By Kara Hugglestone
After a slow start, the Windy City lived up to its name for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Chicago with Land Rover BAR setting a new speed record of 34.17 knots. But the excitement wasn’t restricted to the racing. From the onshore activities to the incredible hospitality of the city as a whole, Chicago made for an excellent America’s Cup venue.
On the water
It was the first time the America’s Cup World Series has ever sailed on fresh water, and Friday’s practice races proved just how thrilling racing on Lake Michigan can be.
It was breeze on with gusts of 15 – 20 knots and not one, but two, dramatic capsizes. In a close match with Oracle Team USA, Emirates Team New Zealand came off its foils, crashed into the water, and rolled on to its side as the crew jumped off the upper hull and climbed down the net. The recovery was even more spectacular—in just 15 minutes every member of the crew had been accounted for and the boat was righted and ready to race.
In the next race it was Oracle’s turn: Skipper Jimmy Spithill rolled into a quick maneuver to avoid a collision with Artemis Racing and the crew wasn’t able to get one of the lines free in time. The wing sail was pinned on the wrong side of the boat and Oracle capsized.
I was on the parked media boat that first day, and although I didn’t expect to be in the thick of it, there were times when the teams sailed right by us. What a thrill it was to see the raw power of those catamarans and skill it takes to tame them up close.
As I looked around at the crowd on Navy Pier and the hundreds-strong spectator fleet, I considered that Chicago really is an ideal venue. Although I’d love to have had the America’s Cup events return to San Francisco, I have to admit that Chicago has excellent stadium viewing, too.
Saturday’s race day one brought heat, nearly 95 degrees, and light, unstable wind. As we waited for the wind to come up, Oracle Team USA put on a show for the crowd demonstrating the incredible foiling capabilities of their boat, sometimes while being towed by a powerboat and at other times under their own power. Jimmy Spithill sure knows how to entertain—with or without any wind.
The wind did eventually appear and the race committee was able to get one race off, but only after the 3 p.m. deadline. The race committee deemed Saturday’s race a substitute for Sunday, and scored Friday’s practice race as the first race giving the win to Dean Barker and SoftBank Team Japan.
I was on a photo boat that chased the yachts and set up for shots. Since the racing wasn’t continuous, I had I more than enough time to admire the beauty of the venue and the sport of sailing in general.
The Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan is, in a word, majestic. It was a perfect backdrop for the AC45s. One of my favorite shots of the regatta is a photo of mine of Groupama Team France with the city in the background, the wing seeming to tower as high as Chicago’s skyscrapers.
And then came Super Sunday—the races on Sunday are extremely important because the points are doubled. More than 200,000 fans crowded Navy Pier the spectator fleet was an impressive 650 boats strong. The electricity in the air was palpable.
The weather cooperated and I was thrilled to again be paired the same great crew. As we raced up and down the course chasing the AC45s, I marveled at the technical precision of the skippers in their flying machines. I took some of my favorite sailing shots ever. I shared many on the Sail Couture Instagram.
Land Rover BAR had a strong start and lead throughout the first race for the win. Groupama led the start of the second race, but Artemis Racing quickly overtook them and led to the finish. In the last race of the day and the regatta, five of the six yachts crossed the start line together, but there were so many penalties, SoftBank Team Japan was the only boat able to get into clean air and led the pack around the course for their second win of the series.
SoftBank sailed a good set of races and appeared to make the fewest errors, so I was surprised they didn’t win the regatta. Despite that, Dean Barker was very proud of his team.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the performance of our team here,” said Barker. “It’s a great boost to our team and it’s really good to see that all the hard work we are doing is paying off, especially in front of such a large crowd.”
Artemis Racing won the regatta followed by Land Rover BAR and Softbank Team Japan. “We feel that we have very good boat handling now and very good speed. Getting a two and one in the first two races today set us up very well,” said Artemis Skipper Nathan Outteridge.
Emirates Team New Zealand, fourth in Chicago, maintains their lead in the overall series, followed by Land Rover BAR and Oracle Team USA.
Both the many spectators and event insiders I talked to as well as the skippers had high praise for the venue and organization in Chicago.
“Let’s hope this becomes a regular stop on the series, the racecourse is awesome,” said Oracle Team USA’s Jimmy Spithill. “All weekend we saw the huge crowds and we all had great support. I hope we are coming back.”
Where to stay
The Radisson Blu Aqua was my home base for the LVACWS Chicago and I couldn’t imagine a better choice of accommodation for someone who loves the sea and the city. The hotel is renowned for its artful, imaginative architecture inspired by the movement of waves.
Contoured outdoor terraces extend away from the façade so that the building appears to undulate. Depending on the time of day and angle of the sun, the surface of the concrete seems to flow with a series of ripples and the immense glass windows reflect light like water.
At 82-stories tall, the Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago is the tallest building to have been built with a woman serving as lead architect. Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang has created is nothing less than magical. Her simple, elegant design perfectly captures the feeling of ‘aqua.’
