Monday, September 30, 2013

Sea Change, Race 19

"Full fathom five thy father lies,/ Of his bones are coral made:/Those are pearls that were his eyes:/Nothing of him that doth fade,/But doth suffer a sea change" - The Tempest, Shakespeare

Selfie at Pier 27

You know Hot Shot, I think I am finding extra things to write about just to delay ending this blog. Perhaps that means I shouldn't ... not yet anyway.Maybe I should keep it going?I know you don't care - who knows if you care?I don't know if you've ever read any of this stuff. Kinda hard to care about something you've never seen, Huh?

The poetry above spoke to me a bit - I guess because it made me think, albeit in an oblique way, of my dad.But it's also the idea of a "sea change."There has been quite a bit of that this year in myown life.

Less figuratively and more recently has been the obvious sea change associated with the Americas Cup regatta: a huge step forward with the 34th Cup to move it more to the masses and to make yacht racing at least as exciting as F1.

Previously, I have voiced a lot of skepticism of this "trickle up" economic process that has infected much of our country. A most notable example is the construction the new Niners' stadium in Santa Clara. In any event, I initially viewed this Americas Cup somewhat in the same vein - public funds supporting a billionaire's hobby.It seemed wrong. I have since thought a lot about it, partly because I love sailing, and partly because there has been a sea change (pardon the pun) in the sport and in this contest in particular.

It is certainly true that Ellison's efforts have been aided by public funds, but is the public getting something for that support, or is this just like the others where the only benefit lies for him?

I would argue the following differences:

Ellison has turned the Americas Cup into a 21st century sporting event, away from the stodgy, plodding, largely irrelevant event it has been in the past.

Now, it is truly the pinnacle of the sport, in both sailing skill, but more importantly, in technology.I would argue that in the past, the only notable thing about the cup was just how irrelevant it was to the world at large - hell, it was irrelevant even to a large part of the sailing community.

The event has become far more athletic and the crew can no longer be drawn exclusively from the obscenely wealthy yacht club cohort as in the past (think about Ted Turner skippering his own yacht to win in 1977 or Dennis Conner skippering with his prodigious gut) .

The teams now include highly skilled technicians, engineers, scientists and tacticians - sailors who can integrate not only the conditions but technology as well to a greater extent than ever before.

It is very unlikely without Ellison's influence that the Americas Cup would have spawned spectacular craft like the AC 72's and the incredible performance of which they are capable.

Choosing this specific venue of the San Francisco Bay has also made the sport accessible as a spectacle to large portions of the population that would never have been able to witness it in the past, broadening the fan base and making it relevant since the regatta can be viewed from shore.

So was it a good investment for the taxpayer and residents of San Francisco?I don't know.But I do think something lasting has come out of it, especially with Oracle retaining the Cup - the future of sailing at this rarified level has gotten much, much more exciting, dangerous, and fast - all of which translate into better sport.So, with this as my apologia, the following is my account of Race 19 and some pictures as well.

Last Wednesday, at about 06:00, I was looking at the marine weather on a site that also gives currents and winds - a relic of when I was swimming Alcatraz-Aquatic Park.I like it as it gives nearly real time info.While looking at the data, it was clear that the last race of the 34th Americas Cup was almost certain to happen that day.I thought, "This is the deciding race. If Oracle loses I may never have a chance to see this again. I need to go." It was also rumored that if the Kiwis won they were threatening to go back to monohulls - what a gigantic step backward.

So, after a brief internal struggle of whether to take Cal Train or to drive, on the spur of the moment I decided to take the day off, head up to the City and Pier 27 near the finish line, and immerse myself in this spectacle.

ETNZ and OTUS AC 72's pre-race

I knew from an earlier visit that Pier 27 was the closest approach on the course, and having the AC 72's moored there pre-race made it an easy choice.I had aspirations of photographing the event.Finally, getting to the City at about 10:00 there was ample time to park, walk and explore before the race time at 13:15.

The crowd had already started building.I was surprised at the number of people heading to the race - and the diversity of the crowd; not your typical aging alcoholic sailing aficionados; lots of young people and people not necessarily tied to the sailing community.

I wandered around photographing and just taking in the atmosphere.Tons of flags were waving or being waved, both US and NZ.

