The Cup Stops Here

“Every year the City of San Francisco hosts Fleet Week, and we manage more than a million spectators on the waterfront. We have a history of managing the logistics, and with the America’s Cup the opportunity for a world-class spectator event is unparalleled.” Michael Cohen, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, City of San Francisco

Walking around San Francisco—the right place for America’s Cup 34—I am continually surprised to find myself talking to people who just won’t believe that Larry Ellison really wants to race here.

(He really wants to race here.)

And I find myself talking to people who are still confounded by that “free from headlands” provision in the Deed of Gift. Folks, mutual consent is all it takes to sail a Cup match anywhere, anyhow, and mutual consent has been a lot easier to come by since February 14, 2010 (the conclusion of Race Two, AC 33, Valencia). At last report, Ellison and his dance partner, a Challenger of Record in the form of Vincenzo Onorato, are still getting along. Since when was it difficult to host visitors from Club Nautico di Roma and show them a good time in the City by the Bay?

We could take this . . .

One of many moods of the Golden Gate. Photo © Kimball Livingston

And add this . . .

Yes, it could be multihulls. Photo by Guilain Grenier

In 1987, when Tom Blackaller’s USA campaign made a good run at the Cup in Australia, the U. S. Coast Guard ran a feasibility study for a Cup in San Francisco. I talked to the investigating officer, and he said: “I studied the issues and reported that, yes, it can be done. And I respectfully request a transfer.”

Which is a laugh line—only. The ideal racing waters are the Alcatraz Channel, right where upwards of a million people a year view the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Week demonstrations. They watch from the shoreline, from the hills, from rooftops, from high-rise apartments, from the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is also the inbound, Alcatraz Channel for commercial shipping which has to be diverted, part-time, to the North Channel. These waters also are home to much of the bay’s recreational sailing, racing and non. An America’s Cup match would be a complicating circumstance, but nothing more dire than that. Every ship entering or leaving San Francisco Bay has a Bar Pilot aboard for safety and local knowledge, 9,000 transits a year, and on behalf of the Bar Pilots Bruce Horton tells me, “We would welcome an America’s Cup with open arms. There is some concern about what it would mean for commercial shipping, but we can deal with it.”

Looking into the arena from the headlands, via Wikipedia (not my colorization)

Yes, we can deal with it. An America’s Cup match in the natural amphitheater of San Francisco Bay is an unmatched opportunity for the sport of sailboat racing and for the city of San Francisco. It is high time to return the Cup to the longstanding (former) tradition that the winner wins the venue.

The Golden Gate Yacht Club holds the America’s Cup.

The Golden Gate Yacht Club should defend on its home waters.

Other cities want it, but—only in San Francisco will people will be watching from the hills, from rooftops, from high-rise apartments, from the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s never before been such an opportunity to show off the best of sailboat racing to those who can’t get there by boat.

Ellison is the lead player here. Oracle software has made him one of the richest men in the world, and his message is: “We don’t need taxpayer support. We need access to waterfront land. The 2007 match brought 680 million Euros to the economy in Valencia, Spain. That’s almost a billion U.S., and this should be bigger.”

And, Valencia paid through the nose to get America’s Cup 32. In broadest terms, AC 34 is being offered to San Francisco as a gift.

Which amounts to a huge opportunity for a deficit-ridden city and a cash-strapped port with deteriorating piers long-abandoned by commercial shipping. These are hard times for the Port of San Francisco, and too much of it is fenced off, just as we see here.

Of course, if taking the rich guy’s money just doesn’t work out, San Francisco can always advertise on Craig’s List for somebody offering a better deal.


Navigating San Francisco politics can be an Alice in Wonderland adventure, so it would be counterproductive for the dealmakers to blab it up comparing this possibility to that possibility while everything’s up in the air. Which is why I had no high expectations—anticipating no revelations—as I set out to work my way through the city government and other relevant actors. But I had to check the pulse.

For one thing, I contacted all eleven members of the present Board of Supervisors. I said to Bevan Dufty, Supervisor for center-of-town District 8, “It seems like a great opportunity for the city, but maybe I’m being too simpleminded?” And he said, “No, I don’t think you are.”

The man at the center of the game is the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Michael Cohen. He responded from a cell phone in a car en route home from meetings in Sacramento and warned me up front that I wasn’t going to get much out of him. “We’re working with the BMW Oracle Racing team to help them evaluate potential alternatives,” he said. To go deeper would be “premature.” In the big picture, however, “Every year the City of San Francisco hosts Fleet Week, and we manage more than a million spectators on the waterfront. We have a history of managing the logistics, and with the America’s Cup everyone seems to agree that the opportunity for a world-class spectator event is unparalleled.”

Actually, that gets it, Mr. Cohen. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

We have a lame duck mayor who wants to be Lieutenant Governor (wanted to run for Governor but got no traction) and in the meantime Mayor Gavin Newsom can recognize a win-win for the city that shouldn’t be frittered away. When the Cup arrived at City Hall (right) he declared, “We will do whatever it takes, because of the magnitude of the opportunity.”

But this probably won’t be settled by November so we’ll be looking at a new cast of characters.