The artful interior with a subtle nod to Chicago’s history is by Scottish designer Jim Hamilton. The public spaces are so inviting, they beckon you to stay, particularly the dramatic 50-foot-long fireplace in the lobby decorated with a series of brass discs, which the designer says is subtle reference to the glamour of Chicago’s speakeasy era. A custom-designed rug shows an aerial view of the city.
The Radisson Blu Aqua has it’s own mobile app called the Art of Blu, which was developed much like a museum app, and offers a wonderful tour of the property’s architecture, interior design, and art gallery.
Gang designed the building’s curved façade to be tied to specific landmarks in the city. My beautiful suite overlooked Lake Michigan and Navy Pier, home to the LVACWS Chicago. How perfect! The scene changed dramatically at different points during the day because of the wave-like surface of the building. Gang says the hotel never looks the same twice, and I agree. It’s magic.
After the race, I strolled around the event village. The most-wanted item by far was the official Oracle Team USA gear at the Sail Racing shop. Throughout the weekend the line was 20 or more people long. Project coordinator Erik Martinsson told me one evening they’d stayed open until 11 p.m. to accommodate shoppers.
Also quite popular was the Bremont Watch Company stand. The British company has partnered with the America’s Cup to create two stunning new chronograph regatta time pieces, the Regatta AC and Regatta Oracle Team USA. A special of special note is the crown the Regatta OTUSA contains high-grade carbon fiber from the winning 2013 Oracle Team USA AC72 yacht.
Then it was off to see island-inspired clothing at Vineyard Vines, the official style of the America’s Cup. Attendees liked the specially themed LVACWS Chicago tee-shirts. Founding brothers Shep and Ian Murray sported items from the Vineyard Vines America’s Cup collection throughout the regatta which is available online.
Kim Stare Wallace, president of Dry Creek Vineyard was pouring her family’s signature wines in the Club AC and Club Chicago VIP areas. In addition the Sauvignon Blanc, attendees also enjoyed the 2013 Estate Block Russian River Chardonnay, 2012 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet, a special 2013 Magnum of Sailor’s Cuvee.
Their Sauvignon Blanc was perfect for the warm day and delighted with notes of melon and lemon peel. A special treat indeed was the exquisite Sailor’s Cuvee, a Bordeaux-style blend served only in Club AC. It’s intriguing spicy pepper character along with black fig, red currant and black cherry fruit make an elegant and refined wine.
Kim’s father, a life-long sailor, founded the winery in 1972, and they’ve been turning out award-winning wines ever since. Kim grew up sailing on the San Francisco Bay and sailing is integral to the brand. In the past past they have sponsored US Sailing and Artemis Racing, and have featured sailboats on their labels for years. Wine & Spirits Magazine has recognized Dry Creek Vineyard as a one of their top 100 wineries.
Above the Sail Racing shop was Gosling’s Dark ‘n Stormy Rooftop Bar. Dove Jones of Travel Fore Golf captured the festive fun perfectly. They were serving a variety of Gosling’s cocktails, but the Dark ‘n Stormy reined supreme.
While hotel restaurants don’t always garner the highest praise, dinner at Filini at the Radisson Blu Aqua was a welcome reward after a long day of travel. I had the delicious pasta with gulf shrimp, littleneck clams, mussels, scallops, calamari, pomodoro sauce, and chili flakes.
Long days in the sun can work up quite an appetite, for the spectators as well as the racers. On Friday I dined at the wonderful Seven Lions. I sat on their lovely sidewalk patio, right across from the Art Institute. My dining companion and I started with the Spring Salad of mizuna beans, baby spinach, blue cheese, strawberries, and candied pistachios, and then moved on to the Scottish Salmon with Israeli couscous, spring vegetables, and potato leek puree. It was divine and wonderful with the French Sauvignon Blanc we’d selected.
Saturday evening I was in the mood for something light, and dinner at Billy Lawless’s Beacon Tavern was perfect. I enjoyed a wonderfully imaginative salad of endive, cucumber, mandarin oranges, and hazel nuts, dressed in white balsamic vinegar—it was perfect on the warm summer evening. The portion was generous and that alone would have been enough, but I also splurged on an exotic Yellowfin Tuna Crudo, flown in all the way from Sri Lanka.
To Bermuda and beyond!
While it was sad to see the LVACWS Chicago come to a close, the gentlemen in Bermuda shorts and the breezy look of the Bermuda Tourism Authority stand made me long for those pink sandy beaches. Fortunately, the 35th America’s Cup isn’t that far away.
If you go, check out their one-stop-shop website for everything you need to book your trip, from where to stay (fancy a boutique hotel, or maybe a private island is more your style?) to various all-inclusive packages.
But before you head to the islands, mark your calendars—the next stop on the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series is across the pond in Portsmouth, July 21–24!