Thursday, July 19, 2012

Newport - The Final Day

ACWS Newport - Sunday, July 1, 2012
Newport, Rhode Island

Sunday was my ninth day in Newport.  My morning routine was down to a science at this point:  Starbucks, the ferry, a little time in the media center to catch up on emails and life outside the ACWS before the morning press conference with Iain Murray.  Iain told us that Sunday would be the windiest day so far with the winds coming from the south.  The ebb would also be strong, as it was the day before.  To top it off, there was a rather large storm front they were keeping an eye on that potentially could hit mid to late afternoon.  
Sunday was also National Television day.  After a 20 year absence from network television, sailing was scheduled to be broadcast for two hours that afternoon on NBC (yes - via purchased airtime, but this was still a big deal.)   The comment had been made that with this new America’s Cup Worlds Series (ACWS), sailing was now in the entertainment business.  I had heard this sentiment spoken before during these events by various authorities within the AC, but this day was truly Super Sunday for Sailing.  
For Sunday’s big show, there would be the match racing finals as well as the winner-take-all fleet race.  Points from the entire 2011-2012 season would also be calculated to determine the season championship.  I must say that with the return of sailing to US national television, it sure was convenient that the two US teams of ORACLE Team USA were the ones battling it out in the match race finals.  It was a great contest between Spithill and Coutts and I was happy to see the old master Sir Russell win the start and the match over the young gun “Spitbull the Pit-bull.”
I was assigned to the same mark boat I had been on the day before for Sunday.  It was the fleet race I was most excited to watch.  I figured it was now or never to test out my core strength at balancing on the bow, so I put on a PFD (personal flotation device) and headed to that incredible vantage point on the pointy end of the mark boat.  I wanted to know if the photo op was worth the higher risk of dropping my equipment, if not myself, into the water.
And it was absolutely worth it - every single moment!
It was when Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) came around the mark boat that sealed the deal for me.  I can not describe how close these boats were to the mark boat - granted, Sir Russell WAS a little too close the day before when he took off our bow sprit.   Sunday, with the stronger wind conditions, they were coming around that mark fast.  I had my camera glued to my face with my eye only seeing what was through the view finder.  Most boats had chosen the other mark to round (since it is a gate, they can pick which one of the two marks to go around.)  ETNZ was the last boat in the first rounding.  I heard Dean Barker yell “deploy” and the next thing I heard was this incredibly loud bang - so hard to describe.  It was like a massive WHOMP that was just filled with power.  I braced myself for the impact that I assumed was coming as I figured we must have hit or something.  What else could have created such a noise?  My view finder was just filled with the color red they were so close.  But ETNZ kept sailing by and the team kept working away.  It all happened so fast and then they were off sailing down the next leg of the race.   It took me a moment to figure it out.  It was the gennaker that had made the noise - the power and force of that sail filling in those stronger wind conditions as it unfurled right in front of me.  Absolutely incredible and seemingly so effortless for these sailors.  Once I knew what it was, I was ready for the next time the boats would come around.  I don’t know why I hadn’t been brave enough to head to the bow before.  THIS WAS AWESOME!
