by Rich Roberts
Many of the 34th America's Cup spectators stayed on in the Marina Green bleachers after Emirates Team New Zealand's opening double win over Oracle Team USA Saturday to watch the 18-foot skiffs practice for Sunday's start of the Nespresso 18' International Skiff Regatta for the Mark Foy Trophy.
Launching practice from the new ramp at Marina Green - 18’ Skiff International Regatta 2013
They were rewarded with a non-stop series of thrills and that was only at the launch ramp.
With northwest winds spiking in the low 20 knots well above forecasts, the first three skiffs capsized soon after leaving the rocking and rolling temporary wooden ramp, along with about half of the rest of the 21 boats to follow. After about an hour of such unscheduled excitement, a practice race followed, with only 10 boats starting as a few others focused on remaining upright.
Added features: a fly-by air show, the Hobie 16 Nationals preceding the ACs and an unscheduled upbeat exhibition by San Francisco's own John Heineken, the world champion kiteboarder.
Now they'll start their 10-race series for real, following the AC72s with two races Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and next Saturday and Sunday.
If the feisty conditions continue, it will be a challenge, even keeping in mind that these are some of the best three-man 18' skiff crews in the world, including defending champion Alex Vallings of New Zealand, six-time winner and Giltinan world champion Howard Hamlin of the USA and Nick Press and Grant Rollerson of Australia.
Press is filling in at the helm of Yandoo for John (Woody) Winning, who won here in 2004 and everywhere else in the world before and since but remained at home with his ailing wife this time. But his crew, bowman Andrew Hay and trimmer James Beck expect to hear from him regularly.
'We'll feel like he's on the boat with us,' said Hay, who has sailed with Winning for nine years. 'He's back there looking over us.'
Beck said, grinning, 'If it's bad I'll tweet him afterward. He doesn't tweet back.'
St. Francis Yacht Club manages the skiff event, independent of the AC competition, while the event is being hosted in conjunction with the AC Open as part of the Summer of Sailing, taking place at the America's Cup Village on Marina Green.
The 18s usually sail out of Crissy Field west of St. Francis YC nearer the Golden Gate Bridge, but their competition in concert with the America's Cup marks a step up in stature in addition to the Mark Foy Trophy, one of the class's three top prizes, including this one, inspired by the vision of the Australian department store owner who in the late 19th century successfully introduced sailboat racing to a spectator audience, featuring the overpowered 18-footers.
While the JJ Giltinan regatta run annually in Sydney since 1938 is regarded as the class's world championship, the Mark Foy has gained global status entering its fifth year of spreading the skiff spirit to various world locations … although few also offer such a launching spectacle as seen in San Francisco Saturday.
Nespresso began their association with the sport of sailing as co-sponsor of Team Alinghi for the 32nd America’s Cup campaign between 2004-2007, as well as being the Official Coffee to the event. In 2010, Nespresso and Wally, the world leader in yachting innovation, launched the Nespresso Cup, an international regatta exclusively for the Wally Class in Portofino, Italy, bringing together some of the world’s most respected world-class sailors, to deliver one of the most aesthetically pleasing sailing regattas. America’s Cup sailors Loick Peyron, Paul Cayard, Francesco De Angelis, Jochen Schuemann were the Nespresso Cup Ambassadors, adding their own individual style to this unique event.
Nespresso is now Proud Sponsor of Emirates Team New Zealand, challenger for the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco.