By Jason Heaton
on 9.10.13
Photo by JH

B
ack in June, we went out to San Francisco for a glimpse inside preparations for the 34th America’s Cup from the perspective of challenger Emirates Team New Zealand and its timekeeping partner, OMEGA. We were out in the city by the bay again recently, this time as a guest of TAG Heuer, a sponsor of the reigning America’s Cup Defender, Team Oracle USA. Finally, the focus was on the sailing — and it was an exhilarating time to be on the water.

The new breed of AC72 boats are nothing short of technological marvels, unmistakable with their resplendent 130-foot carbon fiber wing sails, lifted clear of the water by sleek catamaran hulls with foils in order to rip through the water at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. The crew members wear crash helmets and protective suits and carry emergency air canisters and knives in case things go topsy-turvy in a hurry.

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TAG Heuer went beyond the usual logo placement and special edition regatta watches by producing special digital wrist-top computers that all of the Team Oracle USA sailors wore on their wrists. These provide real-time, wi-fi-delivered data to help the sailors communicate and react quickly during the races. The watch was developed in cooperation with crew member Gilberto Nobili, who, aside from being a burly grinder on the crew, is a Java programmer. Talk about brains and brawn. Nobili gave us a peek at the so-called “Aquaracer 72”, but don’t expect to see this one at your local TAG Heuer retailer anytime soon.

TAG’s optical division worked on eyewear for the crew, fitting them with special glare-cutting wraparounds that are hydrophobic for shedding saltwater spray and feature polarized lenses with a central strip that remains non-polarized for reading LCD screens on wrist-worn PDAs and the Aquaracer 72. Rumor had it that skipper Jimmy Spithill had a heads-up display in his glasses for hands-free viewing of telemetry data while rounding buoys at 40 knots. Take that, Google Glass.

Crew members wear crash helmets and protective suits and carry emergency air canisters and knives in case things go topsy-turvy in a hurry.

Noshing on canapés aboard the climate-controlled spectator boat, we journalists had front row seats for all the raw action on the race course, which criss-crossed the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge past Alcatraz and finished at the race village on the Embarcadero. A few thousand day sailors bobbed alongside us in a chaotic scrum for the best views while billionaires Larry Page (of Google fame) and Team Oracle owner Larry Ellison joined us in their respective superyachts, both of which were replete with helicopters, launches and onboard ATVs.

Saturday’s races were both handily won by Emirates Team New Zealand, but on Sunday the defending American team came back to claim one of the two races after some smart tactical moves by Spithill and a drag race to the finish. Racing continues Tuesday, Thursday and into the weekend in this best of nine series to see whether the Cup remains in San Francisco or heads Down Under.