[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57A4ae_iQas&feature=youtube_gdata_player] By Connor Buestad (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It is a bit of a stretch to think Oracle’s CEO, Larry Ellison, pays much attention to the Summer X Games. Skateboard Vert, BMX, Street Luge, and Motocross are not exactly the traditional leisure activities associated with billionaire software moguls pushing 70. The folks at ESPN have never been shy to admit that their target demographic is more 15-year-old kids who are perpetually “stoked” and less 67-year-old fat cats who own one of the Hawaiian Islands (Lanai).
Even still, one can’t help but wonder if Ellison was flipping through channels in his private jet back in 1999 when he saw a highlight of X Gamer Travis Pastrana launching himself out of a motocross stadium and into the San Francisco Bay atop his dirtbike. It was the type of attention-grabbing stunt that etched Pastrana’s name into San Francisco lore forever, a goal that Larry Ellison seems dead-set on achieving himself.
The 2012-2013 edition of the America’s Cup might be just the event to finally give ‘ol Larry a sufficient amount of attention. Luckily for San Franciscan’s, Ellison will be showing off his newest toys for the whole city to enjoy, and it all begins (sort of) on August 21st, right here in the San Francisco Bay.
11 boats from eight countries will be arriving in San Francisco this month to kick off the second season of what’s called the America’s Cup World Series. The World Series has no effect on the winner of next year’s main event, the America’s Cup Finals, but it will serve as a fantastic showcase of a sport that is currently experiencing a technological renaissance of sorts. From August 21-26, 45-foot catamaran boats will race off the shores of the Marina Green and Piers 27/29. The boats will also be in SF for the second leg of this year’s America’s Cup World Series during Fleet Week (October 2-7). A true San Francisco spectacle if there ever was one.
While next year’s America’s Cup Finals will feature 75-foot catamarans with 11-men crews, this month’s World Series will involve 45-foot catamarans with crews of five. Ellison’s Team Oracle will be split into two teams for the World Series, “Oracle-Spithill” and “Oracle-Coutts”. James Spithill is a 32-year-old sailing phenom who was the youngest skipper ever to win the America’s Cup in 2010, while Russell Coutts is known as one of the best sailors of all time and has won multiple America’s Cup titles. For the big race next year, the young Spithill will be the skipper of Team Oracle, while the older Coutts will work on strategy from the shore as the team’s CEO.
The catamaran boats that fans will see this month on the bay are without a doubt some of the most exciting and cutting-edge water vessels ever created. America’s Cup level sailors must be in premier physical shape and have the fearless attitude of a NASCAR driver in order to compete. With speeds upwards of 40 MPH, these boats whip across the bay in a blink of an eye, a brutal capsize or collision always one wrong decision away. To be sure, vodka swigging joyriders no longer have a place in this sport. They’ve been replaced by ultra-fit athletes in Red Bull helmets.
While the America’s Cup World Series will give San Franciscan’s their first taste of international sailing at the highest level, the main event won’t get going until next summer. That’s when the Louis Vuitton Cup will be decided and subsequently, the America’s Cup Finals Champion.
The America’s Cup, make no mistake about it, is a very hard sport to understand, follow, and fully appreciate. The rules are constantly changing, the teams are almost all comprised of sailing mercenaries (Oracle only has one American-born sailor), and well, who actually knows how to sail here in the United States? Nevertheless, Ellison has harnessed technology to the point where sailing is becoming digestible and enjoyable for even the most casual of sports fans.
With all due respect to hockey and Lord Stanley’s Cup, the America’s Cup has by far the coolest trophy in sports. It’s been around since 1851 and is appropriately nicknamed “The Oldest Trophy in Sports.” Unlike hockey, the winner of the cup not only gets to parade around town with a giant silver trophy, but they also get to decide when, where, and how the next America’s Cup competition will be held.
Boats from various countries are invited to compete in America’s Cup competition whenever they are held, roughly every four years. Most every boat is bankrolled by mega-millionaire businessmen who sponsor the boat and hire a crew of the best sailors they can find in the world to sail it for them. In essence, it is an event where the Donald Trumps of the world get to compete with one another to see who’s the real king of the One Percent Castle.
In 2010, Larry Ellison’s “BMW-Oracle” boat beat billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli’s boat from Switzerland called “Alinghi”. To the victor went the spoils, and Ellison has decided to hold the America’s Cup right here in San Francisco Bay for the first time ever.
Based on their victory in 2010, “Team Oracle” automatically has a spot clinched in the San Francisco edition of the America’s Cup Finals which won’t be held until September 2013. This race will pit “The Defender” (Team Oracle) versus “The Challenger”. The Challenger must earn the right to compete one-on-one with Team Oracle by winning what’s called the Louis Vuitton Cup. This event will be held in San Francisco from July 4th – September 1, 2013, and will consist of four boats from around the world battling it out in the Bay until one boat moves on to face Team Oracle.
As is often the case in the sport of sailing, Ellison and his team’s 2010 America’s Cup victory did not come without a great deal of controversy. Long story short, Ellison and Bertarelli became tangled in an ugly lawsuit leading up to their America’s Cup Final race. The argument was essentially a debate over the rules, and by the end of the suit, a fair agreement was never truly reached. Believe it or not, the two teams didn’t even race the same style of boat in the America’s Cup Final. Bertarelli’s Swiss team ended up sailing a catamaran while Ellison’s crew sailed a trimaran. As it turned out, Ellison’s three-hulled boat proved faster than Bertarelli’s two-hulled boat.
Unsurprisingly, Bertarelli will not be competing in next year’s Louis Vuitton Cup. Unfortunately, various other teams are also opting to stay home and not attend Ellison’s party. It was originally thought that up to 15 teams would be arriving in San Francisco in 2013 to compete for a chance at the America’s Cup. Many speculated that this influx of foreign money could be prove to be a boon for city of San Francisco, even despite the up front investment the city has spent on infrastructure. As it stands today, the four teams scheduled to sail in the Louis Vuitton Cup include Artemis Racing (Sweden), Emirates Team New Zealand (New Zealand), Luna Rossa Challenge (Italy) and Team Korea (Korea).
Teams must pay an exorbitant amount of money to build a competitive boat and acquire a sufficient amount of sponsorship dollars to compete in the America’s Cup. In Ellison’s defense, he and race officials have worked toward making next year’s America’s Cup more fair than in year’s past. For starters, all entrants must sail 75-foot catamarans that possess similar specifications. Regardless, all the talk of the 2013 America’s Cup being akin to a Super Bowl or World Cup is beginning to seem overblown.
Whether or not the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America’s Cup Finals will be a boon or a bust remains to be seen. Four teams have RSVP’d and it is rumored that the list may dwindle down to three by the race’s opening gun. What we do know for sure, however, is that the America’s Cup World Series is still in good health. 11 state-of-the-art boats from around the world will be sailing into The Bay later this month to showcase the sport in the best way they know how.
Even if you don’t know the first thing about how to “jibe”, “tack”, or “hike-out”, grab your dearest set of binoculars, your iPhone to track the race online, and your favorite pair of seersucker shorts. After a 161 year wait, America’s Cup sailing is coming to San Francisco.