AC34: The San Francisco Bay playbook

Published on August 13th, 2013

The problem with the America’s Cup venue was painfully clear during the challenger race last Saturday. As the teams approached the leeward gate on San Francisco Bay, leader Luna Rossa Challenge (ITA) chose the right mark and their opponent Artemis Racing (SWE) followed.

This was a must-win race for the Swedes. Lose and they are eliminated. But on San Francisco Bay, with a strong tide flooding, their best tactical option was to follow. For Artemis Racing to have chosen the left mark, that would have taken them straight into the mouth of the current.

“It is the San Francisco Bay playbook,” explained broadcast commentator Ken Read. “(In a flood tide), you have to play the tidal cone behind Alcatraz Island, and then split to the left hand side for relief along the shore. It doesn’t make for a lot of passing lanes when you’re behind because, quite frankly, the playbook is in place on the Bay every single day.”

Another problem for the trailing boat has been the race course boundaries. With a narrow course, getting leverage on the leader is limited. But with the tidal impact, the natural boundaries are as real as the course boundaries.

“These tight race courses with the boundaries take away a lot of options for the guy behind,” said Read, “but given the impact of the current, I’m not sure you can make them wider.”

So what will the tide be doing this weekend when the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger finals begin between Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Ross Challenge? With two races a day on Saturday and Sunday between 1300-1500 PDT, there is a light ebb predicted.

This reversal, in both strength and direction, could make for a more interesting race. Oh gosh, we hope so.

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