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

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