Saturday, June 30, 2012

Napa Valley Vintners & America's Cup: The thrill of a lifetime

Saturday June 30

When Eric Sklar, Will Smith and I arrived at the America’s Cup Village Saturday morning, we were looking forward to another enjoyable afternoon watching the America’s Cup World Series from Club 45, just a few feet from the shore.  Eric was still pumped with excitement from his ride as a guest racer with Emirates Team New Zealand on Friday – if you want to know how exciting these 45-foot catamarans are, ask Eric or Clay Gregory to tell you about their guest racer rides – but we all expected a more laid-back Saturday.

We were wrong.  I was just sitting down to enjoy an iced tea and the view of Narragansett Bay, when Eric walked up to announce we had been invited to spend the afternoon out on the race course.  No one ever said yes faster than Will and I.  We all promptly gathered our belongings and headed to the dock to meet our boat.

I should explain that in order to make the most out of the relatively small areas within which the races are run, and to aid in the effort to keep as much of the action as close to shore as possible, the America’s Cup World Series uses boats – referred to as “mark boats” – to set the turning marks for the race.  This enables the race directors to move the marks as needed to adjust to changes in wind speed and direction over the course of an afternoon, and to have a finish line that is different from the starting line.  Our seats for the afternoon were on the twin-hulled power boat America, which would set up at one end of the starting line for the speed trials, and at the leeward (downwind) mark for both the fleet races.

Which means that when those 45-foot catamarans came sailing by, we were close enough to hear the singing of the wind over the sails, the voices of the crew as commands and responses were called out, the grunts of exertion as they trimmed the sails – well, to be more precise, the boats sometimes passed within just a couple of feet of America.  Watching a sailboat race simply doesn’t get more exciting than that.  It was the thrill of a lifetime.

Once again, the racing was fantastic.  Jimmy Spithill, skipper of the number one boat for Team Oracle USA, won the time trial with an average speed of 24.77 knots, which works out to 28.5 miles per hour.  I checked the true wind speed on America’s instrument panel, and I’m pretty sure it was no more than 15 knots, if that.  In other words, Spithill was sailing at least 1.65 times faster than the wind. There are limits to how fast these catamarans can go, but I’m pretty sure that when they come to San Francisco in August we’ll see boat speeds at 30 knots or better – on San Francisco Bay in the summertime, 15 knots of wind is a pretty light day.

So, if you haven’t already made your plans to be there in San Francisco in August and October, don’t delay.



Lester Hardy, lawyer by day, author by night, is the husband of Janet Pagano, Managing Partner at Ovid Vineyards.  An avid sailor, Lester crews for vintner Eric Sklar on Spindrifter at the Sausalito Yacht Club's Tuesday night races, and is currently working on a biography of Tom Blackaller, a San Francisco sailing legend who competed in three America's Cup events. You can reach Lester at

1 comment:

Janet Viader said...

Sounds like a blast!!