America's Cup takes TV viewers on exciting ride

America's Cup hopes live cameras and microphones on racing boats will ramp up sport's excitement and draw new fans.
America's Cup hopes live cameras and microphones on racing boats will ramp up sport's excitement and draw new fans.
CBS News

(CBS News) SAN FRANCISCO -- Visitors to San Francisco Bay witnessed an incredible sight Tuesday: A state-of-the-art sailboat -- the Oracle Team USA catamaran -- flipped onto its side.

The boat capsized during a training run, and while no one was hurt, the catamaran was badly damaged.

The million-dollar sailboats racing on San Francisco Bay often narrowly miss each other. That speed and danger are bringing new excitement to an old sport.

Travis Rice knows plenty about speed. He's a professional snowboarder and an X Games champion who pushed to get on board one of the new style racing boats used to train crews for next year's America's Cup competition.

"I think that this new approach is really going to give, you know, a lot of the younger generation a bit of whiplash when they really are able to connect and see what's going on here," Rice says.

To reach new fans, the America's Cup organization is hoping to capture TV viewers by putting live cameras and microphones right on the boats. Viewers get an up-close look at the action -- even the occasional man overboard.

On screen, the same kind of electronic tricks used in other televised sports help explain just what is going on, although non-sailors may still be baffled.

These catamarans maneuver on a tight course, traveling at up to 35 miles per hour -- fast enough to impress a champion snowboarder.

"I see the faces of those guys when I was out just riding along and everyone's just sweating bullets, panting, doing everything they can -- I mean, they're athletes," Rice says.

Right now, they're in training for the main event: The America's Cup competition next summer on San Francisco Bay. The boats then will be almost twice as big and nearly a third faster.

The boats are so expensive to build that America's Cup officials are hoping TV can help guarantee the future of the 161-year-old race.

  • John Blackstone
    John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.