The Supervisor for District 2, which includes the San Francisco Marina and the Golden Gate Yacht Club—GGYC has been celebrated in local reporting as a working man’s hangout rather than something hopelessly upscale—is Michaela Alioto-Pier. She says, “A lot of this is up to the Mayor, who can do things by executive order, and you will need the support of the waterfront supervisors, Districts 2, 3 and 6. It may depend upon who we elect in November. We had a bike race in San Francisco at one time, but some of the supervisors didn’t like the impact on neighborhoods. I would say we can live with a little inconvenience for the sake of the prestige it would bring, the millions of television viewers—we’re a destination city, but we could never equal that with advertising dollars—and also for the revenue it would bring. This would help small business too. Frankly, it’s better than the Olympics.”

Board President David Chiu, District 2, has “not been as involved as people in the Mayor’s office” but appreciated hearing my report that Ellison is not asking for the millions in funding that the previous Defender extracted from the city of Valencia. “I fully support figuring out what we need to do to make this work,” he said. “It will require some creative thinking, but as to the political interest and will, it’s there.”

Sean Elsbernd of District 7 says, “I’m a big believer in creating jobs, and in events that make people proud to be San Franciscans. It’s not going to be easy, but this is one more opportunity to put San Francisco on the world stage. I want to do everything possible to make it happen.”

From District 11’s John Avalos: “I can’t imagine why we would not embrace an America’s Cup. The one caveat is that I don’t know the direct costs.”

After contacting each one twice:
District 1, Eric Mar: No response
District 4, Carmen Chu: No response
District 5, Ross Mirkarimi: Staff requested additional info; no other response
District 6, Chris Daly: No response
District 9, David Campos: Responded that he needs more information before he can have an opinion
District 10, Sophie Maxwell, No response


It cost some $60 million to renovate San Francisco’s Pier 31, and I don’t need an appraiser to tell me we’re looking at similar numbers to take on the 13 acres of Piers 30 and 32, for example, as home to an America’s Cup village. If we have 12 teams racing, that’s enough acreage. And if not?

Looking north toward Pier 30. Note the fencing shutting off the waterside. Photo KL

Pier 30 was recently in use as a parking lot—it’s just an open concrete pad—but then there was that truck whose tires sank in . . .

The Oracle racing team investigated Piers 30 and 32 before the races in Valencia in 2007, and they have the advantage of being close to the heart of the city. Along with the mayor’s office, Oracle is also looking at Pier 48, just south of the baseball park, and Pier 80, much farther from the city center and less desirable because of the length of the tow to the racing area. (Unless we race in the South Bay, which would be handy, but it loses the camera-pleasing backgrounds and the natural amphitheater, so I think that’s a nonstarter.) There also is Treasure Island, the former naval base now in the hands of the city and in need of inspired attention. And—the city of Alameda has its own former navy base with scads of elbow room. Alameda Vice Mayor Doug deHaan showed up for a talk that I gave when I was fresh back from AC 33, and I got the distinct impression they’re open for business.

Last week I dropped into The Plant Café on Pier 3, where 150 people turned out on a Facebook call for an “AC34 in SFCA Mixer” sponsored by Pacific Waterfront Partners, which has an interest in seeing the city’s piers refurbished (and thanks, Paige Brooks, for the org). There were faces I’ve been seeing across the water for years, and BMW Oracle Racing team members who live locally, and a few politicos, and let’s add a heap of optimism. It’s time for the sailors of San Francisco Bay to believe Larry Ellison when he says, “San Francisco is my first choice.”


My friends at have posted a preliminary draft of a possible America’s Cup village at Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island.

Personally, I think it would be a bit loud for that neighborhood.

The drawings made the rounds at a meeting of the America’s Cup Rhode Island 2013 Planning Committee, though Fort Adams is only one of several Newport-centric locations under scrutiny as the committee prepares a proposal for Larry Ellison’s consideration. A quote: “The only real direction that seems to be consistently mentioned is that Mr. Ellison favors a village style atmosphere and a venue that would encourage youth participation. If that is the case, Rhode Island is in a very strong position. ”

San Diego? Let’s hear from you.


This post is already so long that we might as well go longer and look at a little sailing lesson attendant upon the Northern California High School Championships sailed on the cityfront last weekend. Menlo Atherton won, while Redwood High in Marin County placed teams in both second and third positions. And it was one of those Redwood teams—Tally Buckstaff and Lea Russell—that delivered the lesson in how to handle currents that has me writing what I’m writing.

From an A-minus start, Tally and Lea got away in clear air and led up the beat. That’s their nose on the red buoy, leading around the mark . . .

Photo by KL

And they stayed in control, sail #4, on the reach to the wing mark . . .

Photo by KL

They were gone by the time the pack passed my spot . . .

Photo by KL

And led to the wing mark. If you look closely you can see the leeward mark in the distance . . .

Photo by KL

And then Tally and Lea sailed on as if there had been no wing mark . . .

Photo by KL


There was a ripping ebb-tide current pushing against them on the downwind leg. The wing mark was laid close to the beach, which offered relief from the current, and Tally and Lea elected to stay with the relief. Most of the fleet behind them eyeballed the leeward mark, took the sucker punch, and aimed directly for the leeward mark. And got themselves into more current. And slowed down. The leaders sailed more distance over the ground, less distance through the water. What’s below is a pretty boring picture, unless you’re Tally and Lea in the lead boat on the left, sailing upwind to a finish-line delta of 32 seconds.

(No, I don’t know whether or not that brown streak had more flow.)

Moral of the story:
One sixth of all that water goes out and in twice a day, and it matters.

Suns New Jerseys