Three roundings was all I got that day as there was just the one fleet race.  I honestly have no idea who won as we headed in but at that moment I didn’t care because I had just had the best experience of my entire trip on the bow of that mark boat. 
The predicted storms were moving in fast and you could feel the electricity in the air.  The crowds were lined up to get on the ferries back to Newport as quickly as possible.  I don’t exactly know how they did it but it seemed as though all 10,000+ people were out of Fort Adams in record time as the dark grey clouds moved in overhead.  It all looked quite ominous.
In a last minute change, the awards presentations were moved from the open stage at the fort to inside Club 45, which was the VIP tent for ACEA.  The ACEA/ACRM did a great job with the sudden change of venue for the awards.  The only issue for me was that there were match racing awards and fleet racing awards and overall event winners in third and second and first places, and there were medals and plates being handed out and then there were more match and fleet awards ... and I just got lost with who was winning for what and why.  I had no idea what was going on and must admit just kept waiting for them to hand out that big globe looking trophy because then I would know the overall champion.
There is one part of the awards that I fully understand and that is the Moët & Chandon moment.  One member of each winning team gets a magnum of Moët & Chandon that they spray everywhere.  I had a spare towel in my pocket in preparation for these moments.  I knew the first of these moments was coming after the first round of awards.  Since we were in Club 45, the home for all the VIP’s during the event, the photographers were intermixed by an interesting variety of people (usually there is a media only area in the front, but not this time).  To my left I had the team photographers from ETNZ, ORACLE Team USA and Artemis Racing.  Then to my far right I had the ACTV crew filming - but wedged in between me and the ACTV crew was this 20-something girl in her lovely white eyelet dress, yacht club silk scarf and had clearly had her hair blown out just that morning for the event.  Being surrounded by huge lenses, TV cameras and professionals, she proudly held up her white iPhone as she filmed or snapped images of the awards.
As the bottles of Moët & Chandon were being passed out, I had to warn her.  “You might want to step back” I cautioned her.  She gave me a look.  I followed up with “Well, be prepared to get wet ... because you will.”  She gave me one of those classic, condescending up-and-down looks and just shrugged at me, defiantly holding her iPhone just a little further out.  OK - she had been warned.
And she got it good!  That silk scarf of hers would need to go to the dry cleaners for sure.  I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as two or three more times she was doused with champagne.  I pulled out my towel, offered it to the pros to my left, and then gave it to her as well.  This time she looked me in the eye and said thanks.
As the last drops of champagne dripped from the various crews jackets, we all headed out of Club 45.  The storm had come and gone as the awards had been presented.  As the champagne had been raining down inside Club 45, the skies had opened up outside with a torrential downpour.   We were all soaked no matter where we had been.
Then it was done.
I packed up my camera and computer, cleaned out my locker at the media center and turned in my keys before heading to the ferry for one last ride.  Newport was another great adventure.  From my perfect home at the top of the hill, to discovering so much of what Newport has to offer, to seeing the best sailors on the fastest boats ... it was a great event.
Next up is San Francisco from August 21- 26.  Finally the show is coming to me!

