Thursday, May 31, 2012

Venice - Saturday and Sunday Morning

ACWS Venice - May 19 & 20, 2012
Written May 20, 2012
Venice, Italy

It's was hard to believe it was almost over.  There I was on the last day of racing knowing that I needed to figure out how to get back to the airport the next morning.  My internet connection would be lost at the end of the day as the media center would shut down.  I had plenty to do.

After my last writing on Friday night, I tried to leave the Arsanale to head back to my hotel.  It was about 10:00 pm by the time I was packed up and ready to go.  From the media center I could hear a DJ spinning outside in the Arsanale, but I was not prepared for what I met when I left the building.  PACKED.  Absolutely PACKED.  The entire Arsanale had become a huge night club and the youth of Venice were out en mass enjoying the night.  It took me about 30 minutes to work my way to the "front" door and short way home, only to discover that entrance had been closed.  Back through the masses I went to head out the back way.  At least I could catch the water bus on that side.  It's a longer trip, but for me it really didn't matter at that time of night as I was just heading home.  However, once I reached the "bus stop" they told me it was closed for the night.  Alas, I must now walk.  And I knew what this meant ... getting lost in Venice once again.  Of course you can't get too lost as it is an island after all, and eventually I saw a "Per San Marco" arrow which is the sign that points me home.

Saturday was very light winds, but still a fun day out on the water for the races.  We only stayed out for the fleet racing and not the match racing.  I didn't think it was possible, but there were even MORE fans out watching the races.  It really is hard to describe the enthusiasm these Italian fans have for the Luna Rossa teams as well as for the America's Cup.  With the light winds and not a whole lot of "action" happening on the water (from a photography perspective that is) I decided to try a few new things on my camera.  It was good practice.
Since we were in early, I was able to take care of business and head out of the media center early (well, by 6:30 pm).  I wanted to beat the night club party scene this time and take the short way back, because I was on a mission.  One of the Staff Commodore's from my yacht club just happens to be married to a Venetian.  He mentioned to me that if I had the chance I should go to the Madonna Tratorria near the Rialto Bridge.  This wasn't much information to go on, but I had found the restaurant the other day and this was my opportunity to check it out.  Since it was Saturday night, I figured I should try to get there early and it was a good thing I did.  The place was packed.  And I think it was the best dinner I have had since I arrived in Venice.  Flash fried sardines marinated in vinegar with onions, sounds odd but it was amazing - seafood risotto that I just didn't want to end - and then for dessert the house special which is some sort of lemon sorbet mixed with prosecco.  I should have known that he would point me in the right direction!

This morning was the Festa della Sensa which is a Venice traditional celebration consisting of local boats parading from San Marco to San Nicolo del Lido.  At the Lido they stop for the "Marriage of the Sea" ceremony which has something to do with the Mayor having a gold ring blessed and then tossing it into the water.  The AC45's were going to show up so I figured I should as well.  I had no idea what I was in for, but what an amazing photo op it turned out to be!  So many boats out rowing - some in full costume - some just enjoying the day.  The main boat with the Mayor and other dignitaries even had a "band" along for the ride.  At the moment of the ceremony, everyone stopped rowing and raised their oars.  What a sight to behold.  I even noticed a shiny silver trophy out for row that morning.  What a great experience.

After the Festa I didn't have much time to switch gears and head back on the water for the last day of racing.  My time was short after racing, and the awards ceremony then the closing of the media center.  Next up will be my final day and my final thoughts on the experience.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Venice - Thursday & Friday

ACWS Venice, May 17 & 18, 2012
Written May 18, 2012
Venice, Italy
The event has started and my time has become limited.  But I am not complaining ... not one little bit.
There is a bit of a routine that I fall into and the days sometimes blur together.  Each morning I get up for breakfast in my little hotel, then figure out how to make my way to the AC Village.  On Thursday I decided to take the ferry around the island (instead of walking around and getting lost) to the back entrance, so I headed the one block from my hotel to the ferry stops along the Grand Canal.  It was at that moment that I noticed something a little odd in the basin.  There was an AC45 out there, but it was one I did not recognize.  It's wing and hulls were branded with Red Bull who had stepped on board to sponsor the Youth America's Cup.  Thursday morning was the official launch both in Venice as well as in San Francisco.  As I watched this boat out there, I noticed that it was heading toward the shore.  This seemed odd.  With the help of a few tenders, it turned around, and was backed right into a canal.  Not just any canal, but what has got to be the most popular canal in Venice as it the the one what goes under the Bridge of Sighs.  Countless tourists board gondolas to be romantically rowed under this bridge and possibly share a kiss, but not this morning as there was an AC45 blocking the way.  The canal is 10 meters wide.  An AC45 is 8 meters wide.  She slipped right in there as if this had always been her berth.
What a sight to behold, this newly branded AC45 parked just meters from the Doges Palace along the Grand Canal.  Youth sailors arrived, and members of the various AC teams.  The Mayor of Venice was there and after all the announcements, speeches, applause and the consumption of lots of Red Bull, the four youth sailors put on their helmets and took the Red Bull boat out for a sail in the basin, along with members of ORACLE Team USA.  I had certainly chosen the right way to get "to work" that morning.

