Sports

America’s Cup Bosses Stoked With Move To Fast Cats Across SF Bay

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Yachts racing in the America's Cup. (AP file photo)

Yachts racing in the America’s Cup. (AP file photo)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison are certain they made the right decision to have the next America’s Cup sailed in fast 72-foot catamarans.

While traditionalists aren’t so sure about the move, Coutts and Ellison already envision the 72-foot cats sprinting across San Francisco Bay in 2013 and pumping some adrenaline into the competition for the oldest trophy in international sports.

Coutts, who sailed undefeated through three straight America’s Cup matches for two different countries, raves about the 45-foot prototype catamaran being tested in his home country, New Zealand. Ellison, the Silicon Valley maverick who helped bankroll Oracle Racing’s victory in last year’s America’s Cup, can’t wait to get his hands on the wheel of one.

“Modern sports have got to attract television viewers, they’ve got to attract kids, they’ve got to be exciting,” Ellison, the Oracle Corp. CEO, said after sailing with Coutts in the Oracle RC44 San Diego regatta last weekend. “They’ve got to be, if not extreme, borderline extreme. The America’s Cup, I believe, should be the best sailors sailing the fastest boats. That’s not what it’s been. It’s been the best sailors, I think, but not anywhere near the fastest boats. I think now we will meet the goal of, ‘Boy, that’s an America’s Cup boat. That’s an America’s Cup yacht. That’s the fastest boat on the planet.’ “

An America’s Cup World Series will begin later this year at ports around the world in the 45-foot cats. The 72-footers will come on line next year.

Oracle Racing used a massive, 90-by-90-foot trimaran with a radical 223-foot wing sail to sweep two races against Alinghi of Switzerland in February 2010 off Valencia, Spain, and bring the silver trophy to the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

That was a one-off showdown born out of a long, bitter court fight.

In a shake-up designed to make the America’s Cup more modern and fan-friendly, Oracle Racing and the Italian syndicate that represents challengers decided to switch from plodding sloops to 72-foot cats with wing sails for 2013.

Coutts recently sailed the prototype AC45 and said he’s “more convinced than ever” that it’s the right direction for sailing’s marquee regatta.

Coutts said that once he sailed the AC45, he decided he’d be helming one in the AC World Series. Jimmy Spithill, who steered the trimaran last year, will be at the wheel of another AC45 for Oracle.

“I can understand the people on the outside, sometimes they don’t understand what’s happening. It’s normal. But I think if you jumped on an AC45 and sailed it for a day, pretty much everyone that’s done that has come off it and said, ‘This is a no-brainer,’ ” said Coutts, the CEO of Oracle Racing. “The boats will be great boats.”

Coutts guesses that once Ellison gets the chance to sail one, “He’ll just say, ‘Get me one of these boats.’ He’ll want to drive one.”

The AC45 capsized last month after getting hit by a freak breeze.

“It probably won’t be the last to capsize,” Coutts said. “In some ways, it’ll add to the spectacle.”

Once the 72-footers come on line, “It’ll be another level again,” Coutts said. “Obviously in terms of scale, they’ll be fantastic. Very fast, very powerful.”

The wing sail will be bigger than the wing of a Boeing 747.

While the heavy sloops used from 1992-2007 would bury their bows in waves and strain to accelerate, the AC72s will speed across the water as fast as 30 knots, their windward hulls flying out of the water.

The AC45 can go 25 knots.

By comparison, the high-performance RC44 sloops — co-designed by Coutts — were going about 12-13 knots in brisk conditions last week on San Diego Bay.

“Russell tells me after I drive an AC45, the RC44 is going to seem boring, which is hard to believe,” Ellison said. “That’s the most fun monohull I’ve ever driven.”

Although spectators got a close-up view of the RC44 regatta on San Diego Bay, it paled compared to what Coutts and Ellison expect from the America’s Cup in San Francisco.

“I think it’ll be so much better,” Coutts said. “Honestly, I really don’t think most people can imagine what it’ll be like yet. A fleet race in 72-foot cats, all doing 30 knots-plus, really close to the shore at times, sometimes the odd incident, maybe a capsize, you know what I mean? I think it’s just going to be a new dimension for the sport.”

(© 2011 CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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