SAN DIEGO — The Windy City got the heave-ho in the race to host the 2017 America’s Cup. Sailing’s marquee regatta is either headed back to San Diego or will be held on the northern tip of the Bermuda Triangle.
Russell Coutts, CEO of defending champion Oracle Team USA, said it was a tough decision to eliminate Chicago.
Despite Chicago’s nickname, “the variability of the wind was quite a major uncertainty for us,” Coutts told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday from his home in New Zealand.
Chicago will be offered the chance to host a stop on the America’s Cup World Series, a set of warmup regattas which will begin next year.
The America’s Cup has never been held on a lake. Lake Michigan’s wind is variable because it comes from weather systems rather than the thermal effect which helps generate sea breezes.
“I think it would make a fantastic venue,” Coutts said. “We just need to understand the wind conditions a lot better. Frankly, all the venues had pretty compelling commercial aspects, so it really came down to a choice of conditions.”
Coutts said he’ll begin negotiating host-city agreements with San Diego and Bermuda, with commercial support being a big part of any deal. He hopes to pick a winner by the end of September.
Organizers want to avoid unreliable breezes that delay races and harm the America’s Cup as a viable TV sport. The 62-foot wing sail catamarans picked for the next Cup are expected to pop up on hydrofoils in as little as 8 knots of breeze and skim across the tops of the waves.
If San Diego is chosen, racing would be on the bay, not miles offshore as it was during the America’s Cup in 1988, 1992 and 1995.
If Bermuda wins, racing would be close to shore on the Great Sound.
Bermuda is known to sailors for the Newport to Bermuda race and the Bermuda Gold Cup match-racing event.
Coutts says he would have no qualms in taking the America’s Cup to the island that gave the name to an area in the Atlantic Ocean known for mysterious disappearances of ships and airplanes.
“Well, it’s possible to get lost off the water in Bermuda,” Coutts said with a chuckle, perhaps referring to sailors hitting the pubs after racing.
A five-time America’s Cup winner, including the last two with Oracle Team USA, Coutts has already raised eyebrows by taking the Auld Mug out of San Francisco because the city didn’t offer the same terms as last year.
Although the 2013 America’s Cup was troubled in many ways, the final round on San Francisco Bay turned into a thriller as space-age American and Kiwi catamarans dueled on a course bordered by the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the Embarcadero. Oracle Team USA staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports by winning the final eight races to keep the oldest trophy in international sports.
The choice of Bermuda, a British territory, could make people really look askance at an event that wants both commercial success and mainstream support.
If Bermuda is chosen, it would be the first time a U.S. defender held the America’s Cup outside the United States.
And while thousands of spectators lined the shoreline in San Francisco to watch races, Bermuda is 640 miles off North Carolina.
Coutts said he’s heard the concerns but said Bermuda’s proximity to New York and Europe can help attract TV audiences, and there are direct flights from New York and London.
Coutts declined to reveal the source of commercial support for Bermuda’s bid other than to say it was from “various entities.”
Bermuda’s bid is believed to include income tax concessions for America’s Cup participants.
San Diego organizers are known to be courting local companies such as Qualcomm for support.
Unlike on San Francisco Bay, the entire race course on San Diego Bay would be visible to most spectators. Plans are for the start and finish lines to be in the same spot.
Coutts helped end San Diego’s America’s Cup run when he skippered Team New Zealand to a five-race sweep of Dennis Conner in May 1995.
Oracle Team USA is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, who has spent an estimated $500 million since the early 2000s in pursuing, winning and defending the silver trophy. Ellison and Coutts want the event to become self-sustaining commercially.
Premier Michael Dunkley said landing the America’s Cup would “highlight Bermuda’s legacy as a maritime, sailing destination and give us unprecedented international exposure.”