By the time the press conference was over, the front entrance to the AC Village had opened, so I made my way to the media center where I learned that I was confirmed on a photo boat for the day.  Thursday's racing was out in the Lido.  With the backdrop of the alps in the distance, this made for a fine day on the water. Two fleet races, a bunch of match races - quite frankly I can't always keep up with what is going on with the races.  There was no radio or "live line" on the photo boat so you watch the races "old school" which was fine with me.  It was a sunny day, the wind was 9-12 kts. and the races were good. 
On to Friday, I headed straight to the ferry to get to the village, without the distraction of any AC45's in the basin.  That would come later of course.  My morning was filled with catching up on emails and what is happening in the world outside of Venice, as well as going to the pre-race briefing hosted by Iain Murray.  He let us know that the wind would be from 140 deg, currently at 7 kts and would build to about 10 kts for the day.  More importantly, racing would take place on the "inside" course, which meant inside the basin.  From a photo perspective, this was tremendous news!  The wind angle was perfect for racing too as it was heading straight up the canal.
I made it onto a photo boat again and could hardly stand the anticipation to get out there.  Again, for you sailing fans, you'll already know the score and the highlights of what happened.  What I was not prepared for was the FANS.  Thousands upon thousands of people were out.  For the entire length of the course on the shore side, there was not one spot along the waterfront that was empty.  On the water, they had issued over 2,000 permits for spectator boats and on Friday were expecting about 800 boats.  Well, I think they underestimated by far.  I think that all 2,000+ were out there.  And everyone behaved - stayed behind the lines, etc.  As if this was not enough, there was a HUGE floating grand stand right at the 50 yard line of the course.  It was PACKED.  How does one get to a floating grand stand?  Remember that this is Venice - a city full of boats.

The two Luna Rossa boats had a fabulous day on the water.  I didn't have to even watch the races to know when the Luna Rossa boats were near because the roar of the fans was deafening.  Horns.  Cheers.  Hollering.  More horns.  Every time they passed by - and then to have them WIN!  I'm surprised that the sailing fans of SF were not awoken by the sound.  I couldn't help but cheer for the Luna Rossa boats, getting caught up in the excitement that was all around me.
Back at the AC Village at the end of the day and more fans lined the Arsanele basin to await the victors.  The village was simply alive with activity. Friday night, to start off the weekend, there was a band playing on the floating jumbo tron/ stage until late into the night.  For me, it was time for yet another late night dinner and bed in preparation for the last two days of racing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Venice - Monday to Tuesday Morning

ACWS Venice - Monday to Tuesday, May 14 & 15, 2012
Written Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Venice, Italy

The beginning of my week in Venice was a bit quiet as the actual ACWS event didn't start until Thursday.  I decided to spend a little extra time in Venice, and did want to catch the events during the weekend before the ACWS.  Other than just being a tourist, there are other activities that kept me busy during the early part of the week.

I missed the opportunity to head out for the Healthy Oceans Project Monday morning.  You see, the front gate or main entrance to the AC Village doesn't open until 10:00 am.  The Media Center, however, opens at 9:00 am and the Healthy Oceans Project departure was at 9:00 am from the media center.  So, I would have had to come in using "back way".  You would think that all you have to do is walk to the back side of the buildings to get to the back entrance.  This is Venice.  Not so easy.  Remember there are those canals, and streets that just end, and sometimes you'll find a bridge but sometimes you don't, so you try to backtrack without getting lost, but then you are - just lost.  Again, this is Venice so being lost is not so bad, unless you need to be somewhere at a certain time.  I was lost.  I didn't make it.
There were two options for Monday afternoon.  The first was to attend the Cichettata Osterie - a lunch time street party with food offered by the Venice restaurant association.  This was a 600 seat long table set up for all to enjoy.  Sounded incredible and from those that attended, they said it was a great three course meal and that more than 600 people attended as people would sit down, eat, leave, others would sit down, eat, etc.  This would have been a great photo op, I'm sure, however I had to pass on this event.
Also on Monday afternoon was the Leone di San Mario Vela al Regatta or Classic Yacht Regatta.  I'm sure you'll find it no surprise that I opted for the on-water choice for the day.  This was a Venetian traditional sail boat regatta organized by the Associazione Vela al Terzo and one sailor per AC World Series team was to be part of the crews participating in the regatta.  The race was to take place on the San Marco Basin.  Yes - this was the option for me.

