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Monday, August 27, 2012

America's Cup: A Day at the Races

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 5:55 AM

click to enlarge Goooooooo yachting!  - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Goooooooo yachting! 

Sunday was about as glorious an afternoon as San Francisco ever hosted. The sun shone brightly and the weather was Northern California perfect. Beautiful people and their dogs were everywhere. That there was an America's Cup World Series race taking place was almost an auxiliary pleasure. 

But, indeed, large numbers of big, expensive boats were ripping around the bay, serving as worthy photographic backdrops for those beautiful people and their dogs. 

The qualities that led Cup organizers and their city cheerleaders to salivate over the possibilities of a San Francisco event were on full display. A small armada of huge ships sailed past the assembled throng at a distance of perhaps 35 yards; you could clearly see the sailors intensely scurrying about the ships. It was entertaining, exciting -- and free. If anyone doubted that the world's best sailors piloting fast and unstable boats in close proximity to the shore would be fun to watch -- well, you're wrong. 

On the other hand, those worried that the forthcoming America's Cup will be a costly debacle which will bleed San Francisco for millions likely still feel that way. 

First the fun part. 

The boats are big and fast and close. They whoosh by a crowd elated by their speed and proximity -- and then head off into the bay in a confusing morass of sails resembling, perhaps, a Star Wars battle scene (or this). 

The big masts turn, head back our way, come close again for about 15 or 20 seconds, and then head out to the deep once more. Finally, they return, for the big finish. In the event's final race, the Italian team eked out a win over the American team captained and crewed by capable foreigners and the Korean side with no Koreans. These boats actually appeared to collide in the waning moments of the race, and Oracle Team USA pulled in to take second (and won overall on points). 

Extremely fast and incredibly close - VANCE CARDELL
  • Vance Cardell
  • Extremely fast and incredibly close
Joe Eskenazi
Extremely fast and incredibly close
So, it was fun. And there were a lot of people out. But there weren't a lot of people in terms of massive crowds. It's hard to estimate the crowd size -- and no one we spoke with on scene would venture a guess -- but people were milling about from near Fort Mason all the way to Crissy Beach. Tens of thousands of spectators were there. But there were likely fewer folks than you'd have expected to show up for an ol' Candlestick Park day game against the Padres. Your humble narrator had no problem finding a pole on which to shackle his bike (impossible at any big music festival). It was easy to walk up and down the shore and find a place to stand. Cops biked along the waterfront without a problem. Those describing the area as "crowded" have likely never taken Muni during rush hour. 

click to enlarge Avast! - VANCE CARDELL
  • Vance Cardell
  • Avast!
So, no, San Francisco was not invaded by yachting fanatics. Even the charming foreign folks I spoke with -- elated at Italy's finish; downcast at France's underwhelming performance -- didn't come here from Italy or France. They were Berkeley students. 

Of course, next year, that may change. Big-time sailing enthusiasts may pay the big-time money to watch boats twice as big and twice as fast as those on display today. Of course, when you build boats bigger and faster, their price rises exponentially. Only three or four boats will be on the water in 2013, though they'll be twice as big and fast.

The glory of this weekend notwithstanding, it's been mostly stormy seas in recent years for the America's Cup Event Authority. The organization is on its third CEO and laid off a quarter of its workforce. Expectations -- and promises -- are being scaled back. One might show some trepidation at investing in this business. But if you're a San Franciscan, you already have.

City officials are still assuring the general public that the America's Cup Organizing Committee is on pace to raise its $32 million goal to offset city costs -- even though, for many months, it's been known that the projected public costs are nearly $52 million. Mayor Ed Lee is still making the laughable claim that the America's Cup will "create 8,000 jobs" -- even though, as we explained before, that could never be inferred from even the most jingoistic reports. Analysts estimated how much work would be created, not how many jobs; the only way 8,000 jobs will be created is if employers hire a new people to perform all of the additional labor. That's about as likely as winning the America's Cup in a paddleboat. 

In order to meet the wild 2013 crowd estimates tossed about by Lee and others, by the way, more than 10 times as many people will have to show up every day as were on hand Sunday.

We'll see if that happens. Those who do come to next year's event figure to see some exciting action out on the bay. Whether enough people will come -- and whether this will be a bottom-line benefit to the city -- remains as murky as Sunday was clear and bright. 

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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