This Side Up

Dreams from the America’s Cup Series


I glanced at my watch: 1:45 p.m. Did this make sense? I had a window of about two hours before a meeting at 4.

I would be leaving that evening for upstate New York, and this would be my only opportunity to view the action of the America’s Cup other than TV or the Internet. It would be over by the time I got back Sunday. This could be my last chance to see the boats in Rhode Island. I was already at the Airport Connector and I could be in Newport in about 30 minutes, if I didn’t run into too much traffic.

But I knew better.

Thirty minutes to Newport was cutting it short and by the time I found a parking place, assuming that was possible, I might have 10 minutes before having to head back.

Maybe I could catch a glimpse of the show from Fort Wetherill. It was closer and a parking place seemed possible; and it was free. Free is good.

I turned onto the connector. There was no turning back. Traffic flowed smoothly. This was going to happen. Only when I reached Fort Wetherill was there a line of cars. Up ahead, a man in the green uniform of the Department of Environmental Management and a florescent vest directed vehicles onto a field. On the road ahead, pedestrians streamed toward the water toting lawn chairs and coolers.

I pulled up and explained I would be less than an hour and was looking to get a few pictures of the crowd. To my surprise I was waved on.

“They’ll tell you where to park down there,” he said gesturing.

In another five minutes, I was walking the last bit of road that climbs the ridge overlooking the harbor and the whir of action in the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. Boats ranging from kayaks to mega yachts spotted the waters. In their midst, easily distinguished by their giant carbon fiber foils that stood like tree trunks, were the AC45s. A couple of the boats appeared motionless, as if tethered to a mooring, while a pair of them maneuvered through the spectator fleet to the north. Vessels with flashing lights patrolled the perimeters of the racecourse. Like humming birds, helicopters hovered over the scene and then, for no apparent reason, buzzed off only to return. I paused to eavesdrop on what a man was saying to a group gathered around him.

“There’s been a delay,” he said offering no explanation.

I was straining for more details when I heard my name and looked up to see my neighbor, John Roberts.

He was on his way out.

“I can’t tell what they’re doing. A lot of going back and forth,” he said.

He had already been there 90 minutes and was ready to head home. Nonetheless, he took me in tow and directed me to a path that climbed a knoll giving the full scope of the scene. I had a clear view of Fort Adams and its shore, dotted with people. The wind was from the southwest and funneling up the bay.

With tremendous acceleration, one of the two boats lulling below us shot out. In seconds it was slicing through the water on one of its two hulls, leaving a white wake. Just as quickly it came to a stop.

I heard my name again. This time it was Ken MacNaught with a pair of binoculars hung around his neck. He had the course figured out.

He pointed out vessels flying huge flags that made up the ends of the starting line. Compared to the course when the America’s Cub was last raced off Newport, this was a go-cart track.

Back then, the races were held in Rhode Island Sound, a couple of miles off shore. An armada followed the 12 meters, including, as I remember, a couple of naval vessels commissioned to serve as point boats at ends of the course. Very important people got invited to go on them, to see about five minutes of action at the end of a very long day spent in the sun and wind. The Coast Guard Auxiliary was assigned to the media, at least that’s where I ended up. We got to follow the action on one side of the course.

This day, in front of us, the AC45s were jockeying for position. A ripple of excitement flowed through the spectators but it didn’t last long. A boat towing what appeared to be a trio of inflatable Jersey barriers steered down the middle of the course. Ken trained his binoculars on them. Expectation built again; only to disperse as the assembly headed to the far shore.

For all the high tech display in front of us, and for all the smart phones spectators had in their pockets, no one had a clue to what was happening, except, naturally, those running the event. I suppose people at Fort Adams were given minute-by-minute descriptions of what was going on.

I glanced at my watch. I had another 10 minutes and would have to head back to Warwick. As the three of us looked over the water, Barbara DeCesare, carrying her camera, stopped over to say hello.

“I’ll email you photos,” promised the former city director of human services (who went on to head the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Red Cross for many years). I got her photos the following morning.

John and I took the trail back to the cars. It was then I learned of the unusual gift his wife Sue gave him; 10 laps at the wheel of a stockcar on Thompson Speedway. He was smiling, his eyes sparkling. It sounded exhilarating, being strapped into such a muscle machine, the sheer power on the straight-aways and being coached with an ear bud through the curves as other drivers on the course tried passing you.

It was enough to start dreaming for me, about the feel of the windward hull of the AC45 lifting; the spray flying as the boat knifed through the waves; the crew scrambling to crank winches and push the boat that tad bit faster; the intensity of it all. It was better than what any head cam could show on television or a YouTube video and I could imagine it all as I sat stalled in the beach traffic on Route 4.

John can have his stockcars. I want an AC45 … just for 20 minutes.


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