For the first time since 1851, America’s Cup racing returns to British waters tomorrow, although the venue is Plymouth rather than the Solent, the scene of the original event.
The America’s Cup World Series circus will spend a high-profile week racing in the natural amphitheatre of Plymouth Sound, mixing fleet and match racing for the nine high-speed AC45 catamarans.
Unfortunately, since Team Origin pulled the plug on its America’s Cup campaign, no British team will be present.
But UK racers are scattered among the fleet, notably Stokes Bay Sailing Club member Chris Draper, who skippers Team Korea, and Winchester’s Olympic gold medal winner Iain Percy, who is tactician aboard the Swedish entry Artemis Racing.
Bizarrely, the World Series event has little to do with the America’s Cup proper – which will be held in San Francisco in 2013 and raced for in much larger 72-foot catamarans. Nor will any of the points earned over the next week, or at the seven other World Series bouts, count towards the main event.
That said, if the spectacle in Plymouth Sound comes even close to that witnessed at the previous venue in Cascais, Portugal, it’ll be worth the cost of a train ticket. Already this week, one of the cats has capsized in training and more thrills and spills are inevitable.
For Olympic 49er sailor Draper, Cascais provided highs and lows for the newly-formed Team Korea, whose crew includes his Extreme 40 crew Mark Bulkeley as well as two other Brits.
Speaking after the Portuguese event, Draper said: ‘I’m more exhausted at the end of this regatta than I think I’ve ever been at the end of a sailing event.
‘The racing has been really, really good, very enjoyable and a huge athletic challenge.’
Team Korea startled their more-experienced opposition by reaching the semi-finals of the match racing event, defeating the legendary Russell Coutts in the process. But that success was countered by their disappointment at finishing seventh in the fleet racing finale after they fell into a wind hole.
‘I’m so pleased with what the team’s achieved,’ said Draper. ‘In so many ways we’ve surpassed expectations. We’re going to get bad races and it’s a case of how you react to them, how you bounce back from them.’
Percy, meanwhile, is taking time out from his Olympic Star campaign to race in the south west.
‘Plymouth will be my first event on the AC45,’ he said. ‘I have been out training on the AC45 a few times and it has been a fantastic ride, so am really looking forward to mixing it up with our fellow competitors.
‘Plymouth will be a great venue with flat water and many viewing areas for the spectators.
‘September is often a windy month here in the UK, so for sure there will be plenty of action!’
ACWS Overall Standings Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) – 10 points; Artemis Racing (SWE) – 9; ORACLE Racing Spithill/James Spithill (USA) – 8; ORACLE Racing Coutts/Russell Coutts (USA) – 7; Green Comm (ESP) – 6; Aleph (FRA) – 5; Team Korea (KOR) – 4; Energy Team (FRA) – 3; China Team (CHN) – 3.