The America’s Cup: Not a Bad Show

Unlimited sunshine, a race on the water and a festive atmosphere ashore entertained the crowds for day two of the Louis Vuitton finals.

Louis Vuitton Cup Finals

On vacation from Italy, Vittorio Di Mauro and his children are having a working/sailing vacation in the U.S., visiting J/Boats on the East Coast, builders of Vittorio's new J/70, and cheering on Luna Rossa in San Francisco.Mark Pillsbury

It's Sunday and day two of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals in San Francisco. I got to the sun-splashed waterfront early, just as an enormous wing did a fly by of the Embarcadero on the way out to a Team Oracle practice race. Old couples and families with strollers stopped dead on the sidewalk to watch.

"There goes Oracle," a stooped gent said to his wife.

“Don’t they do that every four years?” She replied.

Excuse me, but despite the pundits declaring the Cup a total bust, I was impressed that these tourists knew the name of the boat, never mind how often this particular circus takes place.

By 10, life stirred at the AC Park. A flock of AC 45s hovered offshore as teams in the Red Bull Youth Challenge completed a practice run around the course.

Dave Motherwell sat with his wife and daughter taking in the scene. They were down from Victoria, B.C., to cheer on friends on Luna Rosa. Motherwell races Melges and J/Boats back home and had once tried out for a spot on Canada II, just missing the cut to make the team as a grinder. He was eager for the action to begin.

Eric Wiens and Susan Neufeld had come across the bay from Alameda for the day. Eric spent the past few months watching the now-defeated Artemis Racing put its boat together just down the street from his house, and was fascinated by these big AC cats. Years ago as a teenager he'd sailed Sunfish and Prindle cats back in Kansas, but he said he and Susan aren't sailing people. Still, he wasn't a complete AC newbie. In a former life he was in the museum business and helped Bill Koch curate an America's Cup exhibit in Wichita.

So how was it having an AC team right down the street, where he could stop in mornings after dropping off Susan for work? Well, he explained, Almeda is a relatively small town on the bay compared to San Francisco, so he and his neighbors felt a little civic pride having Artemis choose their shore to set up camp.

Italians Vittorio Di Mauro and his three kids grinned ear-to-ear as they flocked around Luna Rossa's crew. Team members, many with their own children in tow, waited for the morning's ceremonies to get started and chatted with passersby. The Di Mauro youngsters waved Italian flags that had been autographed by the sailors.

Di Mauro was in the States, partly on business and partly on vacation. He'd recently purchased a J/70 and stopped in Rhode Island to tour the factory. It was exciting for the kids to see where their new boat was built, he said, and they managed to squeeze in a ride on the 12-Meter Heritage, to boot.

Talk about the accidental tourists, the Grout family from England was on a tour of the West Coast and out for a walk when they decided to stop at the AC Park to take in the show.

"It's fantastic, actually," said Dad, who stated immediately that he knew absolutely nothing about sailing. Still, they had nearly a ringside seat for the morning's introduction and interviews with Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa. "I can't believe we walked right in."

Soon, the AC 72s did their flyby of the village and then headed for the start. On the big video displays set up around the village, scenes of Emirates New Zealand burying their bows a day earlier were on a seemingly endless replay loop. And then the racing commenced and the crowd flocked to the waterfront to watch today’s show.

The racing was good until it wasn’t. New Zealand, which led from the start, developed trouble with one of its daggerboards and had to withdraw, while Luna Rossa sailed past to victory and evened the series 1-1.

As fog poured in through Golden Gate, the AC commentators killed time while race officials waited to see if the building sea breeze would become too much. Eventually Race 2 was cancelled, but looking around, it would appear no one, except perhaps the sailors, were too upset. On the lawns in the village, the crowds sprawled out on beanbags and watched the post race interviews on the big screens. The bars were packed, and throughout the village, no one seemed in a hurry to leave. Instead, they enjoyed an unusually sunny summer’s day in San Francisco.

Though admission was free, I doubt anyone would have asked for their money back. It was an entertaining day on the waterfront and sailing, for a while at least, was at center stage.