Sailing Into America’s Cup History in Chicago
Published on June 9th, 2016
By Christopher Clarey, The New York Times
(June 9, 2016) – The America’s Cup races have yet to be held on fresh water. Even when Team Alinghi, from landlocked Switzerland, defended the Cup in 2007, it chose to hold the competition in Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea off Valencia.
But the America’s Cup preliminaries will break the freshwater taboo when Chicago stages a Louis Vuitton World Series event on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The racing, which will take place on Lake Michigan off Navy Pier, brings together the six teams entered in next year’s main event in Bermuda. They will compete in AC 45 foiling catamarans, a one-design version of the slightly larger boats that will be deployed for the Cup itself in 2017.
Monohulls, long used in the venerable regatta that began in 1851, are generally faster in salt water, because it is more buoyant and therefore creates less displacement.
“There’s less hull to pull through the water, because the boat is floating a little bit higher,” said Tod Reynolds, the event director for the Chicago World Series event.
But foiling catamarans mostly sail above the surface of the water, with submerged carbon-fiber appendages providing the lift and requisite stability.
“With the foiling you’re not so much worried about the displacement as viscosity, so it’s actually the drag over the foils that matters, and fresh water has less drag than salt water over the foils,” Reynolds said. “So if we get a good wind direction and a good windy day in Chicago, I think there’s a good chance we’ll see speed records set in these boats.”
The competitors themselves are not so clear on the repercussions. Matt Cassidy was based in Chicago for several years before joining the crew of the America’s Cup defender, Oracle Team USA, in 2015. He has raced often on Lake Michigan.
“I honestly don’t think it’s going to be that big of a change between salt and fresh water,” Cassidy said by telephone from Bermuda last week. “I keep telling everyone the biggest thing is you’re not going to have to spray all the salt off the boat at the end of the day and wash everything down. Our takeoff speeds might be a little faster, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to be a huge change for us.”
Two things the teams won’t have to worry about on Lake Michigan are ocean tides and river currents. They raced in a world series event in New York last month in the brackish water of the Hudson River off lower Manhattan. They had trouble with the current and with the wind consistency because of the effects created by the tall buildings along both banks. Chicago has an imposing skyline, too, but only on one side of the course, and the skyscrapers are farther from the water.