More pictures can be found by clicking HERE

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Newport - Best Seat in the House

ACWS Newport - Saturday, June 30, 2012
Newport, Rhode Island

Saturday was yet another full on day and night.  The crowds were estimated to be at capacity inside Fort Adams which meant 10,000 people and they were expecting the spectator fleet on the water to be at capacity as well.   The weather was perfect, if not a little hot and I was looking forward to getting out on the water to enjoy that nice sea breeze that helps keep the Narragansett Bay cool.
Saturday’s racing schedule started with the speed trials.  Each boat gets two attempts to speed down a 500 meter course as fast as possible.  This can be very exciting and is certainly fun to watch, however from a photography perspective it is not my favorite event in the lineup.  The course was set with the finish line directly in front of the VIPs in Club 45 and the fans lining the rocks and grass of Fort Adams.  The boats were flying at speeds of 22-24 knots in a wind that was only about 10-11 knots.  Yes - these cats can fly at twice the speed of the wind. The spectators  on land, just beyond the finish line, having those boats fly towards them at these speeds, had the best seat in the house to watch the action.  

I was again assigned to a windward mark boat for the day.   We had to hold our station on the course which was rather far from the speed trials.  Our position on the water added to the lack of photo ops for me, so I just watched the races which was fun.  A bonus on the mark boat was that we were tuned into the secret radio station where we could hear the exchange between the umpires booth or somewhere over in ACTV land (I’m not exactly sure where) and the race committee boat as they relayed the official times of each speed trial.  Then we would see the times magically appear on a screen on our boat.  Every now and again there would be a message that would appear on the screen as well, and I was told that this was the method of how the boats knew about protests and penalties and any other information that the umpires needed to relay to the racers.  Remember that on the water we don’t have the luxury of a flat screen nor have access to Live Line with all the graphics to let us know what is going on.  We can listen to a radio broadcast but that is just not the same.  I do still prefer to be on the water for the action and the mark boat was a very nice seat to have for the races.
There was a fairly strong ebb that day and a good sea breeze of 16-18 knots filled in shortly after the speed trials ended.   Two fleet races were scheduled for that afternoon.  This meant that I would have six opportunities for the boats to race directly through the gate that my boat and the other created at the windward end of the course.  The boats come so very close to the mark boat that I could hear every word the sailors were saying, I could see the sweat on their brows, and I could reach out and touch the boat, if I weren’t focusing on getting the photo and had both hands on my camera.  I played it safe on Friday and stayed at the stern or back end of the mark boat.  I liked to watch as the boats approached, with the sailors seemingly staring me down as they kept their eyes on the mark, turning just in time to have those magnificent machines whip around us as though they were spinning tops.  There were three photographers on board and one decided to head out to the bow for his photo ops.  ORACLE Team USA 5 - Coutts was heading towards us and was going to take our mark or side of the gate to round.  He was cutting it close, but these sailors know what they’re doing.  Just before ORACLE Team USA 5 - Coutts reached our bow, the wind died just enough to slow him down, and remember that there was a strong ebb - a really strong ebb.  The mark boats are not anchored but hold their course with their engines, and we were now on a collision course with one of the AC45’s.  It happened quickly, the bang, the scraping sounds, the boat heading off.  The photographer out front had held on, and I snapped away as the ORACLE Team USA 5 - Coutts boat passed by me.  In looking at the pictures you can see the reaction of the  crew as they realized that they had snapped one of the shrouds during the rounding.  They also put a nice, big gash in the dagger board.  (The whole series of photos can be seen here.)  That would mark the end of racing for them for the day.

Back at the dock we were able to really assess the damage to our bow.  Since there are several identical mark boats, I was able to get before (top right) and after (bottom right) shots so you too can see the damage that was done.  We did end up saving the anchor (put it on the back of the boat) but not much else.  No one was hurt, not even that photographer on the bow of our boat.  As it turned out, we had the best seat on the course for the racing that day to see and be in the action.
That evening was another quick turn around back at my lovely room at the top of the hill of Newport. I had been invited to a very special evening - dinner in the private residence of another of those summer “cottages.”  It was an intimate dinner of friends and this dinner was the highlight of my trip.  Dinner was “casual” - or as casual you can be in one of these magnificent homes.  We stood on the top floor balcony sipping cocktails before dinner, gazing out over the lawn toward the Atlantic, and down the coast to the neighboring "cottages."  The downstairs had been rented for a big party, as happens now with many of these larger homes, and the final preparations were being done as we watched from our perch above.  After dinner, we adjourned again to the balcony to see what was happening with the festivities below.  Our hosts described doing the same thing as children, after being sent to bed while the adults partied below.  It was very easy to imagine, and then they told us tales of changing out of their pajamas, putting on their party outfits and sneaking down to the festivities happening below.  As tempting as it was to try and do this, and I will admit we joked about it, the balcony was actually the best seat in the house and I was honored to have been there.  This was truly a night to remember.
That night, as I walked in past that wrought iron gate and under the big oak tree to the porch where I entered the foyer of the Old Acre home, I realized what a perfect trip this had been and how I had been so fortunate to experience so much not only of the racing, but of Newport as well.  Sunday would be the last day of the event, but for me, I felt as though my trip was already complete.

