The America’s Cup Finals begin in San Francisco on Saturday, and city and team officials are hoping that the races themselves will finally take center stage rather than the tragedy and controversies that have overshadowed the regatta thus far.
Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand will sail in the first race of the America’s Cup Finals at 1:15 p.m. Saturday.
But since Oracle won the previous America’s Cup in 2010 and team owner Larry Ellison decided to host the next competition in San Francisco, the regatta has been plagued by countless problems that have left one local legislator calling the races “cursed.”
In May, a sailor with Artemis Racing, a Sweden-based team competing for the Cup, died in a capsizing during a practice run on the Bay. The death prompted race organizers to implement multiple new safety reforms.
Earlier, the regatta was criticized for being smaller than race officials predicted, with only three teams challenging Oracle for the Cup.
The downsizing of the America’s Cup has also led to sparse crowds and noncompetitive preliminary races, while race organizers have also failed to raise enough money to recoup San Francisco for the city’s costs related to the regatta.
Mayor Ed Lee says because of the lack of private donors, the city’s general fund is currently on the hook for about $7 million in expected costs for the races.
More recently, Oracle found itself in hot water when the regatta’s International Jury, a panel tasked with settling disputes over race rules, penalized the team two points in the upcoming Finals for making illegal modifications to its boats during exhibition races in 2012 and earlier this year.
“Overall, it looks like this event is cursed,” said San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, one of the more vocal local critics of the regatta.
“It’s unfortunate that the event has not been drawing the attention it was expected to bring, the tourism it was expected to bring, the economic benefit we were expected to have.”
Mayor Lee said, “I wouldn’t be as strong as Supervisor Avalos, but certainly it’s been challenging.”
Lee pointed to the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, held last weekend between teams of sailors between 19 and 24 years old, as an example of the positive impacts of the races.
“If you were around this past weekend with the youth sailing, you wouldn’t see a curse, you’d see a lot of excitement,” he said.
Avalos said though that he was out on the waterfront during the youth races and “the crowd wasn’t very strong.”
Oracle team skipper Jimmy Spithill acknowledged that all of the drama leading up to the America’s Cup Finals has not helped the team.
“There’s no two ways about it, this hasn’t been the ideal preparation,” Spithill said.
However, he encouraged more people to come out and attend the upcoming final races.
“It’s hard to put a value on home-field advantage. It’s a big deal,” Spithill said. “If there’s ever a time that we need the people of San Francisco and the people of the U.S., it’s now.”
Mayor Lee, for his part, said he will be on the waterfront for the races this weekend.
“I’ll be there rooting for them and I think there will be crowds of people,” he said.
Lee said he is also continuing to try to bring in donations to offset the city’s costs for the regatta and is holding fundraisers this weekend.
Because of the two-point penalty, the Oracle team will have to win 11 races to keep the America’s Cup, while Emirates Team New Zealand only has to win nine to become the new champions.
“At the end of the day, no matter what games transpire onshore, to take that trophy you have to win on the water,” Spithill said.
“That’s what we’re looking for, to get on the water and go racing,” he said.
After the first race at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, a second race is scheduled an hour later, with the same two-race schedule planned on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, barring cancellations due to high winds.
More information about the races can be found online at www.americascup.com.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News