After a dismal summer of America's Cup competition in San Francisco the event explodes into life with a dramatic display of close 40-knot match racing. David Glenn was there

Ever since Oracle announced they were taking the America’s Cup down the catamaran route I have been sceptical about the success of the event and nothing on the waters of San Francisco Bay this summer has led me to change my mind. Until today.

At 1315 Oracle and Emirates Team New Zealand clashed in one of the most riveting America’s Cup match races I have ever seen. At speeds of more than 40 knots, the seven-ton foiling catamarans sped round the course within touching distance of each other at times. Lead changes, exquisite foiling gybes and pre-start manoeuvres had the crowd on its feet.
At last the 34th America’s Cup has delivered what everyone has been clamouring for. Close competition.

Whoever wins and whatever happens next it’s going to be very difficult indeed for the event to turn its back on the AC72, still regarded as over-powered, too expensive and in certain conditions dangerous. Until a few days ago the catamaran was deemed the villain of the piece – today she is a technological wonder machine that could set the America’s Cup on a highly successful course. The spectacle in San Francisco today all came together – much to the relief of an organisation which has been under siege from the pundits – and after two races the crowd were baying for more. The New Zealanders in the crowds certainly were as they went 2-0 up.

Although race two didn’t fire – the difference between the two boats at the finish was 52sec – there was still enough excitement at the start to have me glued to the screen. It can’t be emphasised too strongly that the remarkable graphics have simply revolutionised the TV watching experience and while viewing the racing from the shore is possible, it has to be done in conjunction with TV on the big screen to get full enjoyment.

It is extraordinary to think that although these two foiling cats have different designers, engineers, builders and developers, they appeared remarkably even in speed in the conditions experienced today. Some observers were, however, surprised to see Emirates Team New Zealand slightly faster round the race track and the fear is that even though the margin of difference is slight, it might be decisive bringing the regatta to a quick conclusion. Another concern is that the race course, while innovative and exciting has the effect of ‘locking the race down’ as one crewman said, making it very difficult for the following boat to launch a tactical assault on the lead once one boat has gained control. Where have we heard that before?

But as skippers Barker and Spithill said post race, there’s a long way to go, anything can happen and Oracle’s close examination of race footage tonight will reveal where they went wrong and why their attempts to land penalties on the Kiwis at the starts simply didn’t work.

It was evident today that these two AC72s can provide incredibly close competition. Audiences now have to re-engage having been un-impressed by the so-called summer of America’s Cup sailing, but if the racing tomorrow and next week is anything like today’s spectacle they won’t be disappointed.
For those who are aware of my long held view that this competition wouldn’t work, I can confirm that I will be attempting to eat my hat this evening.