Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Newport - Like a kid in a candy store

ACWS Newport - Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Newport, Rhode Island 

I like to arrive at these events early so I have time to enjoy the host city and the venue before the actual event.  Unfortunately, the weather here has not completely cooperated as Monday was overcast and rainy most of the day so my thoughts of strolling along the Cliff Walk and seeing the mansions melted in the drizzle.  Tuesday was very nice, with just a couple of brief showers and the forecast for the rest of the week is looking really good.  However, as the week moves on, my free time becomes less and less as I focus on the event.
The inclement weather has not had an impact on the enthusiasm in Newport.  This entire town is a buzz over this event.  The return of America’s Cup sailing to Newport, although in catamarans and not 12 meters, is being treated as a homecoming.  As I read the local papers like Newport This Week and the Sunday insert that my hosts had saved for me, I noticed that there are parties and events all over town. Come experience America’s Cup at The Deck Restaurant & Bar; America’s Cup World Series Daily Breakfast Reception Wednesday through Sunday at the Onne Van Der Wal Photography Gallery; and then there is an entire special event schedule for Moet & Chandon parties, all open to the public which include mixers, sunset parties, a “Bubble Bash” (no - I will not be finding out what that means) and lawn viewing parties during the weekend’s racing schedule.  And this is just scratching the surface of events being held outside of the AC Village at Fort Adams.  Ocean talks, movie screenings, press conferences, give-a-ways.  I was overwhelmed with the number of options available.  
With so many options, I decided that during these lay days that I needed to choose wisely.  In the special section from last Sunday's paper there was an article which asked each of the skippers four questions, one of which was “On the rare chance you find yourself with some free time in Newport, how do you plan to spend it?”  The answer from both the ORACLE Team USA skippers was to check out the Candy Store.  The Candy Store is a restaurant located in the Clarke Cooke House which is said to be the quintessential Newport experience.  AC Contenders such as Ted Turner and Dennis Conner  have spent time there and it has long been ground zero for the Newport sailing crowd.  There are several dining options within the Clarke Cooke House and I actually found a great seat at the Sky Bar overlooking Bannister’s Wharf where I had the option of the innovative cuisine from each restaurant's menu, including the Candy Store.  The food was great, and I spotted several team members on the various levels of the place.  This was definitely the place to see and be seen in town and was worth checking out.  Tuesday night at a local pub, I treated myself to lobster pizza for dinner.  It was fabulous and I think each bite was more divine than the last.  Lobster pizza - who knew!
Tuesday morning was the “Meet the Skippers” public press conference on the main stage at the AC Village in Fort Adams.  Youth sailors were invited and the kids were there en mass from area yacht clubs.  The highlight of my day was seeing how excited these kids were to see and meet the skippers.  They all waited patiently during the Governor’s opening remarks and questions from the press for that moment when they might just get a team hat or better yet, an autograph from one of the skippers.  The best part of the press conference came at the end.  A photo op was planned with the skippers and the kids.  But the skippers were on a stage that stood about 7 feet high, much taller than the kids lingering below.  A few kids who had lined up for the photo turned around longingly gazing up at the skippers and stage.   Loick Peyron of Energy Team was the first to help a kid onto the stage and then all the kids were begging to get up.  Max Sirena from Luna Rossa just reached down with two hands and seemed to be plucking kids from the crowd onto the stage with his amazing strength.  Chris Draper also from Luna Rossa followed suit.  These kids had the biggest grins on the their faces as they stood on the stage next to these skippers.  After the photo op and before leaving the stage, Terry Hutchinson of Artemis waited so he could talk to some of the kids, immediately kneeling down to their level.  Yes, these men are truly the heroes of this sport.  As Nathan Outteridge of Team Korea and Jimmy Spithill of ORACLE Team USA left the stage, they were swarmed by kids wanting autographs.  Both skippers stayed, signed life vests or whatever the kids had, posed for pictures and answered questions.  Such a small gesture from these guys that will make a huge impression on these kids.  Well done.
That afternoon was the first official practice day, with the teams as well as the race committee out on the water.  This was a good practice day for me as well, figuring out the best back drops, the iconic scenes for photos, and to meet a new group of photographers here in New England.  Tonight some friends are arriving in town and I am thrilled to have them here so we can share this adventure together.  The excitement level around town is definitely on the rise. 