More pictures from today can be found HERE

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Newport - Daydreaming

ACWS Newport - Friday, June 29, 2012
Newport, Rhode Island

Friday was a big day.  Racing, photographing, and that night was a gala event.  
Everyone seemed to be falling into the routine of the event.  I liked to arrive at Starbucks by 8:30 am in order to get my latte and have time to walk over to catch the ferry across Narragansett Bay.  There was only one Starbucks in downtown Newport, so I saw familiar faces in the coffee line each morning - friends from San Francisco, members of various teams, members of the media.  We all seemed to be on the same schedule.  I was also no longer the only one on the 9:00 am ferry from Newport over to Fort Adams.  There were about six or eight of us showing up for the early ferry, all sporting various colored AC badges around our necks depending on whether we were media, volunteers, part of the organizing committee, etc.  We had the basic water cooler conversations that you would have in any office or during a morning commute - chatting about our work days which that morning mostly consisted of the rumors and stories around the Emirates Team New Zealand flip the day before.  Yes - this was our office chatter.
Like the Emirates Team New Zealand boat, I too was back on the water for the days racing.  Friday I was on one of the windward mark boats.  The mark boats head out very early - about an hour before the other photo boats, so this made for another long day on the water, but I love it out there. Our location was down past Fort Adams State Park and near the Eisenhower House and Hammersmith Farm.  The Eisenhower House is an historic late 19th century home that has served as the residence for the Commandant of Fort Adams as well as President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom the house is named.  Ike liked golf, and the house’s location was near the Newport Country Club golf course, so this became the president’s Summer White House, although the house is now painted yellow.  Hammersmith Farm which is located next door was the childhood home to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and was the location for her wedding reception when she married John F. Kennedy.  This was his Summer White House during his presidency.  At one time it was open to the public, but has gone back to being a private residence.
With time on my hands out on the water before the racing, I couldn’t help but daydream a bit about what it must have been like during that gilded age when homes like these were built.  Wealthy southern planters looking to escape the heat began building summer cottages along Bellevue Avenue around the mid-nineteenth century.  By the turn of the 20th century, wealthy families such as the Vanderbilts, Astors and Wideners had constructed the largest of these “cottages” namely the Breakers and Miramar.  These families would come to Newport for a brief social season to their grand, gilded mansions and as I looked at the white tents on the lawns, I couldn’t help but think of how Edith Wharton (one of my favorite authors) described the Newport social scene in her novel The Age of Innocence.

But back to reality and the day’s racing during which I snapped lots of pictures and enjoyed what could be described as the best seat in the house on that mark boat.  You just can’t get any closer to the action on the water than on a mark boat.  
My day on the water was followed by a quick turn around back on land as I was heading to another summer "cottage" for dinner that evening.  Friday night was the 18th America’s Cup Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Marble House and I was on the guest list.  I changed from my sailing clothes into my blue sequined evening dress, then met my host family in the back yard for a quick update on my adventures thus far.  They insisted on driving me to the event - I think they wanted to check it out as well.  Marble House was built between 1888 and 1892 for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt as their summer "cottage."  It was a social and architectural landmark that set the pace for Newport's transformation from a quiet summer colony of wooden houses to the legendary resort of opulent stone palaces.  A fitting place to hold this induction ceremony, which was co-hosted by Yves Carcelle, Chairman & CEO of Louis Vuitton and Dyer Jones, Chairman of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee.  As I entered, I was handed a table card informing me that I was seated at table no. 1.  I thought to myself that this was either a huge mistake or that table no. 1 must be next to the kitchen.  I glided through the grand entryway, passing men in tux’s and women in full length ball gowns sipping Moët & Chandon Imperial straight from mini bottles through little golden flutes affixed to the top.  Had I really snapped back to reality from earlier in the day - as I felt as though my Edith Wharton daydream was coming to life.   We mixed and mingled on the back patio before retiring to the grand white tent in the back yard, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean where dinner was served.  Table no. 1 was indeed right in the front and I was seated with members of the America’s Cup international jury, one of the dignitaries who was introducing an inductee that evening, and a few others. 
The best photographers were there to capture images from the event.  I did get a few curious looks from them as they saw me through their lens.  When one of the videographers was scanning the scene and when he got to my table he actually stopped and poked his head out from behind his big camera just to give me a quick wink and a nod.  Then back he went to filming.  It was as if I was living a double life and had just been caught and they were all quietly cheering for me from behind their lenses.  
Dinner, inductions, dancing.  It was a magical, golden evening that I will not soon forget. 

