Yachting: Speed filled blast in the Bay

By Alex Robertson

Even non-yachting fans are blown away by the race venue of San Francisco Bay, says Alex Robertson.

Oracle Team USA puts on a show as spectators enjoy the event. Photo / Alex Robertson
Oracle Team USA puts on a show as spectators enjoy the event. Photo / Alex Robertson

Honking. Exciting. Fresh. Fruity. These are just some of the words used by sailors to describe the wind at the first America's Cup World Series held in San Francisco in August this year.

The 20-plus knot winds cooked up every day prompted one skipper to remark: "We got hit with some salad out there today!"

As a seasoned sailor who has seen a fair bit of wind around the Hauraki Gulf, I must admit that this is new jargon to me. Unless of course bits of apple and lettuce were flying around the San Francisco Bay sounding like geese.

But, then again, these guys were scorching around in AC45s - the 13.5m catamarans that rocket past in excess of 30 knots as the crew seem to be clinging on for dear life - and I've yet to experience that.

Despite the strong winds the fog still seemed to hang around, however.

The locals will tell you to come back in September and October when the "Indian Summer" comes. Maybe that's why the real event, the race for the Auld Mug, takes place next September when Jimmy Spithill will steer the 22m Team Oracle USA catamaran around the bay against the best of the challengers - hopefully Dean Barker and his Emirates Team New Zealand Crew.

It was the Australian-born Spithill, under the tutelage of New Zealander Russell Coutts, who brought the America's Cup back to the States, winning two-zip in the best-of-three "Deed of Gift" series against Swiss team Alinghi at Valencia in 2010. The racing was in giant multi-hulls, with Alinghi helmed by Syndicate owner Ernesto Bertarelli, under guidance from another New Zealander, Brad Butterworth.

The America's Cup is not just multi-hulled, but multinational, too.

The issue of nationality came up during a pre-race public meet and greet when somebody asked Spithill if he was Australian or American.

"My wife's American. My kids are American. There's a strong history between Australia and America," he told the crowd at the America's Cup Village on Marina Green.

"We had the final event of the last AC World Series in Newport, and I reckon one of the key things to winning there was the support we got in Newport ... Now that we're back in our hometown in the Bay ... I really want to see everyone coming down here and getting into it."

Well, he ducked that tomato then lost the crowd in a mist of silver-tongued good feeling.

Not that the locals had anything to complain about. The venue for the World Series, and the America's Cup proper next year, has to rank as one of the best in the event's history.

The racecourse is just a few metres from the shoreline where spectators can watch from stands, grassed areas and beaches as the boats race in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and roar past Alcatraz.

The final day's racing in August - Super Sunday - showcased San Francisco Bay as it should look next September, the sun shining on the crews jostling for position around the course, prompting Mayor Ed Lee to exclaim: "The crews had to work really hard - to stop looking at the Golden Gate Bridge!"

And with the strong winds comes plenty of excitement as the skippers put their fine-tuned racing machines right on the edge, sometimes with dramatic results: there were a number of pitch-poles and capsizes during the early rounds of racing, although none on that last day.

The catamarans next year will be 72-feet long with wing sails 130-feet high and capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots - maybe even 50 knots.

Add in some hydrofoils and the potential for fruity, honking salad-tossing is huge. Back on dry land, the entertainment on Marina Green between races included hoisting sail races, looking over an AC45 and sampling wines from the Napa Valley and local micro-brews.

And then there's the merchandise tent full of shirts, caps, jackets, shorts and every other type of gear to make you look the part.

With the racing action being so close to the shore it's not long before the sailors are reeling among the crowd, most of whom get a close-up view of the high-tech speedsters moored a few metres away.

The plans for next year's America's Cup Village have just been released with under-used space at piers 27-29 being developed to house the cup village on the site of a planned cruise ship terminal. The syndicates' bases will be next door on piers 30-32 where the giant yachts will sit, when not racing.

With events at Marina Green and Union Square in Downtown, the aim is not just to use the spectacular city and surrounds as a backdrop to the event, but to incorporate it too.

Local resident Davi Rasaia, originally from Sri Lanka, had been to watch the racing on all four days. "The view is amazing," she said, "sitting on the rocks with the access to the waterfront and the bridge in the background is great."

She said she wasn't really a yachting fan.

"I did watch Connor's on TV years ago - but this is just amazing."

There was real excitement through the crowd, and the cheers as Jimmy Spithill fought back to squeeze out the Korean boat in the fleet race to win overall could be heard over the race commentary and the wind. The cheering continued as the boats made their way back toward shore.

Who the crowd will be cheering for next September remains to be seen.

What is known, though, is that the arena is spectacular and will be well attended.

Hopefully, the weather plays ball and the sun will shine: the wind is almost guaranteed.

All that's left to wish for is that, this time, Dean Barker will be honking along, taking some salad in the fruity breeze and - unlike in 2003 - he won't be sailing a lemon.

Alex Robertson flew with Air New Zealand and was a guest of Visit California.

CHECKLIST

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand flies non-stop to San Francisco six times a week from Auckland with connections available from all of the Air New Zealand domestic ports, airnewzealand.co.nz, call 0800 737 000 or visit your nearest Air New Zealand Holidays Store.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Find out more about San Francisco from Visit California and the America's Cup from americascup.com.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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