The mechanic, the millionaire and the walker.....
Once upon a time there was a world of sailing where England was KING of it all. It was a jolly good time for proper yachts and innovation was frowned upon. And then there was the yacht AMERICA.
Radical in its day it broke all the rule of conventional sailing and proper yachting. The upstart Americans to title to the America's Cup and held tight to it for many years. In fact from tightly held onto fro 1851 until 1983 by the New York Yacht Club when it was won by the Royal Perth Yacht Club's Australia II. This was at the time the longest winning streak in the history of sport.
Since then the yachts have changed sometimes to the extreme. From tri-marans to catamarans. Fro winged keels to 72 ft flying machines, the history of the cub has always had drama, intrigue and its share of controversy.
This years America's Cup certainly has had its share. The defender of the cup was Oracle (aka Larry Ellison) who selected an extreme design that can sail in excess of 50 miles an hour. He won the cup and he was to decide who would host the event. The club that he belonged to and the most prestigious in SF is the Saint Francis. The St Francis is also very blue blood, and some would say the premier sailing club in the west coast hosting many national Championships from kite boards to old wooden standards. They in sailing are it!
But you see Larry likes to do things his way. He told the Saint Francis they could host the America's Cup if they followed his rules. If he could control every and all aspects of the clubs involvement, even down to selecting who would sit on a board that would govern the event. Well, St. Francis said thanks but no thanks. Larry looked down the breakwater a couple of hundred yard from the Saint Francis and saw the Golden Gate Yacht Club. They were deep in a financial hole. They had a building that was leaking and no funds to fix it. Larry approached the then commodore (a car mechanic) and suggested they may want to host the cup. And as the story goes a great partnership developed. the club was brought back from the brink of disaster and Larry was in control.
So when I walk by these two yacht club I think of the rest of the story as the Oracle Banners flies proudly from the Golden Gate and wonder what the St. Francis thinks now about saying no to Larry. I have to admit... it may have felt good at the moment.
The Cup being in SF has cost a ton of money to the city. There were promises of great revenues in return, but some things went a little off track in that regard. The design cost over 100 million to produce. While there were many countries represented in the pre races of a smaller design of the same type boat (45 ft versus 72) Only 23 boats competed to be the challenger in the end. One boat could only participate for part of those races. They had lost a sailor during practice when the boat capsized. Rule changes followed to provide some additional safety on a boat that is designed to fly on the edge of disaster. In the end, New Zealand (funded by the country and not an individual) won the right to challenge Team Oracle.
Shortly before the racing started an announcement was made of a decision about an incident on the 45 ft boats. Apparently some illegal weights were found on one of Oracle boats. This gave an unfair advantage to the team. They fined them and penalized them 2 points. So at the beginning of the finals New Zealand was left with winning 9 races to Oracles 11.
The beginning did not bode well for the Americans. New Zealand came out of the box looking well practiced (after all they had just finished their challenger series) and FAST.
But as the days have progressed, Oracle has improved. This race day was Saturday, scheduled to be 2 races. The lack luster enthusiasm I had noted before while walking to the America's Park was missing and in its place the shores of the bay were lined with excited people waiting to watch this excitingly engaging spectator event. In the past races were held off shore and only a few people ever saw them live. If there is one thing you can say about the 34th America's cup it has been wonderful to watch in the most amazing venue that has ever hosted it.
There are tickets you can buy to watch the race from grandstands... but there are also free grandstands next to the St. Francis and miles of shore that provide an equally spectacular view. Then there is also the village and the park with their BIG screen TVs.
Nearing Pier 39 I looked over to see a herd of people forming what appeared to be a human statue.
Stephanie and Chuck were at Club 72 so I got Stephanie's attention before heading back to the ferry.
On the way I listened to the commentators
And watched some of the New Zealanders with still high spirits.
I was pretty squarely in New Zealand's corner.... having a long time distrust of rich and egocentric people.... but I have to say, Larry's vision for this venue was genius. Sailing has long been seen as an elite sport. This Cup has opened that door and despite the boats costing 100 million I think done more to build interest in this sport than any Cup previous to this one.
So right now.... I want it back. I want SF to hold tight to the Cup and repeat. Will they... it may take a miracle. Our mercenaries and our boat need to make fewer mistakes and sail faster. Could it happen.... stranger things have... like a mechanic and a millionaire making a very strange partnership.