Aside from bed and couch, there are no optimal places to be very hungover. However, there are some locations that will make matters worse: the backseat of your parent’s car, for instance, or while babysitting your nephews at Great America under the heat of the midday sun. However, sitting aboard a smallish cabin cruiser that’s rocking side-to-side on the Bay has got to be up there. And yet that was where I found myself on Saturday morning, gasping for fresh air on the crowded bow of The Princess while our unflappable Kiwi race MC reiterated over the intercom just how very, very excited he was indeed for the races to begin.
Here is what this whole America’s Cup deal looks like, to someone who has not watched a single race or kept much track of wins, losses and general stakes beyond a casual appreciation of the Luna Rossa team’s jaunty track jackets (come back, Italians!). As a privileged spectator, I got to set sail from the Emirates New Zealand team’s compound on Pier 32, but not before browsing through a couple cavernous hangars and a besponsored lounge area, where the coffee was piping hot and the elegant Emirates flight attendants in fabulous hats stood about, ostensibly in case you needed help with your seat belt and tray table.
We were then herded onto The Empress or, on our case, The Princess, which I imagined to be slightly smaller than her counterpart and immediately developed a fierce us-against-them attitude about. Filled to the brim with mostly enthusiastic Kiwis and a contingent of preppy Frenchmen, we motored off onto the Bay, soon passing within spitting distance of an ostentatious mega-yacht courtesy of the man himself. Larry Ellison's Musashi is absurdly huge, with multiple layers of gleaming whitewashed decks and railings that evoke wishful thoughts of a Jason Bourne hit (“For chrissake, you’re the one who picked the yacht as a goddamn strike point!”). The sighting of the yacht, devoid of visible passengers, brought up some uncomfortable realities about this America’s Cup: insanely expensive and relatively inaccessible to the common person (Sportscenter won’t touch the stuff), who and what is the America’s Cup even for, exactly? Was this entire clusterfuck simply another Musashi, a gilded prize in the hands of the super rich Ellison, to be enjoyed only by your more boat-nerdy friends? Why had I decided to spend four hours onboard a ship that seemed to be actively trying to get me to puke overboard, when I could be lying very still in a darkened room? And how the hell had I managed to forget my sunglasses?
In the midst of this existential murk, the AC72s sped out onto the Bay. To call the wing-sail catamarans birdlike would imply fragility: I’d say a pterodactyl is a better comparison. You’ve seen the pictures, but it’s hard to communicate just how large and muscular these floating, flying contractions are up close. Oracle’s black-winged boat in particular resembles a vaguely menacing sci-fi creature with a terrifying attack speed and a crew that, from far away, looks like so many panicked hostages running hysterically from side to side.
Our tireless and informative commentator had been explaining just how the race worked with the aid of real-time graphics displayed on the onboard televisions, and had I not been sunk down in a seat with a too-large Giants cap over my eyes, I would have absorbed a lot more of it. But the general gist was that unseen currents play a huge role in race strategy, and that wind is a factor both in how fast the boats go and if they can race at all: as we’ve seen the past couple of days, high wind speeds can cancel a race altogether. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in the second race of the day, but let’s stick to the positives: one Saturday’s first race began, I was forced to confront the fact that it was totally, surprisingly thrilling.
Though I'm no maritime reporter, here is my approximation of what went down out there. Picture two pterodactyls that can swim and are hunting for dolphins by skimming across the surface of water (paleontologists please advise). Now imagine each is racing from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge on their giant, leathery wings, making hairpin turns with a clan of
oompa-loompahs seasoned sailors clinging to their backs for dear life. And then, dear readers, imagine this happens:
I mean good christ! The Emirates team almost completely capsized, and under all powers of earth and heaven I don't know why they didn't. The moments that Emirates boat hung vertical seemed to stretch and warp into another dimension where the laws of physics and the logic of dinosaur science held no sway. In that instant, blood curdled and hangover almost completely forgotten, I'm pretty sure I became an America's Cup convert.
Sure, it cost millions of dollars. Yes, the boat's pricetag marginalized nations that couldn't afford them, the event is widely accepted to be a wholesale disaster and it's hard not to feel personally punked by Larry Ellison and his power (boat) trip. And let's not forget that one man even lost his life when the Artemis team capsized earlier this year.
But as we all nurse our collective America's Cup hangovers, let's also take a moment to appreciate the sporting event that delighted foreign visitors (even the preppy Frenchmen got excited), bore witness to some once-in-a-lifetime racing, and stirred this jaded and bilious reporter to life. America's Cup, you are a real son of a bitch. And I salute you.
Previously: All America's Cup coverage on SFist