San Francisco Social Diary: The America’s Cup Regatta

During the America’s Cup final, thousands of spectators swarmed the San Francisco Bay, some crowded at onshore vantage points, eager for a clear look (and maybe a photo!) of the action.


The year 2013 was a historic one for San Francisco: The city played host to the 34th America’s Cup (AC) regatta—one of the most exciting events in San Francisco’s history and one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history as well.

The 162-year-old AC is the oldest sport trophy event in the world, first awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around England’s Isle of Wight in 1851.

While wintering in San Francisco, in January I lunched with Tom Ehman, Vice Commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which represents defending champion Oracle Team USA. He said the San Francisco event was the “best ever” and asked, “How can you imagine doing it anyplace else?”

Likewise, America’s Cup Organizing Committee Chair Mark Buell said, “[Oracle owner] Larry [Ellison] delivered on his vision: the fastest boat, the latest technology, and the best sailors. And San Francisco delivered on its promise: the best venues for spectators to watch the races and a spectacular setting. We’re all hoping the America’s Cup will race here again.”

Fans are awaiting news about the location for the next Cup in 2017. Most think it will be San Francisco again, but negotiations have not been finalized.

Oracle CEO Russell Coutts and the city of San Francisco are clashing over the cost to taxpayers and the benefits of hosting the Cup. Supporters say San Francisco received international attention and press coverage you couldn’t buy at any price.

More important than potential revenue, the racing events turned the waterfront into a free community playground for Bay Area citizens, their families, and visitors.

Since racing took place close to shore, spectators enjoyed unprecedented views of the race amid stunning scenery.

Other cities being considered include San Diego, which hosted the Cup in 1988, 1992, and 1995, and Hawaii, where billionaire Oracle owner Larry Ellison owns the island of Lanai. Rumors are swirling that Long Beach and Newport, R.I. are in the mix as well. As has written, “Stay tuned. It’s never dull around Cup negotiations.”

For a taste of what it was like to be a spectator at various venues during the 2013 Cup, read my dispatch:


Winning the prestigious America’s Cup (AC) regatta, dating back to 1851, is considered the grandest honor in the yachting world. The 2013 event, initially scheduled for September 7 to 21, actually continued through September 25, making it one of the most extended and dramatic in the Cup’s 162-year history.

Software billionaire Larry Ellison’s defending Oracle Team USA was pitted against challenger Emirates Team New Zealand.

The regatta was riveting, with New Zealand just one point away from winning the Cup and taking it back home when the unbelievable happened.

Oracle Team USA staged a monumental comeback, won eight straight races in a row, and captured the Cup in a thrilling, winner-take-all final race.


The America’s Cup consists of “match races” between two yachts—the defender, which holds the cup currently, and the challenger. Both teams sail with a crew of 11. One point is awarded for winning a race, and the first team to win a total of nine points becomes the champion and new defender of the Cup.

Since defender Oracle Team USA had been penalized two points for pre-regatta violations, its first two wins wouldn’t accrue points, so the team needed to win eleven races total to be the final winner.

0040 When the schooner America won a race around the Isle of Wight sponsored by Britain’s Royal Yacht Squadron in 1851, the trophy was renamed the America’s Cup, and the name stuck.

I was scheduled to fly in for what was anticipated to be the second and final week of the races, but by Friday, September 13, a victory seemed likely within two days. With a 6-0 lead, challenger Team New Zealand was only three points away from taking the Cup. Most everyone, including the Kiwis, thought it was all over.



Ironically, eight members of Oracle Team USA’s full sailing crew are actually from New Zealand and seven are from Australia. Only two are from the United States!

Some would like to see the Cup go back to the old days, when the race was run like the Olympics and team members were from the country for which they sailed. Then the competition would be among countries rather than among people who can afford to buy the best sailors of the world.

