Tom and I wanted to see the sixth and final day of the first round of the America’s Cup World Series in San Francisco, so we set out very early on Sunday morning. We were expecting fog in the city but it was a beautiful, sunny day.
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After our breakfast at Judy’s Cafe on Chestnut, we made our way to Crissy Field where we found a convenient parking place on Old Mason Street. From there we walked to the St Francis Yacht Club. The area surrounding the yacht club had been transformed due to the America’s Cup event. The car park we normally park in had been surrounded by crash barriers and was now reserved parking for VIPs. Huge trailers were parked behind the yatcht club and the pathway to the Wave Organ had been re-routed. We walked past the marina where there were several very large, expensive yachts moored. On the edge of the bay, temporary bleechers had been erected but access to them was only by ticket.
We made our way to the end of the peninsula behind the yacht club. We knew this would be a prime place to get a good view of the racing and that a lot of folks would be coming. At 8.30 there were quite a few people already staking out their chosen spot for a grandstand view of the racing. As we walked toward the end, we met up with a couple from Novato named Sabrina and Dave. Together we walked and chatted until we had nearly reached the point. We then discovered that Dave was a working photographer. They have a company called Davrina International where they produce high quality photography and video, including HD and 3D. He set up his equipment which consisted of three cameras on top of a tripod, which are operated simultaneously for panoramic shots.
Tom and I had brought picnic chairs and we set them up with a view out over the bay. The sun was shining brightly but it was a bit breezy – it was breezy enough to tip the chairs over if we weren’t sitting in them or placed something heavy on them. We were glad we brought our sweatshirts. Just a few steps away was the Wave Organ. This is one of the less known attractions of San Francisco. Even Sabrina, who had always lived in the bay area, had never heard of it so I took her over to see it. It has been built out of salvaged stone from an old cemetery and consists of pipes which have been placed at different levels in the water with an open funnel at the top. There are lots of stone benches to sit on where you can place your ear against a funnel and hear gurgling noises from the pipes. It is at a slightly lower level than the rest of the peninsula and completely protected from the wind so it was the perfect place to sit and what made it even more thrilling was the fact that nine of the catamarans taking part in the racing were moored nearby at the entrance to the marina. They are actually called winged-sailed catamarans because the sails are rigid and looked like vertical airplane wings. This was my first view of the new AC45 racing catamarans.
There were just two races that day. The first was the Match Race Final which would be between the two Oracle boats. The second race would be the Fleet Racing Championship in which all eleven boats would take part. They looked so elegant as they bobbed and rocked on the water, tugging at their moorings almost as if they were eager to get out there and race. Roundabout there was a lot of action. Across on the mainland I could see the team work bases in the ‘Cup Village’ with the flag of each country flying over their booth. Fans were milling around over there and sitting on the edge of the wall to get their ringside seat of the action. I could hear music playing and every so often announcements were being made. Small, official craft were entering and leaving the marina, including VIP taxi boats. One of Larry Ellison’s luxury sailing yachts, Zenji, glided by and another one was moored out on the bay. Helicopters buzzed around overhead.
I went back to join Tom on the windy side and there were many more photographers gathering around us. It was a prime location to see all the action as the finish line is right at the end of the peninsula. Tom went back towards the yacht club to use the restroom but was met by a barricade. He was told that if he went past the crash barrier he would not be let back in. He was also told that everybody already on the peninsula would be cleared before the racing started and only media would be allowed through. No reason was given to him Tom about this decision. So he came back. We talked about going back and trying to find somewhere to sit before we were asked to leave but then decided to wait and see what happened. Other people came back with slightly different stories. Someone was told the reason why they were not letting anybody through was because a parachutist would be landing on the peninsula after the races. We spoke to some people who did manage to get through the barrier who were not media and they said they just walked though even though someone tried to stop them. They were San Franciscans and said that the area is a public open space and they had every right to be there.
The wind slowly started to pick up and I became really cold. I kept trying to stay out of the wind by standing behind Tom but still I shivered. Every so often I would go and sit down in the Wave Organ where it was much warmer. I was sitting there when the crews were taken out to the boats and I watched them getting their boats ready for the racing day ahead. Later I saw them, one by one, untether their catamarans and move out to the bay and boy, didn’t they move fast. Now and again, further into the marina, a guy with a water-powered jet pack called a Jetlev was performing for the crowd. At first I had no idea what was causing him to be so high in the air but someone explained what it was and that they cost $100,000. That’s got to be a rich man’s plaything.
The issue was finally resolved about whether or not they were going to move us, the non media fans, back behind the crash barrier and we were told that we could stay. Another crash barrier was placed near the wave organ and we all had to stay behind it. We were the lucky ones because a huge crowd had massed behind the crash barriers back at the yacht club. Apparently they wanted to keep the middle section of the peninsula clear because six parachutists were going to land after the racing had ended.
We watched the catamarans skimming, weaving and tacking out in the bay and were waiting for the first race to begin. At first we were not quite sure what was going to happen but there were plenty of people roundabout to explain things to us. The first race was at 11.45 when the two Oracle boats would be taking part in the Match Race Final. Someone explained the course to us and told us to keep an eye on one of the official boats out by the Golden Gate Bridge as it was at the starting line. Two minutes before the race, I could see a green and an orange light on the boat. One minute before the race there was just a green light and I saw the two Oracle boats moving towards the start line. The green light went out and I saw a puff of smoke and a second or two afterwards heard the sound of a gun and they were off. It was amazing to watch the pair of them maneuver around the markers and at one point they passed really close to where we were watching. Suddenly I didn’t feel so cold any more! The race took about 20 minutes and then they were heading to the finish line. They were not more than twenty feet away from us as Oracle Team Coutts narrowly beat their rival team mates.
There was a short lull before the start of the second and last race of the day – the Fleet Racing Championship – in which all eleven boats took part. Watching them all make their way to the start line, trying hard not to get there before the gun went off, and then the jockeying for position as they made the first turn, was exciting. At times though it was confusing and they all seemed to go off in different directions and it was difficult to tell who was in the lead. We could hear some of the commentary from the mainland but not enough of it to really understand what was going on. I could tell though when the race was coming to an end because suddenly all the boats seemed to be heading towards us at an alarming speed. Tom had moved down to the spit of sand on the other side of the wave organ and I was standing on one of the high points of the wave organ. The Italian boat – Luna Rossa Piranha – was the first over the finish line with Oracle Team USA Spithill a couple of second behind them. Team Korea was third and the second Oracle boat was 5th. The British boat – JP Morgan Bar came in 6h. The overall winner of the series was the Oracle Team USA Spithill. Sadly the British boat came in 10th.
Everybody of course went wild and the celebrations began. We packed our stuff together and went to stand behind the crash barrier to wait for the parachutists to land. One of the event officials on the other side of the crash barrier was a Brit and he was chatting to us. He turned out to be another Hampshire Hog. Let me explain, anybody born in Hampshire is called a Hampshire Hog and he happened to be born and raised just a few miles from where I was born and raised, albeit forty or so years before him. Just after that someone spotted a little plane overhead and we saw first two parachutists jump, then another two and finally the last two. They twisted and turned with smoke trailing from their feet and came in to land one by one by skimming over our heads. They all landed very close to us – one of them was a girl – and we were able to chat to some of them as they bundled up their parachutes.
After all that excitement, it was time to go home. We slowly made our way back to Crissy Field and to our car, amidst all the happy chattering crowd. It had been another perfect day.