Fleet racing in the AC World Series got underway today and drew gasps from the crowd. Matthew Sheahan reports from the GGYC

From the balcony of the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) there were certainly plenty of views on the weather as the famous San Francisco fog shrouded the upper half of the equally famous bridge.

‘When that clearance line over the city rolls back towards us and the sunshine starts to break through, the breeze will increase’, seemed to be most popular prognosis.

These people know their stuff, as indeed when the blue sky moved closer towards us the breeze picked up and boosted the already superb conditions for the opening session of fleet racing.

Of all of the venues that the AC World Series has been to so far, this must surely rate as the best with the fleet screaming up and down the shoreline, tacking and gybing just metres away from the crowds. The very fact that so many spectators had chosen to watch the action for real outside in the cold in preference to the superb television coverage that this event has regularly delivered, says much for San Francisco as a venue.

The day was also notable for the size of the fleet with eleven boats scrambling for rights at the first mark after a blistering close reach. How so much carbon fibre gets around the mark boat in one piece is a constant surprise as the pack charges towards the turning point at 20+ knots in multiple balls of spray.

You don’t often hear gasps of surprise and anxious squeals at a spectator sailing event, but at this one they are a regular occurrence.

In the first fleet race of the day it was Russell Coutts who nailed the first leg and smoked off into the distance. Only his team mate James Spithill could keep the blistering pace as the pair sailed to a comfortable 1,2.

Towards the back of the fleet Ainslie and Dean Barker had been dumped at the first mark despite reasonable starts and never got back in contention with the leading group.

In the second race of the day it was China Team that round the first mark in front and received cheers from the crowd, but Phil Robertson’s team struggled to hold onto pole position and were quickly overtaken by Spithill before slipping back through the fleet.

Ainslie had a better race, holding a decent position around the first mark for most of the race until being forced into fifth as Korea overtook on the final short sprint into the finish.

Earlier in the day the first session of the quarter finals saw both Luna Rossa teams beaten by their opponents Artemis White and Oracle Spithill and ejected from the match racing.

Tomorrow sees Team New Zealand up against Ben Ainslie Racing and Oracle Coutts squaring up to Team Energy in the quarter final matches 3 and 4. After this it is back to the frantic dash of fleet racing with two more 30 minute races in store.

Racing on Thursday through Sunday (2:00 pm PDT start time from Thursday through Saturday and at 11:30 am PDT on Sunday) will be broadcast live around the world on the America’s Cup YouTube channel (subject to territorial broadcast restrictions).

On television, coverage is available Thursday through Saturday throughout the Bay Area on NBC Bay Area 11.2, and in California on Comcast Sportsnet California.

The Sunday finale will be broadcast live, coast to coast in the United States, on NBC from 11:30 am PDT.