Who needs the Giants when you catch watch ‘yacht-zee’
They’re dancing in the streets of San Francisco tonight — overturning cars, setting fire to statioanry objects, destroying anything that is deemed to be dispensable (look out, Jeff Chandler!)
We’re referring of course to the introduction of yacht racing in San Francisco Bay. What? The Giants? Did they play on Wednesday?
As spectator sports go, yacht racing ranks right up there with curling and watching grass grow on the football field. But the times, they are a changin’. On Monday at the San Francisco Yacht Club, two billionaires squared off against each other on giant sailboats, racing in tight circles after which they retired to the club lounge and drank champagne from enormous flutes as waiters served various cheeses. And I’m telling you, isn’t that what sports is all about?
The occasion was the Moet Cup regatta, and yours truly was on hand for reasons that are still unclear. I could have been at Pac Bell Park watching the Giants clinch the NL West, instead of watching boats for three hours and then writing about it.
In racing circles, this boat race was a big deal. Biotech magnate Ernesto Bertarelli owns Alinghi, the Swiss boat that is the reigning America’s Cup champion. Bay Area software tycoon Larry Ellison owns Oracle, the first boat to challenge the champ for the next America’s Cup, in 2007.
That’s right, 2007. As in politics, the yacht racing primary season begins early, and Ellison was the first to declare. This is accomplished by sending a fax to the championship owner with the message “My boat can beat your boat, where do you wanna meet?”
It was agreed that the two would meet in San Francisco Bay — Ellison’s home turf.
In Ameri a’s Cup terms, this is like racing in a bathtub, as compared to a lake. The usual America’s Cup venue is the open ocean, where sailing gamesmanship and other nautical shenanigans are played out with plenty of elbow room and few witnesses, save for the occasional porpoise. But on Wednesday, it was a whole different ballgame. They actually had bleachers at the Yacht Club, pointing out toward the Bay. People walking their dogs near Fisherman’s Wharf were privvy to the entire race.
Is this a good thing? Ellison and his rich pal say yes. They want to bring sailboat racing to the common fan. Give it a softer image. Not exactly as ambitious as striving for world peace, but at least it’s a goal. Did it work?
I didn’t see yacht racing highlights on ESPN that night. But there were a couple hundred people lining the shore, watching the action (Ellison’s boat won both races Wednesday). Most of the local papers covered it.
In my opinion, the sport has a long way to go. Consider the post-race press conference. Among the journalism types who packed the small room, there were three or four “guests,” who were just there to, well, why were they there?
The guy sitting next to me was sipping a brandy and wearing a commodore’s hat. As several writers attempted to ask questions so that they could meet their deadlines, this guy raised his hand, then drunkenly barked out, “What was the first boat you ever sailed?”
Oracle skipper Chris Dickson answered politely, before the Commodore attempted to stand up, listed to starboard, and sank back wobbily into the crowd.
“I’m the Commodore!” he slurred, as reporters elbowed past him.
Yacht racing will never catch on until things like this are ironed out.
Rick Chandler’s interactive sports column, Capacity Crowd, can be found at NBCSports.com. Contact him at RickChand@earthlink.net