lauria
  • New Zealand: Emirates Team New Zealand, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron
  • Republic of Korea: Team Korea, Sail Korea Yacht Club
  • Sweden: Artemis Racing, Kungliga Svenska Segel Sallskapet
  • United States: Oracle Racing, Golden Gate Yacht Club (Defender)
  • Spain: Green Comm Racing, Real Club Nautico de Valencia

“This field of competitors is truly global, representing a mix of established teams as well as new ones in sailing’s top event,” says Iain Murray, regatta director and chief executive of America’s Cup Race Management. “The new vision for the America’s Cup has created the opportunity for teams from Asia, Europe, Oceania and North America to enter the Cup and compete in dynamic new wing-sailed catamarans in an exciting race format.”

The Cup may still be more than two years away, but syndicates are under intense pressure to raise millions of dollars, sign the sailors who are most competent to operate high-performance catamarans with fixed-wing rigs, and acquire a 45-foot AC45 cat costing approximately $1 million to compete in the America’s Cup World Series.

Meanwhile, they also have to contract with a designer to build a much larger AC72, the monster 72-foot wingsail cat that will be used to contest the Cup on San Francisco Bay in 2013.

It remains to be seen whether all of the entered teams will find the money and talent to go all the way. But in the end, couch potatoes and “clickerati” in front of their laptops, tablet computers and smart phones could be the big winners, because live footage overlaid by 3-D graphics that show the precise position of the boats on the course aims to present sailing in a completely new light.

The first event of the AC World Series is scheduled for Aug. 6-14 in Cascais, Portugal. The next stop is Plymouth, England, Sept. 10-18, and the final stop in 2011 is San Diego in the fall.