To view more pictures from today, just click HERE

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Newport - Settling In

ACWS Newport - Saturday, June 23, 2012
Newport, Rhode Island

For years my parents have been wanting me to move back to the East Coast.  I think about it from time to time.  They would like me to move to Annapolis or the DC area.  My consideration to move has just increased, but I should let my family know there is a new contender on the list.  The top of the list for places for me to move back east might just be Newport, RI.  This is my first time here and even though I have not even been here for 24 hours yet, I absolutely love the place.  So starts my latest adventure.
Red-eye flights are never fun but sometimes you just have to take them.  This was my route of choice to get to Newport, by way of a red-eye to Cleveland, during which I might have gotten about 20 minutes of sleep just before landing.  I connected in Cleveland to Providence early Saturday morning, and then there was the shuttle to Newport which only runs once every two hours.  Of course I arrived about 20 minutes after a shuttle had just left.  That hour and 40 minute wait for the next shuttle was the longest ever. Thank goodness for the triple venti latte from Starbucks.
When booking this trip I discovered that there are not a lot of hotels in Newport.  There seemed to be a lot of Bed and Breakfast places which were equally as expensive as the hotels.  Availability was scarce.  I then looked at VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and found a room in a house that looked to be quite central.  The price was right so I booked it.  With VRBO you never know exactly what you're getting into, but I had been happy with other booking so I figured it was worth the risk.  Photos, as I know well, can be deceiving and clearly not everyone on VRBO hires a professional photographer to display their listings.  
As my shuttle from the airport drove a few of us from Providence to Newport I was taking it all in and enjoying the view, amped up on adrenalin and caffeine at that point.  As we crossed the Claiborne Pell Bridge that takes you into Newport, I squinted just to be sure I was seeing things right.  There in the distance, looking down between Rose Island and Goat Island I saw them - standing proudly on their moorings, those impressive wings.  I noticed a bunch of white tents and figured that must be Fort Adams.  And then they were gone, as we headed off the bridge into town.  
My shuttle was driving down this incredibly charming street, lined with rather large homes and a few B&B's when the driver stopped the van.  This was where he was dropping me off.  I was a bit puzzled, but got out with all my luggage.  My driver pointed to an old, slightly rusted iron gate and said that was where I was going.  Beyond the gate, I looked up, past the stately oak tree in the perfectly manicured front lawn, to a front porch where a lady sat reading a book.  "Ellen - is that you?" came the greeting from the lady as she put down her book.  I must be at the right place.  As I entered the gate, in front of me stood a beautiful old home built sometime around the 1850's that had been wonderfully restored by the current owners.  The lady took me inside and showed me the front room which I have all to my self, with an en-suite bath.  I actually have the whole front entrance all to myself as the owners use the back, so the front porch, complete with chairs where I can sit in the shade of the giant oak and watch the world wander by, is all mine - for the next ten days.  Yes - the pictures on their listing might have been a little deceiving as this place has far exceeded my expectations.
After unpacking and having a shower, the lady of the house offered to give me a driving tour of Newport.  We were very close to downtown, the wharfs and what looked like the happening parts of Newport.  She also drove me out by some of the mansions which were some of the most impressive homes I have ever seen.  Then we drove over to Fort Adams which will be my home base for the next week.  Traveling by car, this seemed a long way from where I was staying, but I need to remember that we had taken the scenic route.
Into the AC Village I walked, past the team bases and some historical looking buildings which I will investigate later, to the media center which is located in the what is now the Museum of Yachting (I discovered that this used to be military offices long ago).  I'm here a bit early but still there are familiar faces to greet me.  After claiming my spot for the week, I wandered around the village to take it all in.  The Puma Store and the America's Cup Merchandise Store were in full swing.  The Moet Garden now has some competition with the Stella Artois garden and the Napa Wine area as well.  Sailing fans were out playing some sort of bean bag toss thing on the lawn, and a large opti regatta was taking place out in the bay.  Even with all this going on, it feels a little quiet now, but I know that as the week progresses, this will be more and more crowded. 
To get home, I found the water shuttle that will escort me across the bay each day, cruising between AC45's on their moorings, countless other boats and the New York Yacht Club perched on the hill in the distance.   It takes about ten minutes to cross the bay, much shorter than the drive earlier in the day.  The water shuttle dropped me off at Bowens Wharf which, along with Bannisters Wharf, is a sea of restaurants, bars and shops. (Photo is taken from the village side and the wharfs are straight through those boats.)  I found a spot for a bite to eat before the lack of sleep from the red-eye really set in.  It was time to call it a day.  I wandered along a few streets, catching the whiff of honeysuckles along the way - the sweet smell stirring up happy childhood memories from just a little further down the east coast. I found the wrought iron fence, stepped up and across the front porch and headed "home".  This is going to be a good week.  I can already tell.

