After an almost 100-year hiatus, New Yorkers got first-rate sailing in the harbor. And they didn’t turn away when the afternoon got complicated.
The America’s Cup World Series, one of the world’s premier sailing events, returned to the area for the first time since 1920, but the crowd that jammed onto the walkways overlooking the harbor at Battery Park City didn’t get to see much action. After a delay just under two hours, the teams competed in a substitute race that only counts if racing isn’t possible Sunday.
“The amount of people we’ve had you couldn’t get in Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium,” Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill said. “They’re in for a treat tomorrow the way the conditions are setting up.”
Regulations require wind speeds of at least five knots to start a race, and when that mark wasn’t hit at 2 p.m., the hydrofoiling catamarans looped around the race area in between two groups of spectator boats with the Statue of Liberty in the background. As the sky remained gray and the wind light, the people who came out to see the spectacle stayed where they were.
“It’s been unreal, the support we’ve received,” Spithill said. “You just have to see the crowds lining the shore from Tribeca all the way down to Battery Park, that was amazing.”
SoftBank Japan comfortably won the race, while Swedish Artemis Racing took second. Groupama Team France took third and edged out Oracle Team USA. Oracle has won the last two America’s Cups and will be defending the Auld Mug trophy in Bermuda in 2017 against a challenger who emerges from the playoff circuit.
“That’s the level of this fleet — anyone can win,” Spithill said. “The results do the talking. The guys in front deserve to be.”
SoftBank only briefly lost the lead as it fought off a Groupama comeback. Groupama then got penalized for a foul, forcing it to slow down and allow Artemis Racing to take the second spot.
Emirates Team New Zealand came in sixth for last place, a shock for a boat that is leading the World Series scoring. Those points are added to scores before the first playoff round begins. Emirates lost their challenge to Oracle in 2013 and is trying to return to the final.
“If we can sail tomorrow we should be in good shape,” Emirates skipper Glenn Ashby said. “Can’t get any worse anyway.”
Saturday’s silver lining for Emirates was that the race likely won’t count. Sunday’s wind forecast called for speeds between 15-20 knots. Three more races are scheduled, with points counting double.
“It was amazing to see how many people were on the sidelines and I just hope tomorrow we can get some great conditions to showcase the boats here,” Ashby said.
Racing fans’ enthusiasm wasn’t limited to the competition either. People wandered the marina, visited merchandise tents and got to meet the teams before they hit the water. After taking questions on a stage with the Auld Mug, each team walked through a throng of flag-waving fans in front of the stage, shaking hands as they went.
Now the only thing left for those New Yorkers to experience is a full-speed race that counts on Sunday.