What a show! Bermuda came together like never before for the America’s Cup World Series event held October 16–18.
The World Series races seemed to sneak up on us. We all knew it was on the horizon, but at the speeds these boats reach, one second they were over there, the next they were here, bombing around the Great Sound in front of the biggest flotilla the island has seen since Britain launched its naval force against the US in the War of 1812.
I was lucky enough to book myself a spot aboard one of the handful of boats allowed on the race course, volunteering as crew on one of the three press boats allotted for local and international photographers alike.
From the first practice day on Friday, it was clear just what these boats mean to a people that have harboured a deep, abiding love for the sport of sailing since time immemorial. As we bobbed around on the press boat, waiting for the teams to leave their moorings, two lovely old men approached us in their own boat. No wives or children or other assorted family aboard, just two best friends, roughly in their 80s, beaming from ear to ear.
“What time does the first race start?” they asked. Two o’clock we told them. It was 11:30 at the time, and they were way ahead of schedule. So they thanked us, looked at each other, smiled, and motored off to take their spot.
Something about that stuck with me. They were clearly old friends, two men who have shared a love for sailing since before cars were allowed on the island. Probably. Over the next two days, one has to imagine their venerable old heads came dangerously close to exploding.
But warm fuzzies aside, there was actually some sailing that happened, in case you missed it.
The ACWS is a long-drawn-out qualification process, where points earned count towards the 2017 America’s Cup Challenger Series, the winner of which earns the right to go head-to-head with cup-holders Team Oracle USA.
Light wind saw racing abandoned on Saturday, so three shorter rounds were held on Sunday instead, with double points on the table.
Following the events in Portsmouth and Gothenburg this summer, the regatta was won by the Swedish challengers Artemis Racing, led by the British two-time Olympic gold medallist Iain Percy. After a collision with the umpire boat that looked to have scuppered the team’s chances, the victory was extra sweet.
While the World Series races are far less about determining the strongest teams than they are about putting on a spectacle for the sponsors, broadcasters and hosts alike, it will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Team Oracle, who were hoping for a home field advantage but wound up finishing in a disappointing third place.
The short course and format leaves little room for error, which on the one hand gives the teams a good sighter on where they need to improve, but on the other does little to sift through the cream of the crop. Certainly poor old Groupama Team France could have done with a few more hours on the water.
Also apparent was a noticeable lack of organisation. At one point one of the course markers began floating away in front of us. Course marshals on jet-skis noticed immediately, but had no idea who to tell about it, leading to a somewhat comical slow-motion buoy jailbreak. And did anyone else notice it took two days for the umpires’ boat to be painted with the right shade of pink?
It almost seemed as if we never really believed it was going to happen and were taken by surprise when everyone actually started to arrive. I say this not to point out a flaw, however, because somehow everything went off without a hitch, save for the little mishap between Artemis Team Sweden and the aforementioned, fluorescent pink umpire boat. But in the grand tradition of sailing, umpires getting in the way is nothing new.
Meanwhile the apparent economic impact to Hamilton businesses was bigger than anyone could have expected. From start-ups, to boat charters, to our oldest retailers, everyone walked away with exponentially fatter pockets.
And the assertion that seeing these boats in Bermuda waters would be great for tourism was probably an understatement. It would be folly to think there aren’t a vast number of people now considering a vacation.
But away from the spectators, I still can’t get over how awesome it was seeing so many Bermudians filling so many different roles within the event itself. Whether it was driving VIP boats, laying markers and floating ads, putting up vendor’s stalls, or simply joining in the Endeavour programme, we’ve taken this event straight to heart and will certainly be reaping the benefits in the future.
Emirates Team New Zealand–50
Oracle Team USA–48
Land Rover BAR–44
Softbank Team Japan–44
Groupama Team France–32
Emirates Team New Zealand–122
Oracle Team USA–112
Land Rover BAR–109
Softbank Team Japan–100
Groupama Team France–82