Alums promote faster-than-wind America’s Cup to international audience
By Chris Swingle
Amory Ross ’06
Interest in America’s Cup—the pinnacle of international sailboat racing—has never been higher and the 34th competition brings major changes in speed and technology, aimed at making the competition faster, more exciting to watch and easier to understand.
Three alums who competed on Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ sailing team are dedicating long work days to promoting this competition and attracting an even bigger and broader audience.
Sarah Hawkins ’03 is digital media manager for America’s Cup, while Amory Ross ’06, videographer, and Kate Wilson ’08, brand manager, work for defending champion ORACLE TEAM USA. Also following the action is Andy Horton ’98, a three-time all-American sailor at HWS and Olympic sailing hopeful who, in 2007, was the tactician strategist on Italy’s sailboat in the 32nd America’s Cup.
Ross and Wilson cross paths daily, both based out of their team headquarters in a warehouse on Pier 80 in San Francisco. At times, Ross shoots video from a chase boat driven by Wilson for media and sponsors. Meanwhile, Hawkins works out of America’s Cup headquarters—fashioned from 40-foot shipping containers that were used to ship the sailboats—on Pier 23. The three alums see each other at race events—and online. Wilson says they tag each other in Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to cross-promote each other’s activities.
Hawkins, who oversees America’s Cup’s digital communication strategies and works with each team to effectively use social media, also manages the live stream on YouTube.com during races, serves as an online commentator and works closely with NBC Sports to televise the competition—coverage that is new for this America’s Cup. Constantly adjustable courses keep the races within broadcast-friendly times.
“It’s all around making it a better spectator experience,” explains Hawkins. “The new vision of the America’s Cup is to create a broader audience through television and to bring the racing closer to shore.”
Hawkins also promotes new technology that makes the complex sport easier to understand. Graphics identify each boat, its speed and key aspects of the course, overlaid onto live helicopter shots, a first for video from a moving source. The America’s Cup technology director, Stan Honey, also developed the yellow first-down line in football telecasts and the highlighting system used by NASCAR. Broadcasts of the America’s Cup World Series won a 2012 Emmy award for technical innovation.
“Television viewers know more than the sailors do at any given moment during racing,” she says.
Hawkins previously worked for U.S. Sailing, managing the Olympic and Paralympic sailing teams. The 24 Olympic and six Paraplegic athletes were dedicated and professional, but typically juggled sailing with day jobs. By contrast, she says, the America’s Cup sailors are full-time athletes, their days filled with pumping iron in the gym and practicing on the water, supported by sponsors and backers such as billionaire Ellison.
As the winner of the last America’s Cup, Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison got to select the boat and location for this America’s Cup. Ellison chose the new class of two-hulled boats with a rigid main sail the size of a Boeing 747, only vertical. The more-than-7-ton and rumored $10 million boat is designed to foil, which means that at certain speeds, both hulls lift out of the water so only the rudders and one or both daggerboards are in the water. The catamarans can fly three times as fast as the wind.
“When you see an AC72 foil for the first time, whether on TV, online or on YouTube, it will leave you with your jaw on the floor,” says Hawkins.
Controlling such boats is challenging. Foiling requires balancing the forces of the wind and the hydrofoil moving through the water as wind speed and waves change, explains Horton. “Keeping these boats foiling is a full-time job of adjusting the wing, foil and hull’s trim and angle of attack,” he says.
Andy Horton ’98 from Luna Rossa Challenge and Terry Hutchinson from
Team New Zealand shake before the Louis Vuitton Final.
The complexity and danger of this new class of yachts was proven in May when British sailor and Olympic gold medalist Andrew Simpson, the strategist for Swedish team Artemis Racing, died when his AC72 capsized during training in San Francisco Bay.
Horton, who crewed a single-hulled boat in the 2007 America’s Cup, notes that safety efforts have expanded since 2007, when he didn’t wear a helmet. The 11 onboard members now wear crash helmets and have sharp knives and mini oxygen canisters on their bodysuits to help if they’re trapped underwater and must cut their way out of the netted trampoline. They’ve practiced safety drills in a pool.
Horton majored in biology and loves the physics and problem-solving required of sailing. He is selfemployed as a sailor, working for four to seven teams per year, often with multiple events per team. He has at least a dozen major wins on his resume.
At ORACLE TEAM USA, Wilson’s marketing role includes using her architecture-major design background to make sure the sponsors’ brand presence is just right on the catamaran, in the team base and on any media distributed. She helps design, order and distribute the PUMA team clothing worn daily by the sailors, boat designers, builders and support crew on the 120-member team.
Wilson watched the 2007 America’s Cup finals from the shore in Valencia, Spain, and she’s thrilled to be part of this contest: “It’s going to be exciting.” The Newport, R.I. native helped ORACLE TEAM USA as a volunteer last summer when the 2011-2012 America’s Cup World Series concluded in Newport.
These days, she enjoys getting out of the office weekly to drive a boat for media and sponsors. “This is my favorite part of my job,” says Wilson, who hasn’t seen any other women driving chase boats. “I love when I get to be on the water seeing the reason why we are all here working so hard.”
Ross’ work is on the water and in the air. He shoots video from a chase boat, onboard ORACLE TEAM USA’s catamaran, and hanging out of a helicopter. He got his job through networking and self-taught photography and videography skills. His storytelling began with writing for Sailing World magazine as a teen and benefits from his sailing experience, including “four great years on Seneca Lake.”
His senior year at Hobart, he took photos at a regatta in Key West, Fla. He ended up selling several images to magazines. After photographing regattas in France, Italy and Antigua, he snagged a relatively new position as media crew member for PUMA Ocean Racing in the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race—a yacht sailing race around the world. In addition to onboard duties such as desalinating water and preparing the freeze-dried food, he wrote stories, took photographs and produced daily videos while immersed in the action.
Ross was surprised when Sports Illustrated online designated one of his Volvo Ocean Race photos a Top 50 sports photo of 2012, the only sailing photo chosen. The serene image shows a crew member on the bow adjusting a sail in light wind between Brazil and Florida, a sharp contrast to other photos he captured of sharply tilting boats and wild sprays of water showering the sailors.
The nine-month, 39,000-mile race from Spain to Ireland—an incredible experience—led to Ross’ current job. He loves working on the ever-changing seas, but water creates challenges. “It’s not kind to your equipment,” says Ross. He relies on a gyrostabilizer to steady the video when shooting from the support boat. Onboard, he wears a wetsuit, impact vest, helmet and harness.
Ross has found that water has a different complexion around the world. The color, feel and taste of an ocean or bay is also distinctive, from the browner waters near Indonesia and San Francisco to the chalky, whitish look off New Zealand, to the dark blue of the Southern Ocean.
He loves the salt air and the water on his skin. “If I had to guess, I’ll probably always end up doing something around water,” Ross says.
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