san francisco – ground zero

san francisco – ground zero

“May you live in interesting times.”
-Ancient Chinese Curse

All of us San Franciscans have worked pretty damn hard to make the America’s Cup a reality, and to bring the world’s most prestigious yacht race to our home waters. But the real work is just about to begin. After the city’s collective hangover eased, I had to ask myself, "where do we go from here?" A phenomenal amount of work has to be done on the Piers in question; particularly Piers 30-32, which lie just a few blocks from my home base here at Pier 40.

For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Drew Harper and I started a sailing school 30 years ago and a big-boat charter company 26 years ago. We currently have two certified sailing vessels, down from a high of four boats just three years ago; sadly a result of the waning economy. We were one of the first marine industry tenants to set up shop in South Beach Harbor, back when it was a series of tenement slum warehouses and a host to the largest damned rat population you ever saw.

But in the past three decades, I have watched this once dormant neighborhood transform itself into a thriving community, complete with towering live/work lofts, a trillion dollar bio-med campus, thousands of residences, and the baseball World Champion San Francisco Giant.  The rats are still here, you just have to dig into the bulkheads a little bit deeper to find them.

As a result of the area’s recent development, South Beach is a fun, new, pricey (though there’s many ‘deals’ if you look) and modern district. Millions venture to the area annually from around the globe; to attend baseball games, to charter sailboats, to enjoy the nightlife, and to sample some of the best weather there is to find on the tip of the San Francisco peninsula. And now for the America’s Cup…

California is a national leader in environmental conservation, and the bureaucracy that brings with it, which is mostly encompassed within CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA is a complex law that requires state and local agencies to identify any significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.  In other words, CEQA requires government to try not to kill anything or mess up the environment during new development. It’s a necessary rule that serves a cause important to all of us, but is unfortunately a slow and intensely bureaucratic procedure. In order for the AC to happen, we will all have to work together to navigate this road in an efficient manner.  In the interim, however, many things will be taking place, mostly on the water.

What is the San Francisco marine industry doing to prepare for the AC? Commercially, we have reinvented a business stakeholder group called Sailing Renaissance. Initially, this was developed to allow various forms of ‘soft’ maritime companies to work together, symbiotically, to grow sailing in the Bay Area.  I’ve reported on this from time to time on Sailing Anarchy over the past few years. The group meets periodically to discuss boat shows, business promotions, and other things that we can all get behind to help grow our sport. Needless to say, we’ll now be getting together more often!  Our main objective is to work together with the AC34 staff, the City and the other stakeholders to see where our common areas exist and where we can build bridges.

We in San Francisco have an incredible opportunity to “Tigerize” sailing.  We have the right boats, the right stage and perhaps even the right production team to truly put sailing on the world’s stage. But it’s not just about the boats:  It is also about the people. This is a compelling story that has been lost in the previous iterations of America’s Cup coverage, which has been rife with controversy and legal action. I think I speak for us all when I say I’m stoked to see how it all develops.

I’ll stay in touch with the ‘commercial’ side of this story, but I hope that some of the many GREAT sailors we have in this area will chime in with their own take of it all.

This is going to be a wild ride, and we in San Francisco are proud to be a part of it.  And God do I hope I get to sail one of the new beasts!

Drew Harper/ aka Schoonerman