circle marks the spot
The Berkeley Circle was back on form today after a lacklustre SF showing last week, with 16-22 knots giving the Melges 32 competitors a workout on their first of four days of racing for the second-ever class World Champs.
The SA’ers picks were all but useless after a day’s scores, with the Kiwi Tirade taking the first race by a country mile in the square chop of Berzerkely. With only around 13 feet of water under the boats, the short chop is brutal, and was the cause of its share of carnage on the course today. In a freak incident, a crew from Arethusa got his feet caught in a nearby boat’s sheets on a gybe, and was quickly lifted onto a RIB and taken to the hospital. He kept both legs, but severe sprains means he’s out. Seattle boat Banshee – a truly amateur effort – smacked into Warpath (and maybe one other boat), losing her stanchions and ending her day halfway into the first race. But despite the minor dustups, the fleet was largely intact, and we saw precious few keels on the water – a testament to the rapid progress of this fleet, from the bottom to the top. Andy and Johnny Lovell have picked up where they left off at the class’s first-ever North American champs held last year right here in SF, sailing clean and fast and taking a nice lead into day 2, while the favorites all had deep finishes in the first three.
But progress is all over the place in this hot class, with the Melges 32 sucking up a huge number of pros and support crew out of other classes, yet the vibe has mostly stayed light and fun-filled, no doubt helped by the partying attitudes of a few top crews, the young average age of the teams, and epic, Jaeger-bomb fueled shindigs thrown by the Barbarians. And how many Grand Prix teams are named after strip clubs? Well, this one is (with the nice interview thanks to Paige Brooks).
But I didn’t really come here to cover Melges 32 racing; Paige and Serge and some of the other locals are doing a great job of that, and the live feed and Kattack viewer are giving the online fans at least something to watch during the day (and you can get all the info and links in the thread here). No – I came here to remind myself what a gorgeous destination it is, and to stare out on the water and imagine what eight huge catamarans with towering wing sails might look like as they sliced through the chop at 30 knots. And it didn’t take more than about 10 minutes of standing at the water’s edge in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge to realize just how compelling the Ellison/Coutts vision of AC34 will be, and how unsatisfactory a venue like Valencia or Fiumicino is when compared to the stunning beauty and huge appeal of the city and bay of San Francisco.
It simply can’t be anywhere else, and if Ellison is committed to spending the money that his vision requires, we might find ourselves with the kind of buzz that gets sailing on its way to reversing the downward spiral of participation that started back in 1980. US SAILING numbers estimated more than 10 million sailors back in those days compared to the 2 million sailors today, and only an ultra-high profile event like a winged cat AC has the ability to stem it. It is about time that the USA learned that sailing is not just a hobby for rich guys with roman numerals after their names, and it is about time for millions of Americans to learn that they can do it too.
Be sure to keep an eye on the M32 Worlds thread for the latest info, and look for daily reports from Paige, while we head down to San Diego for SA’s ISAF regatta. Results are here, and Mer Block photo.