For more photos from this day, just click HERE

Friday, June 1, 2012

Venice - Back State Side

ACWS Venice - May 20 & 21, 2012
Written May 22, 2012
San Francisco, CA

Was it all a dream?  That's what it felt like on Tuesday morning when I woke up in my own bed.  I double checked my computer and sure enough, the images were still there so it must have really happened.

Sunday afternoon was my last day on the water.  Sailing fans will know that it was light winds once again, but this didn't stop the excitement of the races.  First up was the speed trials.  With the super light winds, these "speed" trials were painful to watch and even more painful to photograph.  There were some interesting poses and positions in these conditions by the team members as they tried to use their body weight to help in the light winds.  Sometimes the teams even looked bored, but they still tried.  I noticed that many of the photographers were taking pictures of the friends they had made in the media center during the event instead of the boats going by, which I found quite amusing.  The sailing fans stayed, even during these trying conditions and still cheered whenever Luna Rossa was cruising by.
Next up was the match racing finals between Artemis and Luna Rossa Piranha.  Still the winds were light.  Still the photography was challenging.  Still the fans cheered whenever Piranha went by.

Then came the final fleet race.  The fans had stuck it out through the first two events, lining the race course on both sides in full force to cheer on their Luna Rossa boats.  Energy Team seemed to have the fleet race in the bag, until ORACLE Team USA Spithill caught up with them when the new wind, light as it was, started filling in.  This was truly a photo finish between these two teams, and we were right there.  When Loick Peyron of Energy Team popped the bottle of champagne to celebrate his victory, we were just down wind from them, and I could actually taste the bubbly in the air as I snapped away.  At the awards ceremony back at the AC Village, it was Match Racing first then Fleet Racing.  When Luna Rossa Piranha came out the crowd came alive with cheers of MAX! MAX! MAX! from all the Italian fans to the skipper Max Sierena, even though they were in second place.  There were more champagne battles between the skippers during the awards and everyone was enjoying the moment.  This moment also marked the end of the event.

It was back to the media center one last time.  Everyone was packing up, as the show would be loading onto the container ship in the next couple of days.  I too was packing up my things and saying farewell to the new friends I had made over the last week, with hopes of seeing them again at the next event.  As I left the media center for one last walk through the AC Village, a light drizzle started as if Venice was sad that all was coming to an end.   The Arsanale basin was empty of the AC45's as they were being hauled out over at the bases to be packed into containers for their journey to Newport, Rhode Island.  The mooring balls bounced as if waving goodbye from the water.  Bruno Trouble was at the Louis Vuitton AC history display overseeing the dismantling of this wonderful exhibit.  Vendors were gone, and the number of fans at the base had dwindled to only a few.  It's a bitter sweet moment - sad to see it end but happy to know I would soon be heading home.

Overall I am so very happy that I went to this event.  It has been my favorite thus far in the series, of the events that I have attended.  There is another Venice event in April of 2013, and I must encourage you to attend.  I'm happy to give any pointers or advise to help you out.  ACWS Newport is next starting on June 26 and running through July 1. Then the show goes to San Francisco for two events in August and October.  The containers will be the same, but each venue is unique.  I hope these updates have encouraged you to experience as many of them as you can.