Hospitality on the Hudson

The fan experience is cool, but the VIP experience, even better at the Louis Vuittton America's Cup Series in New York.

America's Cup

One on One Time

Freddie Carr gives the audience onboard Land Rover BARs hospitality boat the inside scoop on what went wrong in the day's scuttled race. Actor Mark Ruffalo (sitting at right), sixth man for the day's abandoned races, is now an AC fan.Dave Reed

Land Rover BAR's RIB pulls alongside the white 122-foot classic motor yacht Mariner III, which occupied three decks high with guests, VIPs, and staff. Sailor Freddie Carr and Oscar-winning actor Mark Rufallo, also known as Doctor Bruce Banner and The Hulk, step off the RIB and onto the yacht. As one of many race guests for the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series, Rufallo follows Carr up a flight of stairs to the boat's awning-covered upper deck and blended into the awaiting audience.

Dressed head to toe in Land Rover BAR sailing gear, black hair tussled and wind blown, Rufallo is wide-eyed and beaming. He takes a seat on a couch alongside philanthropist Wendy Schmidt, founder of 11th Hour Racing, Land Rover BAR's sustainability partner. Rufallo is an environmentalist himself and guest of 11th Hour.

His enthusiasm remains as Carr takes hold of a microphone and begins an exclusive post-race debrief with the guests. This is the encore of the America’s Cup World Series VIP experience. Scanning the crowd, alongside Rufallo are titans of industry, celebrities, influencers and media. They’ve lunched on chateaubriand and lobster, visited the open bar, socialized on deck, watched the live feed on the widescreen TV, and taken in a lazy four-hour cruise on the Hudson while waiting for six sailboats to sail around one zig-zag course.

They've watched a 15-minute race from the starboard-side railing, cheered for the home team at its conclusion, which finished in last in the day’s only completed race (two others were abandoned partway through). And after all of this, they have an athlete, plucked from the playing field, standing before them for a rare and intimate one-on-one.

Carr holds their undivided attention and does so because he’s good—very good. He’s been at the America’s Cup game a long time and tells it like it is.

“The race did not stack in our favor…uh…so there you go,” with a laugh, halfheartedly trying to move the conversation past the day’s result. But his teammate Leigh McMillan, who has served as commentator for the hospitality outing, presses him further on what happened on the Hudson: "What happened at that dream start?"

“You might think we’re bobbing about chilling out between races, but there’s so much going on in the boat all the time," says Carr. "There’s a constant dialogue between the five of us, actually the six of us because we had Mark [Rufallo] chipping in with tactical advice. He is the Hulk after all.”

Carr explains the musical chair movement of marks as the race committee tried to adjust to erratic wind shifts. When the 3 p.m. race window had passed, the race committee informed competitors they’d be sailing a “subsitution race.” Softbank Team Japan took control of it off the start and led all the way round the track.

America's Cup

New York Line Up

Land Rover BAR and Oracle Racing Team tune up before the day's "substitution race," won by Softbank Team JapanLloyd Images/Land Rover BAR

The gist of the subsitution race, it’s later explained, is that if they get races off tomorrow, it doesn’t count. If they don’t, then it stands. If they get races off on “Super Sunday,” Land Rover cashes in its get-out-of-jail free card, having finished last because of its starting penalty, of which Carr explains in detail.

“As soon as the race committee puts the marks in the racecourse he puts in the boundaries. There’s a boundary start box, which is where we jostle in the pre-start. It’s a small box and the amount of current that runs on the Hudson we got a little caught in that boundary area and with 2 minutes to go just sailed out of the boundary. We knew we had the penalty and Ben would nail the start anyway. We came off the line with a race-winning start, but with the penalty we got punted to the back of the cue.”

Carr’s silver lining is that they got past Emirates Team New Zealand. “We take pride in our boathandling and it wasn’t the cleanest we’ve ever done that, which honestly is a bit frustrating for us,” he says. “Big picture, it was not a great race, but it could have been worse. Hopefully that race will count for nothing.”

There will be no “paralysis by analysis,” he adds. Their starts in Oman were not great, but intensive time-on-distance drills, starting about 20 times a day, reversed that. “If you look at the statistics of these race finish positions versus Mark 1 roundings you’ll see very little change between where you go around mark one and where you finish so I think the start is 70 percent of the race. Sailing with Ben for the last ten years you see when he’s got the bit between his teeth. He seriously has that at the moment, which is good and petrifying at the same time.

“He had some few choice words for us in our cornering, but he’s starting on point, so tomorrow we’ll sharpen up at the front end of the boat.”

And with that, McMillan opens questions to the attentive audience. Actor Rufallo has a bit in hit teeth, too, and is squirming in his seat, eager to throw out the first and break the ice.

He half stands and asks, tongue in cheek: “Is it true that the two abandoned starts that you had would have beat the crap out of everybody so badly that Oracle Team called to pull the plug?” To which the audience breaks out in laughter.

“He’s so bought into the America’s Cup politics,” answers Carr, countering Ruffalo’s joke with his own. “But to answer your question…yes it’s all completely rigged.”

The rig is now the regatta, which boils down to races, which may or may not be sailed in Sunday’s forecasted 25-knot winds. If they go off as planned, there will be pandemonium on the Hudson, and if not, there will be hospitality, and that’s what everyone is here for.