First Time on Fresh: America's Cup Excites Chicago Lakefront

America's Cup
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 8:17am

The boats jostle for position at the starting line. Strategy plays an important role in the race, so a strategic starting position is essential. The trigger is pulled, and the boats careen off. Manned by crews of muscled and tan good lookin' fellas, these boats are so fast they occasionally give an illusion of flying. Sponsor logos and country flags blaze on the sails. Where am I, Amalfi Coast? The spectacular skyline is the race's backdrop. Make no mistake, this is Chicago's lakefront. The boats race on Lake Michigan.

Boats at Navy Pier
Last weekend Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series took over Navy Pier. This pedegreed international competition has never in its 165 years been held on fresh water. Chicago's lakefront truly made history. And by the looks of excitement the race generated, America's Cup may return to Lake Michigan in the future. But in the meantime it was our obligation as Chicagoans to celebrate all things sailing. It's a tough gig, but someone's gotta do it!

I was graciously invited aboard Land Rover Hospitality Boat to watch the final races on Sunday. Land Rover is the sponsor for British team BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing), one of the top competitors going up against the US team Oracle and the defending champs Swedish team Artemis. The roster of teams also included New Zealand, France and Japan. The hospitality boat, local vessel Anita Dee II, was fully stocked with champagne and food, and it became my vantage point for the three races of the day.

Land Rover BAR
Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) was conceived in 2014 for the purpose of enabling a British team to compete in the America’s Cup. In 2015, the team has been renamed Land Rover BAR and is comprised of some of the best international sailors, designers, builders and racing support including Ben Ainslie himself. Ainslie is known to be the most successful sailor in Olympic history, winning five consecutive Olympic medals, four of which being gold. Furthermore, in 2013 he competed and won America’s Cup on the USA team Oracle. His experience and accomplishment within the sport aided the Land Rover BAR team immensely. 

Sipping Pol Roger champagne and having donned Land Rover BAR team gear, I listened to the pros explain the particulars of Sunday's races. Team BAR's objective was to overtake the Kiwis (New Zealand was in the lead at that point) and the US team Oracle, currently in second. With no races held on Saturday due to weather conditions (no wind, no racing), Sunday became "Super Sunday". Each race would earn double points. The top two teams at the end of the day would receive a two- and one-point advantage in the World Series finals in Bermuda. Secretly, I was hoping that BAR and Oracle would come in as top two, gotta cheer for the home team a little, am I right? 

Race is ON
Sunday weather cooperated and the winds stayed "in the teens": 13-15 knots, perfect for sailing I was told. Admittedly, I am no expert on sailing, so the learning curve was pretty steep. I learned that the boats are made from carbon fiber and shrink wrapped. These are very high tech machines that require serious knowledge and skill. I also learned that the difference between salt water and fresh water is negligible when it comes to boat racing. Yes, the boat sits a little bit lower in the fresh water because salt water increases buoyancy. But the variance is only about 2.5%. 

Watching the races up close and personal was exciting! When Team BAR won the first race, our boat erupted with cheers, sounding the horn. Champagne toast was immediately poured. Already festive, the atmosphere became practically electric. Strangers on land, aboard Anita Dee II we bonded together in our support of sportsmanship on display. 

Team BAR
In the end, the defending champs Team Artemis took the win for the competition. Team BAR placed second, an excellent result. Both teams will have points advantage in Bermuda. Three cheers and more champagne, please! Windburnt, sunburnt and exhilarated I made my way to the awards ceremony in Navy Pier's grand ballroom. There, amid the clouds of confetti and Moet Chandon champagne showers, Team Artemis accepted their win, Team BAR was named a runner up, and the rest of the crews were honored. A splendid day to say the least. 

Now, the race is on to Bermuda! Best of luck to all the competitors! I remain, faithfully, in support of Land Rover BAR crew. And I hope to see America's Cup return to our fair city. Because let's face it, I am now addicted.

This is Part II in our series covering the Louis Vuitton America's Cup in Chicago. Part I: Behind the Scenes at the Louis Vuitton America's Cup with LandRover BAR

VIP access to America's Cup World Series generously provided by Land Rover BAR. All photos courtesy of Land Rover BAR.

Navy Pier, now remodeled and complete with a new Centennial Ferris wheel, is located in the heart of Chicago's lakefront at 600 E. Grand Ave.

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