For more photos from today, just click HERE

Friday, July 6, 2012

Newport - Always Carry a Sharpie

ACWS Newport - Thursday, June 28, 2012
Newport, Rhode Island

Today the event is in full swing - no more practice runs as each race counts for the teams.  The media center is all a-buzz and there is not an empty seat in the place.  I’m glad that I have my spot by the window.  At the media briefing Thursday morning, Iain Murray informed us that there could be up to 13 races on Thursday, between the fleet race and the match racing quarter finals, which are a best of three between teams.  The photo boats would be docking out an hour earlier than they had been on the practice days, and once you’re out on the water, there is no coming back - you’re out there until the racing is finished for the day.  Even for me this was a long day on the water.
The big sailing story of the day was Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) flipping over, and staying over for such a long time.  Much has been written and said about this incident - how it was the first flip with the wing extension - how the wing tip filled with water because it was made from kevlar and there were no blowout holes for the water to escape - how it was an expensive day with the loss of electrical equipment - how ETNZ used their own rescue team and not that of ACRM - and on and on.  But no one was hurt and the teams all worked together through the night, borrowing bits and pieces from around the park to get ETNZ back on the water the next day.  Throughout this series, every boat that has retired early from a day's racing due to breakage or an incident has returned to racing the next day and ETNZ was no different.
Otherwise, Thursday’s racing was really great with a breeze at 16-17 knots.  It was nice to see both ORACLE Team USA boats progress to the next stage of match racing and equally exciting to see Team Korea beat Spithill in a match.  But it was a long day on the water and by the time the last match finished I was ready to get back to land.
Our boat docked at the VIP drop off near the point of Fort Adams.  The Media Mixer was happening there at the point so I decided to stop by and hear what the skippers had to say about the day.  As I waited patiently for Russell Coutts and Jimmy Spitthill to finish their interviews I noticed that a small group of kids and fans had gathered around me.  A little girl turned to her mother asking for a pen.  Her mother dug in her purse and couldn’t find one.  I remembered that I had a few sharpies in my bag and gave one to the little girl.  With her hat in one hand and my sharpie in the other, she waited with me and sure enough both Russell and Jimmy signed her hat.  Another brief moment on the part of these skippers that so inspired this little girl.  She was grinning from ear to ear, gripping that hat as if she had just won the America’s Cup trophy itself.   I let her keep the sharpie.
I didn’t have much time that afternoon in the media center as I had been invited to Harbour Court for dinner that evening.  I had seen that beautiful mansion perched on the hill each morning and evening as I took the ferry back and forth between Newport and Fort Adams, so when I was invited to dinner there, no matter how quick a turn around I needed to make, I was going to make it happen.  After a quick shower and change back in Newport, I made it up to Harbour Court just in time for cocktail hour on the lawn.  Shortly after arriving, a few adirondack chairs opened up so we took the opportunity to delay our dinner long enough to enjoy sitting at the top of the hill, gazing out over Narragansett Bay.  As we sat there, we watched the sun slowly dip down in the sky, behind the AC45’s that seemed to be standing at attention at Fort Adams.  The cannon sounded and everyone at Harbour Court stood absolutely quietly as the flag was lowered.   The afterglow from the sun filled the twilight sky and I couldn’t help but wonder as I stood where so many sailors from the 12 meter class had also stood over the years, if they had been won over by this new class of America's Cup boat.  One thing that had certainly not changed with this ACWS was the history, ritual, and ceremony that is Harbour Court and the New York Yacht Club.  I was honored to have been invited. 
We dined under that green and white awning that you must be able to see for miles.  This was my first time at Harbour Court, and I felt as though I was being given the full treatment to experience it all.   After dinner I was given a bit of a tour around the mansion.  At every turn I was hardly able to take it all in - the half hulls in the library, the classic books on the shelves, the models and artwork in the hallways.  Then, as I was about to leave, I noticed the 1/2 hull over the fireplace in the entryway.  It was the Yacht America of course.  What other yacht could grace such an iconic spot and I had to pause for a moment of reverence.  I felt as though I had come full circle - from the AC45‘s that morning back to the original Yacht America that night.  What a great day and a perfect evening and this was only day one of the official event.  
More photos from today can be found HERE