Oracle Team USA, whose owner and principal is Larry Ellison, includes CEO and four-time AC winner Russell Coutts and Skipper and Helmsman James Spithill, who won the 2010 America’s Cup as the youngest helmsman in race history.


To the 4.4 million New Zealanders, the AC is like the Super Bowl. Indicating how important the regatta is to them, on the first day of racing, 62% of the nation’s televisions were tuned in to the races.

On board Emirates Team NZ, which is owned by Team New Zealand Trust and partly funded by the government, were Managing Director Grant Dalton and Skipper Dean Barker, who was a member of New Zealand’s winning team in 2000.


As part of Larry Ellison’s plan to make the AC more accessible, this year the boats raced in the natural amphitheater of San Francisco Bay rather than miles offshore.

Even the competition considered San Francisco Bay the perfect venue, with its reliable winds and challenging tides as well as 7.5 miles of waterfront and 39 piers offering many vantage points for watching the races.

The five-leg course, almost 10 nautical miles, began near the Golden Gate Bridge and concluded in front of America’s Cup Park, at Piers 27/29.

The course took sailors past San Francisco landmarks like former prison Alcatraz (seen here), Golden Gate Bridge, Treasure Island, and Angel Island.


The America’s Cup has always been about pushing the boundaries of modern technology, and the tradition continued this year with the introduction of the groundbreaking AC72 racing catamaran.

These ultrafast boats are transforming the regatta from a billionaire’s pastime to a public, Formula One-like spectacle, fulfilling Larry Ellison’s goal of drawing wider audiences.

The AC72’s rigid sail and carbon-fiber hydrofoils skim the water at speeds exceeding 50 mph, making it more of a flying machine than a boat. Speeds are such that sailors are now required to wear crash helmets and small oxygen tanks.


I arrived at SFO airport on Day Five of the races, dropped off luggage at my apartment, rushed to Fort Mason, a former army base, where the San Francisco America’s Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC) had invited donors, friends, officials, supporters, and VIPs to watch the races.

As it was Saturday and there was a chance the next day might be the last of the races, the Committee threw a big event at Fort Mason.

The event featured plenty of food and drinks, giant television screens scattered about, viewing decks, entertainment for the children, and Google Glass try-ons for adults.

Hilary Newsom Callan, Mayor Edward Lee, and Stephanie Roumeliotes watched the races from Ft. Mason.

ACOC CEO Kyri McClelland with her husband Aaron and their son.

Jeanne Lawrence with ACOC Chair Mark Buell (right) and a fellow fan.

Elaine Asher, Lucy Jewett, who was inducted to the AC Hall of Fame in August in thanks for her more than 30 years of support, and Kyri McClellan.

Google Executive chairman Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy (seated), along with other guests, were raptly focused on the race.

SF Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who is running for California State Assembly in 2014, with his wife Candace Chen, whom he wed in October.

Thomas Durein, Shannon Bavaro, and Peter Getty.

Maria Manetti Shrem with Susie Thompkins Buell and friend.

Mary Pilara with Catherine and Anthony Rubino.

Timothy Alin Simon, Kimberly Brandon, London Bree, Lee Houskeeper, Brenda Wright, and Steve Bowdry.

Dick Barker and Nune Worraruji.

Lori Pucinelli Stern and Peter Stern made the day a family outing with their children.

Lisa and Olivia Allenson with Kate and Annabell Palfrey.

Hilary Newsom Callan with Geoff, Siena, and Tali Callan.


Each day, weather permitting, there were two races: one at 1:15 and the second at 2:15. I was glad to arrive just in time for Race 8 at Ft. Mason, where thousands were watching on the shoreline.

Race 8 was an exciting near-disaster, as Team New Zealand almost capsized its boat on a too-quick turn maneuver. The boat was literally teetering on its side, with one hull lifted 30 feet in the air and the sail at a 45-degree angle from the surface of the water.

