The America’s Cup came to New York this weekend — and we checked it out

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Emirates Team New Zealand celebrates their overall win in New York, extending their lead in the series.
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The America’s Cup came to New York this weekend, bringing the fastest racing sailboats in the world to New York for the first time in almost 100 years.

On Saturday, we watched what turned out to be non-action from a media boat. And on Sunday, we visited the Land Rover BAR boat and chatted up some of the team’s sailors and biggest supporters.

Conditions were never ideal for sailing: Saturday’s racing was canceled due to a lack of wind, and gusty conditions on Sunday made the racing a stop-start affair.

But in its best moments, the event was pure spectacle, as the massive boats jockeyed for position within feet of one another, spectator boats, and the crowd-lined shores.

It was the epitome of what the sailors called “stadium sailing,” or racing held on tight courses close to the shore.

Things changed quickly during the competitions, especially as unpredictable wind shifts carried boats from last place into first and back again.

“The wind went from zero to twenty and back,” Land Rover BAR sailor Paul Campbell-James said after racing concluded.

Emirates Team New Zealand came out on top, while Oracle Team USA settled for second place and Groupama Team France third.

The series continues in Chicago, June 11-12.


The morning before the Saturday’s races were set to begin, classic “J-boats,” of one of the most celebrated and beautiful classes of America’s Cup racers, glided across the New York harbor. That’s “Ranger” (a replica of the 1937 Cup defender) on the right and “Topaz” to the left.

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William Fierman

Just after noon, a massive flotilla of spectator boats converged on the race area.

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That’s “Freedom,” the successful 1977 Cup defender, which sailed from Connecticut for the races.

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The New York Fire Department’s fireboat “Three Forty Three,” named for the number of Firefighters killed on September 11, 2001, cruised through the race area …

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… as did this tugboat. At right is one of two replicas of “America,” the first winner of the Cup in 1851 and the trophy’s namesake.

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Skies were very gray, but there was little wind to speak of.

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When the racing yachts finally appeared they looked and moved unlike anything else on the water — fast and twitchy like the thoroughbreds that they are.

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After three or four abandoned starts, officials called off racing for the day. They held one short “substitution race,” which would only count if racing were also canceled on Sunday.

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Unfortunately, despite the technical prowess of the boats and the thousands of gathered spectators, sailing just doesn’t work without any wind. Fortunately, the forecast was for strong winds the following day, and Oracle Team USA skipper James Spithill promised that the racing would be “epic.”

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Sunday morning: sunshine!

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“Ranger” did a few high speed passes right along the shoreline while crowds cheered.

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English business magnate Sir Richard Branson enjoyed a ride on Land Rover BAR’s racing yacht. Here he is speaking to Sir Ben Ainslie, four-time Olympic champion and skipper of the British team.

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Wooden yachts filled the harbor at regatta headquarters. This is Mariner III, a luxury motor yacht built in 1926.

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Here’s the absolutely spotless deck of “Ranger.”

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And that’s the 247 foot long mega-yacht “Northern Star.” Lovely.

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In helmets and impact-resistant gear the sailors looked like they were going on a mission to Mars, and not a sailboat race in the Hudson River.

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Crowds gathered …

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… as the boats once again pulled onto the course.

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The wind was gusty, only revealing the boats’ full potential for seconds at a time as the crews warmed up.

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Sudden gusts of wind would pick the boats up onto their foils …

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… or, on the other side, send them crashing into the water. It was clear racing would be very exciting.

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Occasionally the wind would get underneath the boats, picking them up bow-first.

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Starts in sailing are one of the most challenging elements in the sport. They require of the crews massive amounts of coordination, timing, strategy, and aggressiveness.

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They are utterly thrilling. At moments the boats look to be on top of one another!

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The same is true when several boats arrive at a marker together. A winning skipper knows how to box out another boat and find every advantage he can.

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When the boats are close, it’s clear just how fast the sailors on board are working. If conditions call for different sails, the crews each race to fly them first. Here they unfurl their “code zeros,” which are the largest sails available.

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Strategic choices have huge consequences, as does being in the right place when the wind picks up. After winning the first race by a healthy margin, Swedish challenger Artemis Racing fell to last in races two and three.

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It was Emirates Team New Zealand that came out on top, with a first place finish and two in third. Oracle Team USA was a strong second overall, and France was third.

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So what’s the verdict on the new look of the America’s Cup? According to many of the sailors I spoke to, both amateur and professional, the change is great for the sport.

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For the (usually uninitiated) traditionalist preferring the romance of beautiful mono-hulled sailboats, one amateur racer put it best: “They’re still there! You can go see them race every weekend!”

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But the future is here … and the future is very, very fast.

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