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Newport - Yellow Bands of Gold

ACWS Newport - Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Newport, Rhode Island

Friends from San Francisco arrived by Wednesday and it was great to have them here to share this adventure.  Since Wednesday was the last day before the actual event started, I was able to get some base passes for them.  I had two groups of friends coming in that day.  The first group arrived in the morning just as one of the boats was being lifted from the team base into the water.  Their 2-year-old was mesmerized by this activity, watching this huge winged machine fly over his head on a crane.  The passes allowed my friends to wander anywhere within the restricted base area, to any of the teams, but they were ORACLE Team USA fans so that was where we congregated.  Having these passes (actually yellow wristbands) was like having a full access back stage pass at a concert.  Team members dressed in their full gear would take the time to stop and say hello and my friends would wish them good luck in the days practice racing.  

I was only able to stay with them briefly inside the bases as I was scheduled to head out on a photo boat for the days practice racing.  By the time I returned from my day on the water, my second group of friends had arrived.  They had already picked up their passes and found their way into the restricted base area.  They were equally amazed at the craning out of the boats and the power of the little yellow wristbands.  Those yellow bands were like gold.  Since my first group had headed home for nap time with their young ones, I headed to the beer garden with the second group where we found prime seating to people watch as the preparations were being made for the opening ceremonies that were taking place that evening.
After a short time we decided to wander around a bit to see if we could find a good spot to watch the opening ceremonies.  As we wandered, we headed into the center of Fort Adams as my friends had not yet checked out that area.  We were pleasantly surprised to see each of the teams grouped together in what had become the staging area for the opening ceremonies.  Those wristbands had worked their magic once again as we were allowed to just stroll in as if we were participants in the ceremonies.  As the teams lined up for their grand entrance, Chris Draper of Luna Rossa headed to the nearby port-o-potties.  His teammates were keeping an eye on him as the time was nearing that they were to head out to the stage.  The moment Chris Draper closed the door to the port-o-potty, the rest of the Luna Rossa team ran over and propped a bench in front of the door, locking Chris Draper inside.  Laughing hysterically, Chris’ team mates ran back to get in line and almost immediately headed out to the stage in the grand procession.  It was great to see these pranksters at work!  (Chris missed the procession but was let out in time to join his team - just before they were announced.)
We didn’t stay for the whole opening ceremony as we had reservations for dinner at, as you might have guessed, the Candy Store.  When we were about half way through our meal, we noticed that Russell Coutts was dining just a few tables away.  And we noticed a few other familiar faces around the restaurant as well.  After dinner we enjoyed the beautiful June evening on the patio of the Black Pearl where members of Energy Team were doing the same.  It was as if the access of those yellow bands had reached all the way back to the wharfs of Newport as we seemed to be in all the right places at the right times.
We didn’t stay out too late as Thursday was the official start of the event.  I think everyone could feel the excitement in the cool night air.  My host family had mentioned that those "Fly Emirates boys" as she liked to call them had been having bon fires in the backyard at the house next door which they must have been renting.  But not on this night as even they had turned in early in preparation for the next day's main event.

More photos from today can be found  HERE 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Newport - A Room With A View

While I sat at the media center, the world outside my window was constantly changing.  From historic boats sailing by, to AC45's being parked right outside my window, to seeing the changes in the wing of Emirates Team New Zealand after their big flip in the Narragansett Bay.  Here is a collection of how my view changed over the week while I was in Newport for the ACWS.

NOTE:  The above photo was taken looking through the window at the crowds on the last day of racing.