America's Cup: Huge Egos, Fast Boats

Posted: September 10, 2013  |  By: Susan Brenneman [LA Times]

In 2010, Ellison's Oracle Team USA won the America's Cup, the 162-year-old yacht race that pits big personalities and big pocketbooks against wind, currents and radical boat design. The victory gave him the right to set the rules for where and how the next cup would unfold. He chose San Francisco Bay as the location, and set specs for the boats: They would be seven-ton catamarans, 72 feet long, with 13-story carbon-fiber fixed "wingsails." When these so-called AC 72s get going — their top speed is upward of 40 knots, or 50 mph — they jump out of the water like planes lifting off. They fly.

Ellison isn't humble. He says he wants his version of the cup to jerk yacht racing into the 21st century, with risky sailing, extreme speeds and high-tech coverage (Ellison has bankrolled TV time and an impressive digital tracking system to help the uninitiated follow the action). He wants you, me and the guy who gets seasick on the ferry to Catalina to care about the America's Cup.

But things haven't been going all that well for the race, which headed into its final round Saturday, as Oracle Team USA began its defense of the trophy against the top challenger, New Zealand.

The bad news started well before the first races this summer. In October, Oracle's boat "pitchpoled," capsizing spectacularly on a trial run in high winds. As the soggy crew watched from chase boats, the current swept $8 million to $10 million worth of AC 72 out the Golden Gate (parts of it were towed back to San Francisco's Embarcadero to be rebuilt). A few months later, tragically, Artemis Racing, the Swedish challenging team, lost control of its AC 72, and this time one of the world's best sailors, British Olympic gold medalist Andrew "Bart" Simpson, was trapped in the wreckage and drowned.

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