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

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