America’s Cup in America

What just happened in Valencia wasn’t an America’s Cup as we used to know it, or want to see it again. It was a rescue mission, something of a raid. A successful raid. Leading to this happy moment at City Hall, San Francisco.

Reception at City Hall. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget/BOR

Having registered with the Pessimist Party as soon as people started taking positions on the likelihood of an America’s Cup match on San Francisco Bay, I have one question.

Mind if I flipflop on that?

There was a love fest Saturday at City Hall. Mayor Gavin Newsom handed BMW Oracle Racing team owner Larry Ellison the key to the city. Ellison gave the Mayor a team jacket which he promptly put on his back. And both made a lot of noise about finding a way to make this thing happen.

“We will do whatever it takes,” Newsom said, “because of the magnitude of the opportunity.”

“We don’t need taxpayer support,” Ellison said. “We need access to waterfront land. The 2007 match brought 680 million Euros to the economy in Valencia. That’s almost a billion U.S., and this should be even bigger.”

That was said in the context of a weekend in which the America’s Cup was presented to the membership of the winning Golden Gate Yacht Club on Friday night, then to the city on Saturday, and then taken on tour, beginning with San Diego, on Sunday.

And I’m pretty sure I heard Ellison, Russell Coutts, and Jimmy Spithill talking about bringing the big trimaran, USA 17, to San Francisco Bay. I could begin to warm up to the phrase that bugged me in Valencia, Bring it on.

Ellison learned to sail on San Francisco Bay in a Lido 14 (Like the one shown here). That’s enough to settle a man’s mind, but our deep-pockets software guy also sees what others see: the bay as a natural amphitheater; the backgrounds that are a cameraman’s dream. From his ultra-modern, occasionally-visited city house on an über-block of Pacific Heights real estate, Ellison can take in the entire vista. And there’s more, Ellison said: “It’s important that the wind on San Francisco Bay turns on at one o’clock every day in the summer.”

Yep, that San Francisco seabreeze counts because, when you’re selling TV time, you have to deliver. My crazy friends will sit up all night if a race is delayed, or they’ll set an alarm to shake them out in an hour, and then again in another hour. But my crazy friends are only a tiny segment of the market that sponsors are trying to reach.
And there’s more/more. In terms of timing, racing on San Francisco Bay serves the globe pretty well. Not perfectly, because that is impossible. But a 1 p.m. start time, PDT, corresponds to 9 p.m. in London, 10 p.m. in Rome, and midnight in Muscat, Oman (for my money the most likely challenger from the Arab world, based upon their efforts with a round-the-world catamaran). Looking elsewhere, our 1 p.m. start would find our Kiwi friends sniffing the coffee at 8 a.m., though it would be a bit more challenging for the Aussies: 6 a.m. in Sydney; 4 a.m. in Perth. But have we ever had finer allies? They’ll show. Hong Kong—and I get the idea that Ellison is keen to take pre-match competition to Hong Kong—would also go at 4 a.m.

What the heck. The Cup travels better than I do, as we see here, and the way I remember it, when the Cup was raced in Australia, little old ladies across America were sitting up to all hours watching tiny dots on their television screens, and they didn’t know tack from gybe. Ellison also talks about improving the technology of virtual reporting, to make the game more comprehensible—”You have to be able to tell who’s in front”—and I suspect that, being Mr. Oracle, he can bring the right resources to bear.

Ellison also promises “independent management,” and my colleagues and I will be keen to see just what that means. With the role of Defender comes a heavy responsibility. Even more so, considering what the sailing world has been through since July, 2007.

Back in the day, when they got along, Ellison and ex-Defender Ernesto Bertarelli mutually consented to what the Swiss named “Acts,” a series of events in Cup-class boats at key ports around the world. I don’t know who thought of it first, but thank you, Mr. Bertarelli. It worked, and as BOR CEO Russell Coutts noted, whether an event is in the UK or New Zealand, it makes the challenging team more visible and more viable. I guarantee you, there will be more such events, but they won’t be called Acts. And even though I see the difficulty of doing eliminations on the road—it would force teams to re-mode for different venues—I am surprised to hear Ellison proposing that we build a Cup village on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

He is suggesting exactly that, so I have to adjust my narrative.

I can do that.

(I just did.)


Newsom spoke of six potential locales for Cup City, each with issues.
In the East Bay, the city of Alameda has considerable resources in a former Navy base, now closed. But, Ellison said, “It’s a long tow from there to the sailing area. What would be ideal is to make it attractive to the teams and the fans both and keep it close, either in San Francisco itself or at Treasure Island. ”

Treasure Island being a spot of landfill between San Francisco and Oakland, created in the 1930s for the Golden Gate International Exposition. Eco-conscious San Francisco in this generation has the unenviable job of figuring what to do with a former Navy property that may or may not be uncontaminated, gets a lot of fog and wind, is accessible only by crossing half of the Bay Bridge (or going by boat) and might be under water before the end of the century. There’s a vision to turn it into the ultimate green community, but—

For now, it’s waterfront real estate on the California coast. Meaning, it’s great real estate.

