Windy city

With the America’s Cup races’ return to NYC, schooner speed sailing recalls event’s roots

James Spithill, skipper of Oracle Team USA, with the America’s Cup trophy.
James Spithill, skipper of Oracle Team USA, with the America’s Cup trophy.

Hurtling around the city underground or through its stone canyons, it can be easy to forget that New York City is surrounded by water. But after the America’s Cup returned the races to New York City for the first time since 1920 with two days of qualifying events earlier this month, New Yorkers are likely to renew their taste for speed and salt water.

The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series was held on May 7 and May 8, one of six events taking place in 2016. (Practice races were held May 6.) Unlike other past America’s Cup international events, the NYC races were held close to shore to attract spectators — and buzz.

From the Battery Park City Esplanade, New Yorkers watched six international teams competing for points that count toward the final competition for the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda in June 2017. The boats, 45-foot catamarans, moving at speeds of about 40 miles an hour, appeared to be flying above the lower Hudson River (between Pier 25 and Battery Park), with the finish line just yards away from North Cove Marina.

Dr. Harvey Schiller, the America’s Cup commercial commissioner, told LLNYC that event officials brought the race back to New York City because “it’s important to bring the Cup to places where sailing has a history.”

The NYC races were held close to shore to attact spectators — and buzz.

America’s Cup racing was held in New York Harbor for 50 years, from 1870 to 1920, before the competition moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where the Cup continued to be “defended” by the New York Yacht Club. It remained there until the U.S. lost the Cup in 1983, ending the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year winning streak, the longest in sports history. But in 2013, billionaire Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in a stunning comeback.

The timing of this month’s America’s Cup qualifying event couldn’t be better, said William Candis, a representative for Classic Harbor Line, which owns a fleet of historic-looking sailing and touring boats, especially for those who would like to experience what sailing was like back in the day of the first America’s Cup race.

For the first time, Classic Harbor Line is offering speed sailing for the entire month of May on its schooner America 2.0, which was built by Scarano Boat building in 2011. The eco-friendly vessel pays homage to when the New York Yacht Club built the schooner America in 1851 and prevailed against England in the first America’s Cup challenge.

“May is an extremely windy month,” Candis said. “We’ll go past the Statue of Liberty toward the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge and we’ll sail very close to the wind at very high speeds. The boat will be heeling. It will be very exciting.”

Candis said interested sailors need to check Classic Harbor’s Twitter feed, @ClassicHarbor, to determine if high-speed sailing is available. “We have our own weather station on the dock so we’ll know if high-speed sailing is available one day in advance,” he explained.

While the classic schooner offers a traditional sailing experience, there are some important differences. During special evening sails, America 2.0 serves sushi from Iron Chef star Masaharu Morimoto and Veuve Clicquot champagne, undoubtedly an upgrade from the original event.