As the rain poured down and the breeze swung round it was clear we haven’t seen it all - yet
There are a number of things I hadn’t seen for weeks if not months, among them; a fleece, a jacket and rain. Today I got to see all three as idyllic and classic Californian conditions gave way the to the weather my family tells me is marking the end of the summer in Blighty.
But there was something no one in San Francisco can remember seeing, a southerly breeze. ‘It just never happens’, we are told.
As everyone now knows, the breeze usually comes whistling in under the Golden Gate Bridge from the southwest as it is sucked into San Francisco Bay thanks to the cauldron of heat provided by the desert inland. This allows the course to be set up parallel to the shore and to the south of a shipping lane for this busy harbour.
A course set for a southerly wind direction would not only move the key points such as the finish and leeward marks away from the spectators, the race track would stretch across both shipping lanes and, according to regatta director Iain Murray, ‘close off all shipping’. Clearly this alone would be a big call with some big meetings involved.
“We had seen this developing a few days out and met with the teams yesterday to suggest an alternate course set up to the south. But neither team was not interested in racing on that course,” he explained. “They have not practiced in that area and said that they would prefer to wait for conditions to change rather than chance their arm with something they’ve not prepared for.”
So what was the forecast for today?
The weather feature that got us so wet this morning was a front that is passing through. A current best guess is that it will do so by 13.30 after which the breeze will move back to the SW and build to 15+knots.
As a result, Murray and his committee were expecting a delay.
So once again, as the 34th America’s Cup hovers one day away from equaling the longest Cup series, the weather jinx that caused upset in Auckland in 2003 and frustration in Valencia in 2007 and 2010 has hit this 34th Cup and provided yet another chapter in this extraordinary event.
In the meantime, something else of interest cropped up today, the reason why the boats can’t get around the race course in the time limit when the breeze drops.
According to Iain Murray, when the wind limits were originally set in Newport in 2012 the lower limit was 5 knots. Back then, foiling was not on the cards, but since foils became a reality so the drag of these boats shot up when the boats are in normal displacement mode thanks to the additional surface area of the foils.
Interesting, another story no one expected.
But my favourite quote of the morning was from event CEO Stephen Barclay. When asked what his views were on today he smiled, tightened his lips, before drawing breath and confirming that he too simply didn’t know what to think anymore.
“Yesterday I half expected a whale to pop up on the race course!” he said.
Given the fortnight we’ve had so far, few would be surprised.
“Expect the unexpected.”
As the cloud lifted and the rain stopped there were signs that racing might just get underway once the front had moved away from the area. The boats and crews were sent out.
But despite everyone’s best intentions the breeze simply refused to get anywhere near the 238 degrees minimum that race committee wanted and remained fluky and unstable. With each drizzly cloud bank that rolled through so the breeze swung back to the shifty south, blowing over the high hills at the top of the course.
By 1430 the race committee were forced to pull the pin and postpone Race 14 for the day.
Naturally there was plenty of frustration and you have to feel for regatta director Iain Murray and his team. But the reality is that unlike most regattas, the rules of the 34th Americas Cup, be they wind limits, time limits, reserve days and so on, are set through mutual agreement by the teams themselves.
“There’s an awful lot at stake for both teams,” said Murray after the race. “Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in this match and the America’s Cup deserves a certain quality of racing.”
Frustrating though it is, on a weekend day when the crowds were catching on and starting to balance up the massive numbers of Kiwi supporters that have flocked into town, no one wants to see this most extraordinary America’s Cup decided by a roll of the dice.
And while there are jitters aplenty over here and abroad, the reality is that Oracle still needs to win six races in a row to take the Cup. To pull off such a flawless scoreline you’d expect the kind of performance that can either launch them into a comfortable lead early on, or haul them back into the game when behind. Instead, they are winning races by very narrow margins and while this is as exciting as it is impressive, the odds are still stacked against a home win for the Cup. The Kiwis need to keep their composure, not get rattled into making big chanhes and take their time. They still have a big buffer.
Tomorrow’s conditions are said to be perfect, so for now, after I;ve packed away the wet gear and jumpers, it’s back to the travel agent and hotel booking desk.
Score so far – First to 9
USA: 3 (won 2 races before wiping off their 2 point penalty)
America’s Cup Race 12 NZL USA
Distance Sailed (km) 20.060 20.320
Average Speed (kts) 22.63 24.16
Max Speed (kts) 33.74 33.90
Winning margin 1min 24sec
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