Back to the same hospitality boat I was on the day before, and back to a boat filled with Italian journalists who barely spoke English.  This time there were no other English speaking journalist on board so it was a bit of a quiet afternoon for me.  I really had no idea what to expect as I didn't know what a traditional Venetian sail boat looked like nor did I know how many boats would be out.  As it turns out, there were about fifty of these three to four person boats sailing in the basin for the regatta.  This was clearly NOT a one design fleet as the boats seemed to be somewhat different shapes and sizes.  I was trying to figure out where the start line was and the course.   According to the sailing instructions the course was to start, do two sausages or loops, then finish.  But when the starting horn was sounded, there were boats already over what I thought was the start line, and then others were hanging back - for a second start perhaps?  But no, there was only one start or was that the start?  Or were they racing now and where were they going?  And then for the sausages it appeared that some boats were going one way and others a different way and some were going up wind and some down wind and some just across the middle and honestly I just had absolutely no idea what was going on.  I've been sailboat racing for a while and think I have a pretty good understanding of how the races work but this ... this I could not figure out.  I needed a little Stan Honey Live Line Graphics to figure out that whole situation! (On a side note - I happened to run into Stan the next morning and told him as much!  He laughed and said that was quite a compliment.)
But still, a beautiful event with that incredible Venetian waterfront backdrop.  The weather was perfect and it was a gorgeous afternoon on the water.  I think I chose wisely.
Back to the media center, then dinner with a new friend from the media center and a yacht club member who happened to work for AC Race Management.  We went to a quaint little place down near the Rialto Bridge.  Homemade gnocchi with a salmon sauce that just melted in my mouth, and plenty of English conversation.  A stroll over the Rialto Bridge, window shopping through the windy streets,  across to St. Mark's Square where the battling cafe orchestras were giving it one last go for the night, and finally to my hotel for another peaceful nights rest.
Tuesday morning I awoke a bit late (maybe I was not quite over the jet lag) and opted to just take my time.  I would just take the short route to the AC Village using the 10:00 am main entrance.  To get to the front entrance I simply head to the Grand Canal which is just a block from my hotel, take a left, cross over a few canals and when I get to Larry's boat (which you can't miss) you turn left again for the brief stroll to the main entrance.  SO EASY.  No chance of getting lost.  Tuesday  morning at 11:00 am was the opening press conference with all the skippers and that is what I would attend.  Everyone stated they were excited about the venue and looking forward to some good racing starting on Thursday.

After that, I took a little time "off" to play tourist in Venice.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Venice - Sunday

ACWS Venice - Sunday
Written Monday, May 14, 2012
Venice, Italy

If I were to have gotten on a plane on Sunday night to head back to San Francisco, my trip would have been absolutely worth it from Sunday afternoon alone.
Where was I in the story ... oh yes ... I had stalked my way to the AC village and found my spot at the media center. 

I was booked onto a hospitality boat for the second day of the City of Venice regatta. There was one English speaking photographer on board with me. Everyone else was full on Italian.  It was a nice boat and as we headed out and around the lagoon toward St. Mark's Square, an Italian commentator was rambling on about ... well, I don't have any idea what he was saying. Every now and again I would pick up words like "Luna Rossa" or "Jimmy Spithill" but that was all I understood. Although there was a full race happening, we went straight to the finish line to claim our spot. It was here that we waited ... and waited ... and waited. This seemed to have been the theme for the day as the races themselves had been delayed a few times and here we were waiting again.
I took the opportunity of being out in the water in the middle of the mouth of the Grand Canal to just be a tourist. The Bridge of Sighs, St. Mark's Square, The Customs House, San Giorgio. These classic Italian landmarks were surrounding me. And that was ALL that was surrounding the boat. Suddenly I realized that there were NO OTHER BOATS in the basin of San Marco. Where were the water taxis? The gondolas? The barges that are constantly bringing supplies to or taking garbage from Venice? Gone. All of them gone. Cleared out in the middle of an afternoon and only our spectator boat was allowed in the middle of the basin.  Incredible.
Two support boats with Louis Vuitton branding and "finish" flags flying appeared and set up the finish line just off St. Mark's Square and in front of the Doge's Palace. A couple of other support boats were around, but still not many. Still we waited. I kept my eye on the horizon, and waited and watched ... and then I saw them. Just the tops - those wing extensions cutting above the trees of San Giorgio Maggiore Island as they raced up the Canal of San Marco. Around the bend they appeared with hulls flying - squeezing by each other in the confined space as they rushed toward the finish line, and my spectator boat. All nine AC45's, forced together in the continually restricted space. What an incredible sight to behold. With the classic Venice waterfront as their backdrop, these modern boats created an incredible scene. I just kept snapping away, hardly able to believe my own eyes.
And then it was over just as quickly as it had begun. The AC45's toured around a bit in the basin, but it was filling up quickly with spectators, support boats, police, coast guard, fans and of course us. I think that Loick Peyron of Energy Team was having the most fun. He did a few fly-bys - lifting a hull in front of the Doge's Palace - and just seemed like he was having a great time. As the AC45's left the basin and headed back down the Canal of San Marco, their entourage followed.  What a show!
Back to the media center and the AC Village - more Italian fans were there to welcome the boats back to the Arsenale. People strolled along the AC Village enjoying their aperitif and the setting sun. A band was playing, the village booths were open selling food, beverages, providing information and a variety of other products. A grandmother and grandson posed by a huge AC45 poster for a photo op, and the jumbo tron was playing videos from past events. Everyone was enjoying the day and the scene.

