One of the most interesting and exciting experiences I’ve had recently was sailing with Oracle Team USA as they competed in Chicago. The June races were part of qualifying for next year’s Louis Vuitton Cup and America’s Cup competition. Oracle Team USA is the two-time defending champion.
The America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in international sports, dating all the way back to 1851. While the name may make you think it’s a competition specific to the United States, sailing teams from all over the world compete in the events.. The competition is held every three to four years, and the winner gets to pick the location of the next America’s cup race. Next year, the 35th America’s Cup will take place in Bermuda, but all along the way, there are qualifying races to determine the rankings of the teams that will participate. There are five teams in addition to Oracle Team USA: Emirates Team New Zealand, Softbank Team Japan, Team France, Land Rover BAR (Britain) and Artemis Racing (Sweden). Chicago marked the sixth stop in the worldwide race locations after Portsmouth, Gothenburg, Bermuda, Muscat, and New York. It’s every sailor’s dream to win the America’s Cup trophy. It may be the most difficult trophy to win in all of sports. Only six different teams have won the Cup since 1851. I saw firsthand how intense — and dangerous — this sport is. The boats can capsize, and they do: Oracle Team USA actually capsized during practice the day before the first race in Chicago! Luckily, we stayed upright when I was onboard!
A guest is allowed on the boat during the races if weather permits — you’ll often see Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton herself onboard and cheering on Britain’s team featuring Olympic Gold Medalist Sir Ben Ainslie. The crew members are all incredibly competitive and it’s quite an honor to sail for your country.
Even thought the day I raced with the team was very sunny and warm on the shore, it felt very different on the water. The wind was strong and the water was cold. Every time the boat hit a wave, a huge plash soaked the entire team. Everyone was wet within minutes. Luckily, the water was fresh and did not burn my eyes. Unlike competing previously in the salt water in Bermuda – my eyes were burning!
Every member of the six-person crew has to be in amazing shape to do the physical work involved in competitive sailing. The water can be rough, and the sailors have to run from one side of the boat to the other, jumping over ropes, and making sure everything works correctly at the right time — almost like being in an obstacle course.
I can’t explain how thrilling it was to have a front-row seat to these sailors’ teamwork. I could feel the adrenaline and the desire to win. Every crew member is so committed and passionate, and the energy of the group was strong and focused. Led by skipper Jimmy Spithill, the team members rely on their own strength and skill to maneuver the 45-foot catamarans going at speeds of more than 40 miles per hour.