Also, the formerly-important port of San Francisco has dead-zone piers in need of an infusion of vision and capital.


I say again, no taxpayer money is asked.

John Kostecki, the Bay Area native who called tactics (and the Race Two layline) said, “It would be terrible to let this slip away.”

Homeboy John Kostecki with Jimmy Spithill and Mayor Gavin Newsom. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget/BOR

Ellison imagines as many as sixteen teams looking to build bases on the shores of San Francisco Bay. There also remains the choice of a platform for racing, and there is no way around the fact that the multihulls of AC 33 were compelling. “The boats were exciting,” Jimmy Spithill said, “not just for the sailors. The man in the street will stop and watch those boats. But either way [with multihulls or monohulls] we can make the next match exciting.”

Ellison’s public statements have favored monohulls, and he says that he wants input from possible challengers, where the collective experience will surely lean toward monohulls.

Russell Coutts noted, “The best sailors adapt.” I figure this is as unsettled as it sounds.


Mike Drummond, design coordinator for BOR, tells me that the sheeting load went from 20 tons with the soft-sail main to 2 tons with the wing.
I believe that equals 10 percent?

This America’s Cup should have flood-down impact, not trickle-down, for wing-based sailors in the C-Class cats, for example, and I look forward to seeing someone greenlight an ocean-going multihull based upon the Harbor Wing project still in-development in Honolulu. But we have to wonder, would the BOR team install the wing to sail on San Francisco Bay? The Harbor Wing design is self-feathering, at least in theory, based upon vertical divisions. USA-17 has nine divisions in the aft section of its wing, but the forward section is unitary, all 223 feet of it, which means that the wing cannot be “turned off.” In Valencia a crew of C-Class catamaran guys “sailed” the boat all night at its mooring. With the America’s Cup rescued and new plans afoot, the humor would soak out of that exercise in a hurry. But we’d have to see it at least once, right? Rising higher than the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge and racing across the bay at speeds usually reserved for skiffs and kites.

USA 17. Photo by Guilain Grenier/BOR

Meanwhile, I figure nobody’s happier today than Troy Sears, whose schooner America replica is carrying the America’s Cup across the waters of San Diego Bay to the San Diego Yacht Club, a Cup trustee. Troy was my Protector driver in Valencia, and thanks to Troy I was one of a very few people privileged to see start, rounding, and finish with my own eyes. At the price of a few bumps.

There’s rain today in California, and if Ernesto Bertarelli wants to gloat about that, so be it. Having accepted his hospitality on more than one occasion, I wish I had a different story to tell, but the man has devolved into a strange case, going on and on with his claim that the American court system was rigged against him (actually, he gets it in by implication, and if you try to pin him down he pulls out the snake oil and says, “I didn’t say that, you said that.” As in declaring to the Tribune de Genève, “I will not engage in polemics about the fairness or otherwise of American judges.”

Oh, no. We’re above all that. But this is a nice spot to add a photograph of the America’s Cup being loaded onto a plane to begin its flight to the USA . . .

Leaving VLC. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget/BOR

And when I use the word “rescue,” let’s not forget what we were rescued from . . .

Photographic evidence by Kimball Livingston

Bertarelli was once regarded as a hero in the sailing world, and this is a great fall. The 33rd defense was inept at every step, from the won’t-fly protocol of July, 2007 to the bullheaded conviction that Alinghi couldn’t lose in court to refusing to compromise to showing up in Valencia with a boat that didn’t even measure in. Unless sinking the transom with water ballast fits your notion of normal measuring procedures.

Fortunately, from his owner-as-helmsman prestart penalties in both races to trailing by 15:28 in Race One and 5:26 in Race Two—after leading both races for a while—Alinghi failed so abjectly on the water that we don’t have to revisit measurement issues, or really care where the sails were made. And if the SNG representatives on the race committee boat are to be censured by ISAF for their behavior prior to Race Two, that will only prove to Bertarelli’s mind that the galaxy is ruled by an Anglo Saxon plot.

Eventually, even the Swiss reporters will stop showing up for press conferences like the one Bertarelli held this week in Geneva, where he tried to draw an equivalence between his invented-and-managed challenger of 2007, CNEV, and seeing a few members of the new Challenger of Record team, Circolo Nautico di Roma, wearing BMW Oracle Racing jackets. Quell horreur!

To Ellison’s announcement that America’s Cup 34 will have independent management, with independent race committee, umpires, and judges, Bertarelli says, “Je n’accepte pas tous ces mensonges; I do not accept these lies.” And then, “How can we trust these people to hold the next Cup?”


Once upon a time there was a very rich man who lived surrounded by people who told him things he wanted to hear.

He saw the world as he wanted to see it.

He imagined a world, then believed in the world as he imagined it.

Everything was fine for a while, then it all came crashing down.

I speak, of course, of Elvis.

Suns New Jerseys