America's Cup World Series sets sail Wednesday in San Diego Bay - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

America's Cup World Series sets sail Wednesday in San Diego Bay

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SAN DIEGO (AP) - America's Cup racing is back in the United States for the first time since Russell Coutts and Team New Zealand lifted the Auld Mug from Dennis Conner off San Diego in 1995.

Besides a few familiar faces, little is the same as it was 16 years ago.

Nine teams will race fast 45-foot, wing-sailed catamarans on San Diego Bay in the third stop of the America's Cup World Series running Wednesday through Sunday. Based on the previous two stops, there most certainly will be spectacular capsizes and maybe even a collision or two. The ACWS features both fleet and match racing.

The big difference from the previous incarnation of the America's Cup is that the racing will be right in front of spectators on the shore, rather than a few miles out at sea.

"Certainly for the people of San Diego, this event is going to be a re-education for them about the America's Cup," said Jimmy Spithill, an Australian who skippered San Francisco's Oracle Racing to victory over Alinghi of Switzerland in the America's Cup in 2010. ''Because when they think America's Cup, they think, "Well, we'll watch the boats tow out and that's about it.' But here, they can walk down and see the boats. It's exciting for me because I've got family here and it really is a new event for them."

The ACWS, being sailed in ports around the world, is a buildup to the 2013 America's Cup on San Francisco Bay.

Prior to winning the silver trophy in 2010, Oracle spent 16 months testing its giant trimaran in San Diego. Most of the sailing was done miles offshore, but there was a time or two when Spithill and his crew would take their massive boat for a spin around the bay. It was in San Diego that Oracle introduced a radical wing sail that improved the boat's acceleration and maneuverability. The wing's success in the match against the Swiss is a big reason why the 45-foot cats - and the 72-foot versions that will contest the Cup in 2013 - have wing sails.

Bringing the sport closer to spectators is one goal of organizers after the image of the oldest trophy in international sports was badly damaged by a long, bitter court fight between billionaires that preceded Oracle's victory in 2010.

"The key in San Diego Bay is trying to be consistent," said Spithill, who has a home in San Diego. "It's a tricky place to sail. It's an exciting place to sail because there's a lot of activity. It's a beautiful harbor. It's right on the downtown. It will be a lot of fun and I think it will be a great show for all the people watching."

Oracle Racing has made a significant lineup change to one of its boats. Coutts, who sailed undefeated through three straight America's Cup matches for two different countries, is stepping aside as helmsman in favor of Aussie Darren Bundock, a two-time Olympic silver medalist. Spithill continues to steer the other Oracle boat.

"Our plan is to use this tour to rotate our sailing team," Spithill said. "Obviously Russell is involved in the event side as well. We've gone out and hired what we think is the best multihull sailor in the world. I'm all about getting the best guy because I love the competition. I think you need to be pushed, and the only way to do that is to get guys that are better than you, around you. It's been fantastic having Darren in here. He's pushed me super hard already."

Said Bundock: "I'm here to give him a hurry-up and keep him honest. I'd love to take his spot."

Skipper Dean Barker and the current Team New Zealand lineup hold the overall lead after the first two stops, in Cascais, Portugal, and Plymouth, England.

So far, Barker and crew have shown that they could be the biggest threat to Oracle Racing.

"We've been sailing cats now for a year," Barker said. "We're pretty happy with the progress we've made. Saying that, there's still a lot more to learn. We still make lots of mistakes. The boat-handling aspect is very, very difficult. There are always things you can do a lot better. It's a good challenge. We've got two years, really, to try to step on it that much further. It'll be harder to make gains, but there's still a lot to learn."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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