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Americas Cup 2017

The Americas Cup, first contested in 1851, 45 years before the modern day Olympics, is the world’s oldest international sporting competition. In August 1851 an upstart crew from the United States swept past the royal yacht on a race around the Isle of Wight and won the £100 prize and the Americas Cup was born. Named not for the nationality of the victors, but after the name of the winning boat.

The prize was taken back to the New York Yacht Club, where the 100 ft schooner called America and it’s crew hailed from and it was to be well over a century before the United States were to lose the trophy. That was in 1983 when after a 132-year winning streak the Australian’s finally cracked it and took the Americas Cup down under.

The American’s won it back 4 years later, although New Zealand have won it twice in recent decades as have, in a huge turn up for the books, land-locked Switzerland in 2003 and 2007.

The last Americas Cup in 2013 was held in San Francisco and rivalling Charlton’s 7-6 Huddersfield win, Team Oracle USA came from 1-8 down in a first to 9 final to beat Emirates Team New Zealand 9-8 in one of world sport’s greatest ever comebacks. The winning team, Oracle, under the ownership of Larry Ellison and leadership of skipper Jimmy Spithill have always had the right to choose the venue to retain the trophy and at the end of 2014 Team Oracle chose to defend the trophy in Bermuda, and that defence of the world’s ultimate sailing competition begins this month on this island.

Bermuda has certainly benefited already from hosting the Americas Cup, with Front Street in Hamilton buzzing as well as the build out of the Royal Dockyard, where the Americas Cup village will be situated (photo). However whilst the glow around the place has been building for a while, in true island style the actual building of the infrastructure has been a little bit slower and I’m convinced that the place will smell of wet paint when the tournament kicks off on Friday, May 26th.

IMG_14906 teams will contest the 35th Americas Cup Qualifying Round with 4 making it to the next round. Although whatever happens in those qualifiers, Team Oracle automatically advance to the Final, so, and stick with me, 4 of the other 5 teams will contest the Challenger Play-Off’s, the winner of which earns the right to go up against holders and ‘home crew’ Team Oracle in a best of 13-race Americas Cup finale to lift the silverware affectionately known as the ‘Auld Mug.’ The schedule of racing is here.

Each 45 ft hydrofoil catamaran is individually made at around $8m a pop, and can travel as fast as 85kph. The foils perform the same function as an aerofoil used by aeroplanes and lift the boats out of the water when travelling at top speed. Honestly watching these feats of marvel fly across the water is quite a sight, and explains why racing is often called Formula 1 on water.

The races all take part in Bermuda’s Great Sound on a course roughly just 2 miles long and Bermuda’s long history of sailing and it’s natural beauty was a big reason that it was chosen by Larry Ellison and Oracle to be the team’s home base. There was also the small matter of heavy courting by the Bermuda government, and millions of dollars in sponsorship and incentives, although the government does hope to generate $250m in revenues though, which sounds a stretch, but we will see.

One of other attractions of Bermuda was geography. Our mid Atlantic time zone means races can be run in the afternoon  allowing for TV broadcasts to take place in prime time in Europe, early afternoon in the United States, and early morning in New Zealand. In the UK both the BBC and BT Sport are covering the 6-week tournament.

IMG_1491A rule change this time around means that 25% of each crew has to be from team’s home country although Aussie Jimmy Spithill (photo) captains the American team, Australian Glen Ashby the NZ team and Kiwi Dean Barker heading the Japanese team and so on, thus the crews, which are picked from a ‘squad’ for each race are a multi-national mix of some of the fittest and determined young men you are ever likely to meet. Jimmy Spithill by the way I have had the pleasure of meeting, and is one of the most inspirational and captivating speakers I have ever listened to.

Spithill and the Oracle team, which numbers over 80 people performing a whole range of roles from engineers and boat builders to chefs and physio’s have been on the island with their families for a couple of years, as have the Swedish team Artemis and SoftBank Team Japan. Ben Ainslie’s Portsmouth based British challengers Land Rover BAR arrived last year with Groupama Team France and Emirates Team New Zealand the most recent to pitch their tents.

The island is poised, ready or not, for one of the biggest shows on earth’s water.

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