From a helicopter hovering at 1,200 feet, the city of Venice looks like a dusty labyrinth. Red tile rooftops crowd together in heaps. The canals that slice the city into micro-islands glow a milky green. Contrasting sharply with this ancient landscape is a futuristic fleet of nine enormous wing-sailed catamarans flitting across the waterfront just off St. Mark’s Square. Their sharp, carbon-fiber minimalism crackles against Venice’s faded elegance, like an iPhone clutched by the Queen of England.
The racing cats skate and jockey for position just upwind of the mega-yacht Musashi, a mother ship of sorts. Owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the Musashi isn’t quite as big as the World War II-era Japanese naval vessel of the same name, but at 288 feet she’s as long as a city block. And, at five stories high, Musashi is actually taller than the seaside hotel she’s docked in front of. Ellison’s toy is half battleship, half wedding cake: layer upon layer of aluminum and glass baked in a gleaming white hull. From above we can see the retractable roof of a below-deck helipad, which doubles as a basketball court. Somewhere on board is the ultimate prize in sailboat racing: the 4-foot-tall, 33-pound, sterling-silver America’s Cup trophy.
The America’s Cup World Series is the circus Ellison has brought to town, and he himself is the ringmaster. It is a warm-up to the America’s Cup match, the one-on-one winner-take-all main event. Ellison won the Cup in 2010, and as long as he holds the trophy, he controls the event and its future. The World Series is Ellison’s particular stamp, designed to build excitement and anticipation for the finale. Here in Venice, the racecourse winds along the city’s waterfront before crossing a checkered flag near the mouth of the Grand Canal. The Musashi has a front-row seat.