America’s Cup visits the Tahoe Yacht Club

From the blog of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

The cover of our summer issue is the iconic Thunderbird speedboat, which is returning to Lake Tahoe this summer after a hiatus. The photo is by Steve Lapkin, whose powerboat and sailboat images are featured in national publications including Sailing World and Yachting. Steve’s portfolio features imagery of the classic wooden speedboats of Lake Tahoe, America’s Cup Regattas and Key West race week.

We’ve known Steve for two decades from our time in Lake Tahoe and enjoy sailing our 22-foot Catalina Fantasia on the lake, so we were pleased when he invited us to join him this weekend to hear the official TV and Public Host of the 35th America’s Cup, Tucker Thompson, deliver an engaging multi-media presentation about the world-famous event. Steve knows Tucker from his experience photographing America’s Cup regattas, and it was a coup to bring him to the Tahoe Yacht Club in Tahoe City.

Tucker’s presentation included the Cup’s storied history, Oracle Team USA’s dramatic comeback in AC34 in 2013, and a behind-the-scenes view of the upcoming 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda.

An affable and informative speaker, Tucker teased that Lake Tahoe would be a good candidate for the world-famous race, because of its spectacular beauty, reliable winds and a body of water that is well suited for spectators. The full house at the Tahoe Yacht Club enjoyed hearing that.

The America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in international sport, pre-dating the modern Olympics by 45 years, and it is yachting’s most coveted prize. It is affectionately called the “Auld Mug” and is held every four years. The trophy was originally awarded in 1851 by the Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight in England, which was won by the schooner America. The trophy was renamed the America’s Cup after the yacht. Since then, it has drawn sailing enthusiasts ranging from Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison to media mogul Ted Turner.

“NASCAR on water”

America’s Cup is not your grandfather’s regatta anymore. Though it long associated with open bodies of water, the new version is more like “NASCAR on water.” “Technology on the boat side, athleticism on the competitor side and TV viewing enhancements on the production side are transforming the sport,” as the Chicago Tribune wrote earlier this month.

Tucker showed some remarkable videos of the boats racing neck-in-neck at the America’s Cup in San Francisco, as well as World Series races, which are essentially qualifying races for the Cup. In a dramatic finish, Oracle came from behind to beat Emirates Team New Zealand in the 34th America’s Cup, with the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz in the background.

The competitors depend on state-of-the art technology, not just world-class sailing skills and teamwork, Tucker observed. The crew members are as fit as Tour de France bicycle racers.

The race has evolved from schooners to wing-sailed, hydro-foiling catamarans that fly above the water at speeds over 50 mph, Tucker told the audience. At such high speeds, shouting commands over the noise of the wind and waves is futile, so each crew member is required to have custom radios for onboard communications.

Once built with wood, the catamarans now use carbon fiber and titanium to reduce weight and cost. Tucker passed around a transom from one of the catamarans, made of a honeycomb core and a carbon fiber sandwich. It is “lighter than a tissue box but stronger than steel,” Tucker remarked.

For the first time the U.S. defender, Oracle Team USA, has elected to sail the event not in home waters, but in the tropical island of Bermuda in June 2017.

Bermuda’s Great Sound will form a “natural amphitheater” for the race course and a planned America’s Cup Village at the Royal Naval Dockyard will be at the center of the America’s Cup experience. Historical wind data indicates there should be racing conditions 90 percent of the time in June. Conditions are varied, increasing the challenge for designers and sailors. “I’m expecting some spectacular racing,” Tucker said.

(Photo: Steve Lapkin, http://www.h2omark.com)

About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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