The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series in Portsmouth kicks off this time next week with two days of racing (yes a ‘blink and you miss it’ type of regatta), over the weekend of 23-24th July with practice racing taking place on the preceding Friday, the 22nd.
Last year torrential rain on the Friday and gale force winds on the Sunday, sandwiched one of the greatest day’s racing ever seen on the Solent as the foiling AC45s locked horns off the Southsea esplanade.
While statistically you would hope the weather should be much improved this year, ruling over the factors that can be controlled is Event Director Leslie Greenhalgh.
Studies were done and lessons learned from last year’s event and these have been implemented by the organisers, Sir Keith Mills’ company Team Origin Events, for this year.
So what’s different in 2016? “It is more ‘world class sporting event’ than ‘festival feeling of a British summer day out’,” Leslie Greenhalgh explains. “Last time we very consciously tried not to make it a traditional niche sailing event. We wanted to get people down to the common who’d never been to a sailing event and who would never considered going to a sailing event. So we had the big wheel, the festival, etc which we thought were essential to drawing a whole new audience to a sailing event.”
However from the feedback they got back following that event, it turns out that there were a lot more sailing fans or fans-in-the-making than they had previously dared hope.
“People told us that the one thing that they didn’t feel they got enough out of was ‘who are the sailors’ and 'how do the boats fly like that?’ So they were hungry for more relevant content. So that is the biggest change – it is still a family day out, there is still entertainment and music etc, because you expect that when you go to an event, but the sport is the main attraction.”
There is a large area where people can come along for free to view the racing. But this time around there is a substantially larger ticketed area where there is much more information and interaction than in 2015. The ‘Fan Zone’ which last year accommodated 5,000 people, has been replaced by the ‘Race Village’ which can accept up to 20,000/day. “It has a lot more content, like the TechZone,” Greenhalgh continues. “The teams each have an exhibit area, so you learn a lot more about the sport when you go in there.”
Unusually given that it is a ‘series’, organisation of the America’s Cup World Series events are left – outside of fundamentals such as broadcast times and race format – to the individual event organisers. However Leslie Greenhalgh points out that this does allow events to be tailored each countries culture. And the individual events have been working together. “Otherwise you are reinventing the wheel. So we did quite a lot of work with Oman and Chicago which both had quite a similar feeling and capacity to us."
Typically this year the LV ACWS events have been taking place over three days and thanks to lack of wind in some venues, notably New York, the Friday has started to become valuable. Previously the Friday was a ‘practice day’ with a mix of fleet and match racing. Now the format has evolved so that the racing on this day comprises three fleet races which can be used as ‘substitute races’ which may counts (as they were in New York).
“It means that Friday’s race village ticket holders get the same experience," observes Leslie Greenhalgh. "The crews treat them as real races. They run, as usual, between 1300-1500 and the gates [to the ticketed area] are open from 1100-1800.”
Race courses are also shorter this year. Previously they were almost one mile. Now they are down to a far more compact 0.6 miles and are closer to shore à la Extreme Sailing Series. “So you lose the ‘further away’ bit - that makes a big difference,” Leslie Greenhalgh explains. “The boats go around turning marks more often and the action is closer to shore.”
Despite the races being shorter, the schedule remains at three races per day, although there is the flexibility to do four if racing is looking dodgey for the following day. “There might be four races on the Friday or Saturday, but we also are in a shipping channel so we are very mindful of that. We work closely with the Queen’s Harbour Master, so for example on Friday our race window is split in two because a ferry is due to come through in the middle of the race area.”
In addition this time, the AC45s will be moored directly off the Race Village and there will be much more made of the ‘dock out’.
For those looking to come along, there are two ‘free’ ways to do this. People can arrive and sit down on the Common, but this will lack any added commentary, big screen experience, etc. “So you can just turn up, if the weather is nice, and throw down your beach towel…”
It is possible to see the racing on your own boat, however because of the tightness of the race track and its close proximity to Portsmouth Harbour this has to be managed. Anyone contemplating this should email TeamOrigin here (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more info.
Those interested will be sent a course layout clearly indicating the two areas from where those on spectator boats can view the racing including an official Notice to Mariners relating to the event further indicating where to go and not go. While watching the racing on the water viewers can also listen to hear radio commentary (including from our esteemed collague Andy Rice).
As a side option, those who want to watch on the water but don’t have their own boat can contact Sunsail or Solent RIB charters. Both companies are partners of the America’s Cup World Series Portsmouth and their clients get to view the racing from their own spectator area.
To get more from the event, access to the Race Village costs £25 and are available online from Ticketmaster. In the Race Village visitors will be able to take in a live show taking place on the main stage there from 1100-1800 daily. This will include the dock-out show where all the crews will gather on stage before heading out to sea on their boats.
The Race Village also features a ‘tech zone’ which this year features more than 100 exhibits, way more than last year says Greenhalgh. “There has been such an overwhelming response from people who want to exhibit there – everyone from Dorset Cereals to Red Bull to BMW to Blokarts.”
In addition to buying a Race Village ticket, it is worth getting a grand seat from where you can watch the racing. For hardcore fans there is also another add-on called the ‘Sailor’s Lounge’. As Greenhalgh describes it: “It’s for the real sailing fan. You can go into an area and it is all about the rules and regulations, interviews, chats, etc etc –that is for the ‘keenies’.”
For the ‘best seats in the house full-on VIP hospitality is available at £595/ticket.
“It is always about choice,” says Greenhalgh. “Some people want to get fully involved and there is a cost to buying a ticket but you get great ‘content’ for that. We learned a lot last year about what works and what doesn’t, what works for local people who just want to come for a couple of hours or the real fans. For last time the one thing we learned was that they did come to see the racing, and irrespective of whether they were an uber-fan or if they had never seen anything like this, they wanted to see and know more about the boats and the racing. That was never more evident than on the Saturday, when it was a glorious day but 10 minutes after racing finished, the majority of the 60-70,000 people in the free area left. So they hadn’t been there to go on the big wheel or to have their ice creams…”
For British fans the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Portsmouth will also be one of the last occasions to see Land Rover BAR sailors in action publicly in the UK, before they head off to Bermuda to base themselves permanently in the America’s Cup venue next year. There is no America’s Cup World Series Portsmouth event taking place in 2017.