Race One, Won

From underdogs to lead dogs, the American Youth Sailing Force grabs the opening race of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup by the horns.

Sailing World

Red Bull Youth America's Cup

American Youth Sailing Force skipper Mike Menninger hooks up the interview unit for a post-race on-air interview with NBC's Todd Harris and Ken Read after winning the opening race of the Red Bull Youth America's Cup series in San Francisco.Sam Greenfield

It's race one of the first ever Red Bull Youth America's Cup and from a live aerial feed high above the San Francisco Bay, the 'Dengus Khan' is the only AC45 in frame as the American Youth Sailing Force tears towards the finish line.

The team is ten lengths out as NBC’s Todd Harris exclaims, “USA 1, American Youth Sailing Force, and their skipper and helmsman Michael Menninger, get the job done here in race number one! It all started with a fantastic start, they timed it perfectly, and it will be …”

Riding a gust, spray skirting over the leeward hull, USA 1 sprints across the divide at more than 20 knots, outpacing a cloud of blue gun smoke to the delight of a crowd lining the rock pier beyond the Golden Gate YC.

“Youth Sailing Force, America One, getting the first win!”

The feed swaps to the stern camera and a live audio feed ushers the digital spectator onboard the winning boat. The sounds of rushing water layered with panting sailors, high-fives and cheering spectators are suddenly drowned out by tactician David Liebenberg.

“I thought we were going to pitchpole!” he shouts candidly.

It’s not the first time in this race the sailors have spoken to one another as though no one was listening, and American sailor, Ken Read—commentating alongside Harris—is clearly amused.

“Just a little bit more exuberance than the pros,” he laughs, “just a little bit more.”

And with that the spotlight turns to Peter Burling’s New Zealand 2.

Burling crosses the line 43 seconds later.

“Probably the coolest sailing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Krevans as he unlaces a dripping boot outside the team tent in an area of the Marina Green the sailors refer to as the “petting zoo.”

The AYSF placed seventh in race two, but their standout performance did not go unnoticed. Team manager Ian Andrewes first approached Russell Coutts in early 2012, when the AYSF was nothing more than a dream.

“So he ended up sitting down next to my parents,” says Evan Sjostedt, one of the AYSF’s original founding members. “He says, ‘Hi, I’m Russell’ … he just showed up to watch it alone.”

"I remember the first time I got to sit down and talk to him," recalls Andrewes. "Maybe a year and a couple months ago. He told me, 'You know it's not going to be easy if you want to do this', and he had no clue who we were. And today he walks up while we're in the petting zoo and shook our hands. It felt incredible."

As USA 1 rounded the first windward gate clear ahead of the fleet, Ken Read interrupted a thought about boathandling to say:

“I’m really happy for the Americans right now. These guys have put in a lot just to get here. They aren’t the wealthiest team here, that’s for sure. They’re living on the floor of an office building. That’s what they’ve done just to get here. That’s impressive.”

At the office it’s 10:30 p.m., and Cooper is out, stretched across his favorite couch. Evan and David barely awake.

“Literally the coolest day of my life,” says Liebenberg before climbing into his sleeping bag.

“The bigger thing than being recognized is having the confidence to know that we can go out there, have a good start, and extend off the fleet. We knew we could do that based off the practice races, but to do that in the first race of the regatta was huge.”

“Personally, it justified everything. It was a perfect culmination to the last 19 months of work to go out there and win the first race,” says Sjostedt, unwinding with a book in hand.

Regardless of their race, the team is in agreement about one thing. “Once a race is over, it’s over,” says Liebenberg. “You just have to start thinking about the next.”

And throughout the difficult journey to this day many of the sailors experienced nagging doubts as to the sincerity of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup mission to deliver on their touted, “ultimate” opportunity: a direct path to the actual America’s Cup.

"It's a relief to know that this regatta is potentially everything it promised to be," says Sjostedt. "It is everything it promised to be."