I learned two things from the America’s Cup World Series on San Francisco Bay.
I have a horse in this race.
And I am not alone.
I saw, heard and felt the crowd every time an Oracle Team USA boat nosed out front in a match race. We have a horse in this race. It’s called, the home team.
And when Oracle Team USA 4 slipped in front of Team Korea, at the last instant, to finish second to Luna Rossa Piranha in Sunday’s finale and gain enough points to win the fleet racing overall for the week—and Jimmy Spithill and John Kostecki beat the odds and brought this one home for the home team and the crowd put it out there loud for the home team and finally it was real . . .
Oh, you know me. I always get teary at boat races.
And it’s been a long time coming, a long time coming, a long time coming.
Consider. The scale of the warmth and enthusiasm that San Francisco feels right now for Giants baseball was earned over time. America’s Cup sailing can only begin, and this beginning went beyond anything I dared predict.
The long, drawn out process of beginning exhausted the patience of some, and the public mind has been victimized by clueless headlines and quotes from fill-in-the-blank politicians, and there was hand-wringing in some quarters as to whether this August 22-26 opener on the waters of the 34th America’s Cup was a make or break exercise. It never was that, but I wouldn’t have wanted to live with the HAND-WRINGING! to follow if the response had been weak. The practical situation summed up along the lines of Matt Cain’s advice to Jimmy Spithill, when Spithill went to the ballpark to throw the first pitch of Saturday’s game: “Just get it across the plate, and you won’t get boo’d.”
Well, it was better by far than that.
Last week, Joe Eskenazi wrote in the SF Weekly, “The notion of San Franciscans going out of their way to root for the corporately branded plaything of yachting billionaire Larry Ellison seems farfetched—though, who knows? We put our heart and soul behind the 49ers and Giants, and those aren’t exactly small-time nonprofits existing solely for the benefit of the community.”
And that was not by any means the first time I had seen the “rich man’s sport” card played in the local press, but it was the first I had seen it coupled to the should-be-obvious qualifier in a time when sports teams sell for billions. What’s in play here is an attempt to transform high-end sailing into a pro sport like any other, where a rich guy owns the team and successful teams make money. (Oracle Team USA boss Larry Ellison has spent a pile getting things this far on behalf of the game and the City, but if he just wrote a blank check, it wouldn’t move the ball, at all.)
It took years for the city of Valencia, Spain to see its America’s Cup village thronged in this fashion . . .
The San Francisco city front felt almost there over the weekend, and this is just the pre-season . . .
The stakes on the racecourse aren’t that high yet, but you could feel the energy build when we turned down the fog machine and turned up the wind machine . . .
Aaron Peskin’d we were not. The situation hardly conforms to the allegation of our favorite politico-in-search-of-a-constituency, who once declared, “There’s no history of sailing regattas being a mass spectator sport in San Francisco, or the world.”
And by the way, the NBC broadcasts are making good numbers, too.
For the record it was an all-Oracle match race finale, with Russell Coutts getting the best of Jimmy Spithill, overlapped at the finish. Had it been an America’s Cup race, I’d tell you everything about it. The fleet race finale had its own drama, with Chris Draper on Luna Rossa Piranha taking the high-points finale and Spithill just nipping Team Korea at the end to pass Luna Rossa by one point on accumulated points. Olympic 49er gold medalist Nathan Outteridge and his Team Korea crew, in third place with a one-boat program much in need of oxygen, put up a heck of a show. If they don’t get their AC72 funding, it will be a pity. I’m just saying.
ADD RANDOM THOUGHTS
At Pier 23 on Saturday night, at the Official America’s Cup World Series Party (yep, that was the name, to set it apart from all the other parties), the Auld Mug, or, as her current handlers call her, The Lady, seemed rather lonely. All week long she had been making appearances at this affair or that, where one after another fan would step up to have a picture taken with sailing’s ultimate celebrity. But this was a harder crowd. Not every ACWS sailor attended, but a short list including Spithill, Ainslie and Barker should set the tone. They were at one end of the room, with the food stations and the bar, and it was rockin’. At the other end of the room, things were so quiet that The Lady’s handlers even sat down for a minute. As recorded by phone, LL . . .
Everything on offer was good, but honestly, I think I had prosciutto (real prosciutto) for the first time. The Luna Rossa boys endorsed it highly, by their actions . . .
And I should report that as the Marina Green crowd awaited the prize giving, the cash register lineups in the souvenir tent went the width and length of the tent. I would have needed a fisheye lens to record it.
My Giants flag is flying now, out across from the Presidio gate—Lincecum pitches today against Atlanta—but a guy like me should have an America’s Cup flag too, dontcha think? And let me leave you with a souvenir of my second ride on l’Hydroptere DCNS. They showed me 44 knots (but didn’t offer to let me drive this time) and before I went aboard we shadowed them in the Shadow RIB. This is my documentation of l’Hydroptere DCNS reaching across the Gate with the bridge in the background. It’s there. Honest.