A few more feet and it could have been game over for the Kiwis,” NZ skipper Dean Barker later said. “We were as close as you possibly could get before the thing would have ended up on its side.”

We stunned viewers thought for sure it would crash, but the wind shifted and it righted. Watching was nerve-wracking and I was frightened for the crewmembers hanging some three or four  stories in the air above the water.

Oracle won Race 8 by a mere 52 seconds. It was the second win for the team, which meant it could then start to accrue points after being docked for rule violations.


The second race of the day was cancelled due to dangerous winds exceeding the limit of 22.6 knots, so after the race I checked out the scene with the public at the America’s Cup Village at Marina Green.



DAY 6: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2013 ­– RACES 9 & 10

On Sunday, I joined the America’s Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC) again, this time at their Chalet, a temporary viewing building located between the St. Francis Yacht Club and Golden Gate Yacht Club.

ACOC Chair Mark Buell with Nini Ferguson Johnson of Washington D.C. (right) and her daughter Charlotte Ferguson.

William Hearst and his son William Dedalus Hearst.

ACOC CEO Kyri McClelland celebrated her birthday on this day.

George and Brenda Jewett, whose family has been supporting the Cup for generations.

ACOC members Linda and Tom Coates.

Susan and Jim Swartz, an ACOC member and avid sailor.

Jeanne Lawrence and Carolyn Chandler.

Susan Dunlevy, Joshua Robison, Carole McNeil, and Denise Ivory.

Team USA won the first race, finally earning its first official point.

Then Team New Zealand took Race 10, which brought it within two points of winning it all.


On Tuesday, September 17, I headed to America’s Cup Park to visit Oracle’s Hospitality Suite, where Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) Vice Commodore Tom Ehman welcomed guests, spoke at the AC72 Dock Out Show, and held press conferences.

GGYC Protocol Chief Tom Webster, whose day job is wealth management, escorted me to the Oracle VIP suites. “The 34th America’s Cup met all the criteria to be a great sporting event,” Tom pointed out. “A great venue, great competitors, a great history, and a great story line.” He predicts it will be one of the top sports stories of the past 100 years.

GGYC Protocol Chief Tom Webster met me at the America’s Cup Park gate in a go-cart and off we went to the Oracle VIP suites.

On the way, we passed several big yachts moored at AC Park, including Larry Ellison’s boat and another Silicon Valley billionaire’s yacht, topped with its own helicopter.


The Cup was a catalyst for the city to make long-awaited improvements to the waterfront, including the construction of America’s Cup Park (Piers 27 and 29) and America’s Cup Pavilion, with a 9,000-seat amphitheater for nighttime concerts and watching the races on large video screens.

Spectators enjoyed watching the races for free from AC Park.

Jeanne Lawrence with Dean Barker, the handsome Emirates New Zealand skipper.

New Zealander youngsters got into the patriotic spirit during the races.


Team Oracle provided a bounty of snacks for its supporters.

Sandy Hayes, Chris Otorowski, Cindy Olsen, Stephanie Pugash, Tom Webster, Wendy Yamano, and GGYC Vice Commodore Tom Ehman.

Tom Ehman, Jeanne Lawrence, Team Oracle CEO Russell Coutts, and Ian “Fresh” Burns, Team Oracle’s Head of Performance.

Every morning, Tom Ehman led a press conference on the state of the races.


On September 17, the races were first postponed and then cancelled due to more dangerous wind conditions. “Waiting fatigue” was starting to set in among the spectators—we just wanted to see the results! I sympathized with everyone who had traveled to the site that day and failed to see anything, but they made the best of it.


I’d planned to watch races 11 and 12 from the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which is represented by Team Oracle USA. GGYC became the first American club to win the Cup since 1995 when the Oracle team, in Larry Ellison’s third attempt, defeated the Swiss Alinghi team in 2010 in Valencia, Spain.