The sun had set and the jet lag was setting in so I headed back to my hotel. I found a great restaurant nearby where I enjoyed a glass of fine Italian wine, a caprese salad and fettuccine with sardines, the house special. It was DIVINE! With my tummy full, my eyes starting to close, I crawled into bed and slept full through to the next morning, hoping my jet lag was done. 
Monday's schedule was suppose to include the Healthy Ocean Project in the morning, but I got lost on my way to the AC Village.  
Next up:  The Classic Yacht Regatta.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Venice Day One - May 13, 2012

ACWS - Venice Day One - Checked In
Written Sunday, May 13, 2012
Venice, Italy

Already it has been an adventure.  My departure from SFO was delayed by over two hours, which unfortunately meant that I would most likely miss my connection in Zurich to Venice.  After an 11 hour flight to Zurich I ran through the airport as if I was OJ Simpson in a rental car commercial, only to arrive at my Venice departure gate a mere two minutes after the doors had closed.  TWO MINUTES!  I was re-routed through Munich and then finally made it to the Venice airport.  I caught the last water bus from the airport at 11:45 pm for the hour + long boat ride into Venice.

Don't feel too bad for me ... as there I was, the only passenger on the water bus, traveling down the entire Grand Canal in the quiet peacefulness of night.  It was a magical trip, with the lights on in the old historical homes, the gondolas put away for the night but still rocking in the choppy water as if they were waving hello, and random couples romantically strolling home along the side of the canal.  I was let off at San Marco and after wandering around just a little in a slight drizzle, I found my hotel and was settled in shortly after 1:00 am.

My first morning in Venice I woke to rain, but so it goes.  Rain usually brings wind, and that's good for sailing.  I had printed out a map of where the America’s Cup Village was located and after breakfast headed out to get myself checked in at the media center.  For those of you who have been to Venice know, there really are no street signs and many times you just dead end at a canal and must back track.  For an hour I wandered around in the wind and rain trying to find the AC Village to no avail. There were some banners hanging from street lamps, but no signage to let you know where to go (that would  appear later in the week).  

Then I spotted someone with a familiar badge hanging around his neck.  He was carrying a rather large camera which was another give away. He MUST be heading for the media center so I fell in behind him and started following him like a stalker.  Over a bridge, down along a canal, then suddenly he went into a building.  I just followed along.  He had gone into the Naval Museum.  I didn't know why he was heading this way, but what an amazing building filled with old boats!  I was a bit distracted by this, but kept my eye on him as he went down the path through the center of the boats.  He kept walking ... so did I ... out the other side of the building ... and then I saw them.  There in the basin on the back side of this historical boat house were nine AC45's floating on moorings.  It was like seeing a group of old friends, bobbing up and down in the wind and light chop.  I realized we had entered the AC Village.  There was a stage, the Puma Store, and a bunch of booths that were still getting the final touches before opening.  Overall, it was pretty darn cool ... once you found the place.

I found the accreditation office, picked up my badge and settled in at the media center.  Sunday's racing, second day of the City of Venice Regatta, had been postponed for a few hours due to weather.  Unfortunately I was not able to be on a photo boat as I missed the sign up the day before due to travel.  They are putting me on a spectator boat instead.  Heck - I'm just excited to be here!

And so the adventure begins.