SAN DIEGO -- The new-look America's Cup will begin this summer with 15 teams from a record 12 countries sailing fast catamarans in a true World Series.
Organizers announced Friday that 14 challengers from around the globe, plus defending champion Oracle Racing of San Francisco, have signed up for the 34th America's Cup. They also announced Portugal, England and San Diego as the first three stops on the new America's Cup World Series.
Other AC World Series regattas will follow during the buildup to the 2013 America's Cup on San Francisco Bay.
"It is time to go racing," Iain Murray, the regatta director and CEO of America's Cup Race Management, said from his home in Sydney, Australia.
Of the 14 challengers who've entered, 12 have been validated while the others are being checked against qualifying requirements. Some of the vetted teams have yet to publicly announce their challenges.
The latest to announce was Italy's Venezia Challenge. Other countries with teams that have announced are Sweden, New Zealand, France, China and Australia. It's believed that Korea and Canada will be represented.
"It's obviously an acceptance of the new vision of the America's Cup," said Murray, who lost to Dennis Conner in the 1987 America's Cup match in Fremantle, Australia. "People must be liking what they see, which is the World Series, the catamarans, the 45s, new rules. They can see all that stuff now. And there's more to come, with television production, and maybe just the event being in San Francisco. There's a package around the America's Cup of activity and people that's never been there before."
The first season of the AC World Series will run into July 2012 and be sailed in 45-foot wing-sailed catamarans. The second season will begin in San Francisco in August 2012 with a 72-foot version of the fast cat. The 72-footers will be used in the America's Cup itself, replacing the plodding sloops that were used from 1992 to 2007. A champion will be crowned at the end of each season.
The AC45s are being built in New Zealand.
"It's been quite a journey the last six months, really, to say the least," Murray said. "To be sitting here six months later with 15 entries and five boats sailing around in Auckland has exceeded all our expectations, really. We've got more teams than we've got boats. That's a good problem to have."
The ACWS will begin Aug. 6-14 in Cascais, Portugal, and then move to Plymouth, England, from Sept. 10-18.
The San Diego regatta will be held sometime between mid-October and early December.
All three ports will allow for viewing from the shore, one of the changes organizers have made in an attempt to make the sometimes-confusing sport more fan friendly. In the past, America's Cup races have been held miles offshore.
San Diego hosted the America's Cup three times between 1988-95.
"The race course on San Diego Bay will amaze fans from around the world when they see the power and speed of the new wing-powered AC45 multihull racing yachts," said Troy Sears of the Sailing Events Association San Diego.
Sears helped promote a regatta in the RC44 class last month on San Diego Bay, the first international regatta here since the 1995 America's Cup.
Oracle Racing tested its giant trimaran in San Diego for 16 months before beating Alinghi of Switzerland off Valencia, Spain, in February 2010 to win the oldest trophy in international sports.
The choice of Plymouth is interesting, considering that a British syndicate announced in October that it wouldn't challenge for the America's Cup because the format and timetable weren't viable.
Still, the southwest English coast has a rich nautical history. Plymouth was the one-time base of the English fleet, where Sir Francis Drake awaited the Spanish Armada as it sailed up the English Channel. The Pilgrims departed Plymouth for the New World aboard the Mayflower.
Plymouth has hosted the start and finish of several major sailing races. To the southwest is Lizard Point, the ending point for transatlantic record attempts from New York.
The race that gave birth to the America's Cup was held to the east in 1851, when the schooner America beat a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight to claim the silver trophy. The Brits tried for more than a century to win it back, failing each time.
Also east of Plymouth is Weymouth, the sailing venue for the 2012 London Olympics.