The Golden Gate Yacht Club, founded in l939 and once situated on a barge in the Marina, was rebuilt after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

America’s Cup veteran Jim Nicholas, who competed as a crewmember in seven AC campaigns.

Visiting from Hong Kong were Quam founder Bernard Pouliot, Brand America founder Michael Sadak, and Kidder Mathews EVP Skip Whitney.

After being spruced up with some funds from Larry Ellison, the GGYC is a fresh and intimate venue with fabulous views of the races from the dining room and the outside terrace.


Later our entourage walked next door to the St. Francis Yacht Club, where members of both clubs mingled amicably.

The St. Francis Yacht Club features a Spanish-style tiled roof and a fleet of large expensive boats (both motor and sail-powered) docked out front.

George Drysdale and Kelly Grimes in the St. Francis Yacht Club.

Since the day’s races were cancelled, we had plenty of time to enjoy camaraderie before competition resumed.


On Day 9, I watched the races in the smartly decorated Louis Vuitton Hospitality Suite at the America’s Cup Village.

Team New Zealand was only one point away from winning the Cup, with Team USA trailing at a dismal single point. But Oracle rallied and came out ahead on Race 12.

New Zealand lost its second opportunity for a win later that day when, as the teams were already crossing the start line, officials announced that Race 13 would again be postponed due to dangerous conditions.

Barbara Myers, Jeanne Lawrence, and Christine Belanger at the Louis Vuitton Hospitality Suite.

Former head of Team New Zealand Sir Michael Fay, champion Australian yachtsman Sir Jim Hardy, Louis Vuitton Cup Director Christine Belanger, and America’s Cup film library manager Larry Keating.

Jeanne Lawrence, Deepa Pakianathan, Stefanie Tsen, and Suzana Jackson.

The Louis Vuitton Suite had great views of the Bay and surrounding hills.

DAY 10: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2013 – RACE 13

Day 10, Race 13: The “wind gods” were certainly not working in Team NZ’s favor.

After three days of postponement due to excessive winds, on Day 10 there wasn’t enough wind.

Team NZ was leading by three-quarters of a mile and was only slightly more than a nautical mile from the finish line when the race was stopped.

Light winds forced the race to be abandoned when the 40-minute race time limit expired.

It was a lucky break for Oracle, and when the race was rerun later in the day, Team USA came out ahead, once again dashing New Zealand’s hopes to bring the regatta to a close.


Today I stayed home and watched the America’s Cup on TV and my computer screen, just like millions of fans worldwide. (It was a good decision, as both races were cancelled due to unraceable wind conditions.) I was fascinated to see how television captured this new, thrilling racing style.

Ellison hired Stan Honey to create AC LiveLine, a groundbreaking television innovation that shows which boat is leading and the speed and wind direction by digitally projecting infographics onto live video.

The America’s Cup mobile phone app allowed fans to watch the races in real time, with commentary.

The America’s Cup website was also beautifully designed, and after each race you could watch replays and listen to interviews and commentary.

DAY 12: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2013 – RACES 14 & 15

This day was the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere. Under sunny skies and amid brisk winds, my daughter, Stephanie Lawrence, and I headed to the GGYC.

Stephanie and Jeanne Lawrence with GGYC Commodore Norbert Bajurin and the America’s Cup trophy, which rides in its own airplane seat as it travels the world.

Georgianna, Adrianna, and Robert Sullivan.

St. Francis Yacht Club Women’s Committee member Laura King Pfaff and Staff Commodore Committee member Richard Pfaff.

Jeanne Lawrence and Stephanie Lawrence, with views of San Francisco from the GGYC.

In the GGYC, Jim Spithill’s father Arthur Spithill (far right) and other supporters cheered on the team.

When Oracle won both races, our hopes rose: Could Team USA possibly win it all? At the end of the day, the score stood at 8-5 NZL-USA.

DAY 13: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2013 – RACE 16

Today I again headed to the GGYC. Oracle had now won four races in a row. They had made daily modifications to their craft and clearly had the faster of the two.

