The Best Seat in the House

At the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda, the best seat in the house to watch cats fly was in the charter fleet.

Emirates Team New Zealand
In breeze too light for racing, Emirates Team New Zealand sailed close by, then darted into the spectator fleet just next to us.Mark Pillsbury

When word arrived one day in late May that there was an open cabin on a Moorings 48 crewed charter catamaran in Bermuda the first weekend in June, I jumped on it faster than Oracle Team USA’s Jimmy Spithill rolls his fully foiling AC50 into a jibe.

Wow, what a weekend. Say what you will about the America’s Cup, Larry Ellison, cats versus monohulls, wing sails, grinders, pedal power and the proliferation of Kiwi and Aussie accents; when a pair of high-flying cats comes barreling straight at you at warp speed, well, that’s about as cool as it gets.

Aboard Painkiller on Saturday morning, we were directed by race marshals to our spot on the course-boundary line, and to the delight of all, we were also about as close to the windward mark as you could get without actually having a racing helmet and life jacket on. We were truly front and center — surrounded by every manner of spectator boat you could imagine, from megayacht to classic ketch — and the party was full on, turning the sidelines into a sideshow.

By 2 p.m., the crowd was ready, and the ensuing action did not disappoint. The first bout of the day featured a blockbuster matchup that was anticipated to be (correctly, it would turn out) a preview of the quest for the Cup itself: Oracle Team USA versus Emirates Team New Zealand. Oracle won the start. We saw it all unfold on the far side of the course. Or, perhaps I should say, some of us saw it. A group of fashion editors was also aboard for the day, and I think they were more taken in by the pitchers of rum swizzles being served on the foredeck than they were by the finer points of match-racing. But hey, there was plenty of fun to be had, no matter where you looked for it.

While they sipped, several of us stood at the helm station, where we could hear live commentary over the VHF radio. Oracle was first over the line and led as the cats tore toward the reaching mark in the middle of the course. Bearing off, they flew downwind and quickly disappeared from view. A lead change was announced on the radio, and we strained to see who was ahead each time the two soaring speedsters met on their way back toward us. Then, right before our eyes, Spithill and the boys sneaked past the Kiwis as they rounded the windward mark, and never looked back. Horns blared up and down the sidelines, and a fan on another Moorings boat next door popped the cork on a bottle of bubbly, spraying everyone in reach.

On Sunday, new guests joined us and we did it all over again: motored out to our assigned spot at about noon, enjoyed a fantastic lunch and then settled in to see the show. Unfortunately, the wind took a holiday, and racing was eventually abandoned. But we didn’t care. We watched the racers slowly tack about; the swimming was refreshing, and the company was outstanding. Late in the day, when we were all in the water cooling off, the four teams paraded by and even veered off among the anchored spectators for an added thrill.

Sunday night we anchored in Hamilton, and as evening fell and those still aboard started to settle down for dinner, a spectacular fireworks show rumbled to life just off the stern. At the time, we didn’t know it heralded the start of a Tall Ships festival, but lo and behold, the next morning we awoke to the lovely vessels all around us as they staged for their parade.

I've found adventure awaits ­anytime I get to step aboard a charter boat. Painkiller and the Cup didn't disappoint.