They've Got Wings

Sam Greenfield checks in from the Red Bull Youth America's Cup base, where the American Youth Sailing Force is gearing up for the early September event.

American Youth Sailing Force

American Youth Sailing Force

The American Youth Sailing Force gets in the groove.Sam Greenfield

In the shadow of the Luna Rossa base camp, on a corner of Pier 30, the sound of a construction crane drones above the bustle of 10 international youth teams working on their AC45 wings. "It's pretty unbelievable," says David Liebenberg, American Youth Sailing Force member and Bay Area native. "Who knows where the Cup will go, but if it stays in high performance boats, we will have been there at the beginning of it."

The dual open-air work bays on the Red Bull Youth America's Cup base are built to hold two of the 70-foot tall AC45 wings –on their side--at a time. A single wing rests in bay one, and in the open space, members of the American Youth Sailing Force--one of two American entries in the Red Bull Youth America's Cup--are keenly engaged as their coach, Bill Ward of St. Mary's College of Maryland, debriefs the group.

As they wrap up their discussion, a small crowd of RBYAC sailors gathers along the leading edge of the AC45 wing. All eyes are glued to a flat-screen television sitting above the wing flap, framing Prada and Artemis in race 4 of the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals.

“I think it was in race one, I heard one of the commentators saying that it was Artemis’s eighth day on the water, and Prada had over 100 days on the water,” says Liebenberg. “And there they are, in the same picture, sailing around the course. It’s huge.”

Respect aside, the mood around the wing is bittersweet as Luna Rossa secures their victory.

“The sooner they end the more practice time we get,” explains Tommy Pastalka, a bay area sailor with the AYSF.

“All the resources they use, they’ll go to us. The San Francisco Fire Department is doing a bunch of on the water safety. So we have to sail from 8:30-10:30 because they need to be at the Louis Vuitton course at 11:00am. But from 8:30-10:30 there’s not a lot of breeze. So hopefully we can stay out on the water, the fire department can be there and we can get more practice time for everybody.”

And with only three weeks to perfect their technique in these unruly, million-dollar monsters, every hour counts.

The race is done and the sailors begin to scatter.

“It’s a bummer, but there’s a silver lining to it,” says Pastalka.

The teams competing in the Red Bull Youth America's Cup represent a generation of sailors that grew up watching America's Cup races on computers. And thanks to the first ever RBYAC, these young teams are preparing for the event of their lives in the thick of the action.

“We’ve been at it so long pushing to get to this level,” says AYSF team manager Ian Andrewes. “And all of the hardship that has gone into getting here has been quite extreme, but I can only imagine what it must be like for a team like Artemis that has pushed so hard and overcome so many setbacks to compete. To finish in the semifinals is truly amazing. I’m asking myself what must be going through the heads of the sailors onboard.”

“They are unbelievably talented sailors, and it’s a shame they didn’t get more of a chance to practice in the boats,” adds Liebenberg.

Respect aside, the mood around the wing is bittersweet as Luna Rossa seals their victory. Artemis’s dismissal comes with a silver lining for all of the youth teams for the rest of the week: an extra hour of on-the-water practice in the AC45s each day that the ‘big boys’ aren’t racing.

“When the Cup races are on, the guys get two hours of racing, mooring to mooring, but on most off days, it’s three hours,” explains Vince Casalaina, AYSF marketing and communications manager.

And with only three weeks to perfect their technique in these unruly, million-dollar monsters, every hour counts.

Sam Greenfield will be living with the AYSF until the end of the RBYAC. Check out his video about "Force Bars":

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