These races have become Nascar on water! After a brief postponement, Oracle won Race 16, achieving an unheard-of five straight victories in a row.

I heard that the Kiwis had canceled the victory celebrations at the Fairmont Hotel and the Emirates plane that was waiting to whisk them back to Auckland.

The teams were both suffering from mental strain, and even the spectators (who had expected a victory by now) were stressed out.

DAY 14: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2013 – RACES 17 & 18

Tuesday, three days after the race that was projected to be the conclusive one, the competition was still alive. I decided to watch from the spectators’ bleachers, to experience the public’s view. Luckily it was another perfect and sunny day.

Thousands of spectators filled the bleachers at AC Park and lined the shores of San Francisco Bay to catch a glimpse of the flying AC72s.

USA won the first race, narrowly avoiding disaster: When Oracle came out of the starting line, the team buried a hull in the water, which could have caused the craft to capsize. But the team recovered and took the lead, 200 meters ahead of New Zealand for most of the race, maintaining a 54-second advantage to take the win.

Even if you knew nothing about the sport, you could feel the heart-stopping excitement.

For the fifth day in a row, Oracle won the race and the New Zealanders went home still just one point away from the Cup.


Today I left early for the Golden Gate Yacht club and the final race at l:15 p.m., with the teams tied 8-8. Luckily the weather was perfect and the wind wasn’t too strong. Another postponement was unthinkable!

The excitement was extraordinary. Out-of-towners were jockeying for flights into San Francisco at the last minute, but all were booked. Those within driving distance got in their cars and started driving.

Team USA fans Elizabeth Thieriot, Linda Jenks Kjaempe, Jeanne Lawrence, and Tom Webster watched history in the making from the GGYC stands.


Oracle Team USA won! In the first winner-take-all race since 1983 and only the third in the history of the America’s Cup, the team sailed to victory in an unprecedented eight races in a row.

At the end of the day, Oracle simply had the faster boat.

A sailor friend told me every night Team USA tweaked the design to make the boat faster, while Team New Zealand didn’t make additional progress.

Every race is a new experiment and experience. I got a lot of insight into the fact that winning races like these requires not just brawn but brains.

After winning the AC, Team USA waved to the cheering fans as they passed close to shore.


After Oracle crossed the finish line, my friends and I quickly left the GGYC and drove downtown to the America’s Cup Village at the Embarcadero waterfront to watch the teams and the press conference.

“We were facing the barrel of a gun at 8-1 and the guys didn’t even flinch,” exulted Oracle skipper James Spithill. “Thanks to San Francisco, this is one hell of a day.”

Even the American supporters gave a wild cheer when Team New Zealand took the stage, as they had sailed a very good race.

The Champagne bottles were uncorked and Team USA’s crew followed the tradition of drinking out of the Cup.

It was a glorious day for San Francisco, Oracle Team USA, and the exuberant spectators who filled the waterfront.

Team USA skipper James Spithill kissed the America’s Cup trophy in celebration of the victory.


Five days after the AC ended, Queensland, Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club (HIYC) was announced as the next Challenger of Record (COR).

Once there is a new AC winner, other yachting clubs around the world petition to challenge the team at the next regatta. The COR is the first challenger accepted by the defending champion.

The teams will work together to negotiate the next “mutual consent terms,” which establish the time, type of yachts, and match format for the next race.

The big question now is whether the regatta will remain in San Francisco; at the time of publication, negotiations were still ongoing.

Want to learn more about the America’s Cup? Read my previous coverage of San Francisco’s America’s Cup Opening Weekend here and the Louis Vuitton Cup races here.


Photos by Jeanne Lawrence, Drew Altizer, Gilles Martin-Raget, Balazs Gardi, Guilain Grenier, Chris Cameron, Abner Kingman, Frances Kupersmith, and Ricardo Pinto.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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