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new world order

Jeremy Leonard from Surf City Racing is on the scene on the ACWS here in Dago this week. It all seems a bit off to us…

The America’s Cup World Series kicked-off off with an event called the Port Cities Challenge. Saturday, the first day of racing, saw fierce rain and hardly any wind, but the hardcore crowds, estimated around 21,000, endured. The ends of the piers and the surrounding shoreline were covered with colorfull umbrellas, and my informal poll of the spectators showed that they were into the racing.

The Port Cities Challenge was an interesting event, and was used as a way to politically involve the 5 cities that make up the Port of San Diego, with the America’s Cup World Series. ETNZ, who did not have an associated port city, was awarded a stainless steel model of an AC45 for their overall win by an amazing 7 points. Oracle Racing’s Spithill, sailing for Chula Vista, filled the second slot; followed by Artemis, who was sailing for National City.

The crowds for this lead-up event were mostly composed of people that sail, or who are into sailing rather than just the general public, and became more diverse as the weather settled on Sunday. I spoke with several people representing sailing clubs that had made the trek from afar to check out these 45-foot carbon beauties flying around the course. There were a handful of catamaran fleets that drove in from as far north as Oregon, and as far east as Arizona to catch a glimpse. Kim Cooper from Northern California, who has been racing multihulls since she was a young girl, was impressed by the spectacle, “We drove down from the Bay Area to check out the technology and advancement of the AC45s. YCs often don’t take catamaran sailing that seriously. We’re just as serious as monohull racers. This brings catamaran sailing into a more serious world view.” The data proves that the AC being run on catamarans is definitely increasing interest in smaller multis.

I’ve been very impressed with two major aspects of this event so far: The media center and the work of the volunteers. The Media Center is set up really well with hot coffee, high-speed internet, etc, and the staff is accommodating. Both Jane Eagleson and Stephanie Martin (along with a lot of the team contacts) are constantly on-call to assist with the details. When I brought up the fact that the media didn’t fully grasp the new sailing rules, the following day Stan Honey and Mike Martin were called in to hold a press conference.

As far as the volunteers are concerned, several of them have been working for weeks on several projects, that starting with the infamous dock rebuild lined up by a group called SEA San Diego. SEA SD is an organization made up of business people and influential boaters mainly form the San Diego Yacht Club, with the primary goal of organizing and marketing sailing events along the SD coastline. When the America’s Cup moved into town, some of the more committed volunteers were hand picked to help out with the ACWS side of things.

This volunteer scenario sounds much like a full-time job. I spoke with one of the volunteers that has been here on site for two weeks straight from 9am to close. The tasks that he was performing included hanging banners, painting, and generally handling any task involved in setting up the venue. When I asked him why he was volunteering, he simply stated, “Because I love sailboat racing.” He went on to mention how the repaired dock will be used for local sailing events after the AC entourage leaves town, which in the long term will benefit to the sailing community. He also mentioned how he is enjoying the benefits of his all access pass. The ideology of “The good of Yachting” is definitely present in the volunteer crew; still, something strikes me as off a bit to rely so heavily on the good heartedness of people to run such a high aspect event such as the ACWS.

I’m personally having a difficult time adjusting to this corporate controlled media machine. I do my best work when I’m interacting with the sailors or team in a one-on-one scenario. I like to focus on things that are a little offbeat, and it’s not easy adjusting to the spoon-fed press-conference style. It’s something that I have to negotiate, and hopefully I’ll have my act together by the official start on Wed.