We’re not sure why we were cynical about the arrival of SailGP in San Francisco this weekend, but we were. As the second stop of the five-leg global circuit made its way onto the Bay, the event was simply an unknown. “What is SailGP, exactly?” people asked us — we weren’t entirely sure how to answer. Is the event supposed to compete with the America’s Cup? Is it part of Larry Ellison’s continued attempts to make sailing a mainstream, TV-accessible sport?
In the end, none of those questions mattered, because all you had to do was just watch the boats sail, and everything made sense. We have had mixed feelings about the America’s Cup too, but, as we’ve said before, we always watch, if for no other reason than to root for sailing itself.
As for the racing, Japan Team dominated day one on Saturday with three bullets. Led by Australian helmsman Nathan Outteridge, the chatty skipper of the 2017 Artemis syndicate, Japan had been looking fast and polished while practicing this week. But Australia Team, who dominated the first event in Sydney, was hot on Japan Team’s heels. After Great Britain won race one on Sunday — the UK’s first bullet of the SailGP circuit — the Aussies took the second race, then beat Japan in the match race that closed the day. Australia Team took the event win for the San Francisco stop, and has a four-point lead over Japan in the overall standings. The next event will be on June 21 in New York, followed by Cowes, Great Britain, in August, with the final event in Marseille, France, in September.
The venue on the Cityfront — with the boats starting, finishing and occasionally flying by the Marina Yacht Club Peninsula — was objectively spectacular. A healthy crowd filled bleachers, while droves of people shuffled through the open-to-the-public SailGP village and crowded along the waterfront for the races. We brought binoculars to the event, which was totally, comically unnecessary; the boats could not have been closer.
When the fleet ripped southward toward Alcatraz, all you had to do was watch the giant screens that displayed those awesome graphics we’ve come to enjoy. (Some of our staff missed the first day, but watched a few races on Facebook live. Thanks to Stan Honey’s innovations years ago, and the giant team of producers that have carried the torch, sailboat racing on TV has become more than just watchable — it is incredibly exciting.)
There was a fleet of boats lining the racecourse on the Bay, making it a busy, boat-packed weekend on the water. There was also real-time play-by-play throughout the race that was scored with background music. It might sound a bit over the top, but the vibe on shore was undeniably electric, and it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement as the cats foiled around the Bay.
We were, in other words, completely — and happily — seduced by the production and fanfare. When the last race was over, it all seemed too fast, and we were sorry it was over. As we shuffled through the Marina District later that day, we spotted several “sailing fans” — wearing their team colors with flags stuffed into their backpacks — strolling the streets. This might be a common sight in France, New Zealand or Australia, but here in the US, not so much.
Among our readership, there has, of course, been a long-running debate about what makes a good sailboat race. Is it the fastest, most technologically advanced boats in the world? Is it multiple sail changes and skilled, well-coordinated crew work? Is it monohulls, only monohulls, instead of catamarans? We don’t have any answers, Latitude Nation, but we enjoy the debate.
What did you think of SailGP? Were you skeptical, as we were, but ultimately swept up in the energy? Did you think it was going to be awesome from the start? Are you boycotting all things that foil and don’t have spinnakers? We’d like to know. Please comment below, or email us here. And please be sure to include your Boat Name, Make and Port of Call.
In this month’s issue of Latitude 38, we interviewed a local sailor with lots of color, experience and heritage. Luc McSweeney Mahue is a licensed merchant marine who has worked on “big ships overseas,” but the bulk of his career has been in offshore towing — though that’s not even half the story. Mahue also spent years on the “tall-ship circuit.”
“When I put my head down, it’s my passion,” Mahue said of traditional sailing. He says he’s not a historian, but his knowledge is based on “maritime historical evidence, my time at sea, and what works and what doesn’t.” Mahue owns the 60-ft pinky schooner Tiger, and also runs Tiller and Gaff, a supplier of handmade tools and crafts for traditional sailors.
“I was looking for something to do with the other six months of my life,” Mahue said of his business. “When you ship out, you go to Alaska, you go to Hawaii, and then you come home and it’s like, ‘I kind of just want to hang out.’ And for me, that was working with my hands and making sure that Tiger was alive and in use, but also, expressing myself in an artistic and functional way. I’ve had a lot of fun putting my artistic twist on my grandfather’s ditty bag. These are real heritage tools for me, but I’m putting them out there to the world.”
Out The Gate Sailing also recently interviewed Mr. Mahue. In Luc Maheu, Traditions, Tattoos & Tiger, Ben Shaw deepens the conversation about being a master mariner, merchant marine, charter captain and artisan. We cannot recommend Out The Gate enough for “sailing and adventure,” and an in-depth look at some of the Bay Area’s most colorful mariners.
While looking at the crowds on shore cheering at SailGP, we were reminded how many people can see San Francisco Bay but don’t know how to get onto the Bay. Over the past decades, there has been a great increase and improvement of the trails around the Bay, but our favorite ‘Bay trails’ always end in the Bay.
The Bay is ringed with numerous launch ramps where Lasers, Hobies, Day Sailers, Thistles, West Wight Potters and many other small boats are launched to explore the Bay. They’re pretty simple — a ramp with deep enough water to float a boat at the end through most of the tide cycle and a place to park your car and trailer while you go sailing. There are still quite a few remaining but they’re also getting pinched by development or falling out of service due to lack of maintenance. We’ve listed three below; two we’ll identify and a third one is for someone to identify by noon tomorrow for a chance to win a Latitude 38 T-shirt.
It’s nice to walk or ride around the Bay, but it’s just so much better to get onto the Bay. So, now we ask: If you were going to launch a sailing dinghy, where would you go? What are your favorite small-boat launch ramps? We wrote about a new one for windsurfers in Richmond, there’s Crissy Field and Sherman Island, and many more for kiteboarders, windsurfers and others throughout the Bay and Delta. But where are they all? Email us here with your favorite place to launch small boats in the Bay Area. If you have a photo, send that too.