I walked the pavilions, watched them readying the boats, and noticed a huge crowd gathering and lining a path from one of the pavilions to the podium.Off to my left, with music blaring, I saw the crowd gather, frantically waving New Zealand national flags, and the black NZ Trade and Enterprise Flag.Down the fan-lined path came the crew, geared up with clearly newly designed safety gear, including body armor, for the rigors of the San Francisco Bay and the AC 72,.They went to the podium, the MC asking spirited questions, followed by the crew's confident answers, and then sending them off with the partisan crowd roaring approval.

Emirates Team New Zealand

Within few minutes, as Back in Black cranked over the PA, the Oracle team came down the path to the podium.Here the local crowd really got into it.Like the Kiwis, the crew came through in full gear, Red Bull helmets shining.Again after interviews and confident statements, the team headed off, music blasting in the background.

OTUS on podium

It reminded me more of a pep rally for a football game than a regatta:cheers, yelling, jeers, loud music, food, flags

Here is a link from Sailing World about the AC 72 battle gear developed to keep the crew safe and conscious.It is worth a read if you are not familiar with this stuff.It is a huge departure from the conventional gear in past races.In addition to the hazards on board, which are significant bounding across the trampoline between hulls, if you go over the rail at 40+ knots you better be wearing something that will float you face up.

Port helm OTUS

Starboard helm OTUS

Port helm ETNZ

After all thatI maneuvered my way to the edge of the pier.There had been a crowd lining the edge for hours.I was several layers deep back from the front, but with a little subterfuge, a little opportunism to taking advantage of other spectators adjusting their position, I gradually was only one or two people deep from the edge.Some people, photographers and women mostly, brought their own stools to stand on to see over those in front - good thinking unless you were one of the spectators behind them.Thank goodness for the full frame sensor of the D600.I can get at least a reasonable image after cropping out heads and hands.

Broadcast helicopters hovering awaiting positioning at the start.

Clearing an amateur from the course prior to the start

The race started promptly at 13:15, as promptly as any sailboat race.Here is a link to the race as it was broadcast.Most of my shots came later in the race, particularly at the finish - usually at the end of my extended arms, reaching over someone's head. During the race the PA was giving updates. but people around me were using various methods to keep track as it was hard to discern at our angle the actual race status. The crowd noise made the PA hard to understand.People were watching on their phones, getting texts from friends, getting calls with updates, just pandemonium

Finally, on the last leg we were hearing murmurs through the crowd that Oracle seemed to be ahead.I thought I heard one of the guys in front of me with a phone in his ear say, "They're ahead by 300 meters."But he didn't say who.It became clear as they neared - Oracle was going to retain the Cup.As they hurtled by the finish line the crowd cheered, the crew waving, hugging and congratulating each other as they literally flew by.It was a triumph of technology.In only seconds they were followed by Emirates.I felt bad in a way.Both boats were beautiful.They were exciting to watch.You could see the speed.They were an incredible combination of grace, balance, beauty, and power - riding that ragged edge between perfection and disaster.It was clear to me that sailing had changed forever.

Horns blew, the water cannons blasted, and the flotillas sped by toward the Bay Bridge.It was an amazing end to an epic regatta.

As the crowd at the edge of the pier gradually dispersed, we headed to the many pavilions.The one I gravitated to was just inboard of the podium.We entered the Napa Valley pavilion, sat around one of the ubiquitous big screens, had spirited conversation with other fans, drank copious amounts of pinot noir, and watched the race replay as it had been broadcast.

Here is the replay of Race 19.

A bit later there was the trophy presentation which was right behind us.Because of the crowd it was easier to watch on the screen.I stood up and took a picture of the ETNZ, but decided to forget it for Oracle.I think the wine kicked in by that time. I was feeling good.

Afterward we happy-hour'd at the Hot Shot's restaurant.Had a few cocktails and appetizers followed by dinner.Then home.It was a great day - a spontaneous good time - don't have many of those.

So I delayed the all important tuxedo pictures.This reminds me of my son more than tuxedos anyway.I guess he can now wear his Oracle Team USA gear with real pride:)

Maybe if the Hot Shot reads this he'll understand and enjoy some of the pictures.Plus, this just gives me more time to keep this blog alive - right Hot Shot?
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