Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: Stadium yacht racing in land of beer and hotdogs

Grandstand-style racing hasn't always equated to a grandstand atmosphere among spectators on San Francisco's waterfront. Photo / Frances Kupermit
Grandstand-style racing hasn't always equated to a grandstand atmosphere among spectators on San Francisco's waterfront. Photo / Frances Kupermit

Beer, hotdogs and ... sailing?

It's not exactly your traditional mix, but tradition is just what America's Cup organisers wanted to leave behind with their vision for the 34th edition of the event, which Russell Coutts famously claimed would appeal to the "Facebook generation" rather than the "Flintstones generation".

Many of the organisers' bold promises for the event have not eventuated, leading to a torrent of criticism and negative publicity around the Cup. But one thing they have got right is the course.

If the high-powered AC72 racing machines were really going to capture the public's attention, they had to make the racing accessible - not just little dots far off in the distance.

Ever since the very first race around the Isle of Wight in England, which was coincidentally 162 years ago to this very day, Cup matches have been sailed offshore.

This time spectators can view the action from the waterfront.

That has allowed organisers to push their Formula 1 on the water analogy a step further by setting up grandstand seating along Marina Green towards the top end of the course by the Golden Gate Bridge.

They wanted to create a stadium-like atmosphere along the seawall, which is where the beer and hotdogs come in. Outside the entrance to the stands are food vendors selling overpriced sandwiches, hotdogs and beer, as well as a few questionable alcoholic concoctions - pre-mixed margaritas anyone?

As you walk in there are volunteers handing out miniature New Zealand and Italian flags - there's even a bloke trying to flog off giant foam hands you'd find at a baseball match.

Taking the sailing to the people helped draw in at least one punter yesterday.

Among the throng of fans decked out in team merchandise from various eras of the America's Cup, Portland's Tom Behre stood out in his San Francisco Giants cap. Behre is back in his old hometown for work this week and being a mad sports fan, thought he'd see what the event was all about.

"I know absolutely nothing about sailing," Behre says sheepishly. "I was going for a run around here the other day and saw the stands so I thought I would come and check it out."

And what did he make of his first sailing experience?

"The boats are impressive. I saw the smaller ones [AC45s] out on the water earlier, and thought, 'Okay, that's pretty cool' - then I saw these monsters come out. They can really fly, but it was disappointing from a competitive standpoint with Luna Rossa being so far behind."

While Behre said he enjoyed his first America's Cup experience, he is not convinced it will catch on among the locals.

"There's not really a huge tradition of US fans watching yacht racing, we're more a football, baseball, basketball country."

The crowd may be seated in grandstands, but a grandstand atmosphere it is not. Behre was one of only a few hundred spectators in the west stand on Marina Green looking on soberly while the boats flew past.

Instead of the traditional start to windward, the start is a short reach to the first mark, which is positioned directly in front of the spectators at Marina Green. At the mark, the boats bear away and start their first run towards the Bay Bridge.

As the two catamarans approach a "stadium-announcer" tries to gee-up the crowd.

"Let's give them a big cheer," she says, optimistically.

The only wild demonstrations are coming from a passionate Luna Rossa fan. When Luna Rossa get away to a promising start against Team NZ in the second race, he waves his hand furiously trying to urge his team to go faster, but when the Kiwi boat claims the inside line, he throws his hands skyward.

"There is nothing we can do," he shrugged.

- NZ Herald

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Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana has more than a decade's experience in sports journalism, joining the Herald in 2007 following stints with TVNZ and RadioSport. Over that time Dana has covered several major events including the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, 2011 Rugby World Cup, 2012-13 Volvo Ocean Race, and the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. A multi-award winning journalist, Dana was named New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year in 2012 after scooping both the news and feature categories at the TP McLean Awards. The previous year she picked up the prize for best news break. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Sir John Wells scholarship at the 2009 NZSJA awards. Dana also writes a weekly sports column for the NZ Herald.

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