ABC7 hops on board Oracle training catamaran

June 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
One of the training boats used by the Oracle's America's Cup team capsized late on Monday, on San Francisco Bay. Nobody was seriously hurt, but one crew member did go to the hospital to get checked out for sore ribs. The 45-foot catamarans they train on are about two-thirds the size of the boats that will be built for the America's Cup in 2013, but they are still plenty fast, as ABC7 witnessed firsthand.

The Oracle catamaran that flipped in the afternoon was the same boat that nearly flipped on Friday.

"They had grins all over their faces when we almost capsized and Jimmy actually said to me, 'It's a pity you didn't capsize.' I don't know," said Russell Coutts, the CEO of Oracle Racing.

Coutts joked Monday morning, hours before the accident.

Taking a second look at Friday's near disaster, both hulls dug into the water and the boat came perilously close to pitch-polling end over end.

Monday it was supposed to be a lot calmer. It was media day for Oracle, a chance to take reporters out on the race boats and give them a ride.

Oracle racing skipper James Spithill said they were traveling at about 30 to 40 miles an hour and it was a perfect day in San Francisco with a nice 18 to 20 knots of wind.

Spithill is skippering one of the boats, Coutts the other. The boats are tuning up before heading to Portugal for the first of three world series events leading up to the America's Cup in 2013.

"So we're really going to be able to show to the average viewer just what it's like for all the athletes on board and how hard work it is," said Spithill.

The goal is to build interest around the world and most importantly, build something sailing has never had before -- a good-sized television audience.

"We're doing some fantastic stuff with the TV, with the technology. I think once people actually see what these boats are all about, that they'll really get into it. I mean, it's just sort of like Nascar on steroids on the water," said Spithill.

It's dangerous all right, the sailors are wearing helmets for a reason.

"If you push too hard, then you better know how to swim," said Spithill. When asked how far he would push the boat, he said, "We'll, we're stilling learning that ourselves all the time. We've just got here in San Francisco so we're having to find that out over the next week."

Actually it may be a bit longer now. It will take time to repair the boat damaged in Monday's accident and they've got to get the team and the boats tuned up before they start racing for real in Portugal.

But if you want a layman's answer to the question of how fast, I'd say, "She goes pretty damn fast."

The America's Cup competition may be a couple of years away, but there's already concern at City Hall that San Francisco may get stuck with a bill for millions of dollars. That's because the America's Cup organizing committee has raised only two of the $12 million it promised the city for planning costs. If the donations don't come in soon, the money would have to come out of the city's general fund. Mayor Ed Lee was out to watch the practice runs today and says he's not worried.

"There's a lot of excitement and the organizing committee is just getting started. So, I have every faith that they will raise the money and they'll cover our city contributions for all the things that we are doing, as well as covering the event authority's side," said Lee.

The America's Cup Organizing Committee is confident six and seven figure checks will begin rolling in, once they are granted tax-exempt status.


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