Having been holed up in Holland Michigan since the 2000 Chicago Mackinac Race, Sayonara, Larry Ellison’s 80’ Maxi is headed home.
Her destination, Pier 80 in San Francisco which is currently HQ for Oracle Racing and ground zero for all things Americas Cup on SF Bay until the construction of the new piers on the City Front are complete. Sayonara was the launching pad for Larry Ellison into the yacht Racing World, his first foray into serious competition. In a conversation with his neighbor, one David Thomson back in 1994, the subject of sailing to Hawaii was brought up after listening to Thomson’s tales of the Transpacific Yacht Race, Larry was intrigued. David suggested building a Maxi, the largest legally allowed for the race, and without much debate Larry agreed, so long as it was designed to win.
Enter Bill and Melinda Erkelens, Bay Area residents and friends of David Thomson, with a passion for sailing running through their veins since early childhood, were asked to manage the program from the inception and building process at Cookson Boats in Dave’s native New Zealand. Bill & Melinda ran the Sayonara campaign from 1994 through 2000 with professionalism and intrigue.
Everything from accounting for purchases of the smallest screw to arranging the boat and it’s traveling circus of gear and personnel were tended to with scrupulous precision. Melinda commented in a 1996 interview 'We set our own budget, which must be approved by the owner, then do our best to stick to it.' During that tenure, Sayonara won 5 Maxi World Championships and whetted Ellisons’s passion for competitive yachting at the highest level.
Ironically it was Larrys’ desire to excel in yachting’s greatest achievements while attempting to dethrone arch rival Hasso Plattner’s ' Morning Glory' record for the Sydney Hobart which ended Larry‘s interest in ocean racing, and the concerted effort in Americas Cup campaigns. The 1998 Sydney Hobart was decimated by an unusually powerful storm with winds of 70 knots and seas upwards of 40’. Too far from land to turn back, and likely hood of helo rescue not possible, Sayonara rode out the storm and sailed to first to finish in 3 days and 53 minutes, 35 seconds. During the height of the storm, hunkered down in the spartan interior bunk and watching Sayonara’s hull flexing with every massive impact, and surrounded by some of the worlds best sailors, barely able to keep from chumming themselves, Larry kept saying to himself: 'This is a stupid way to die'
Larry soon thereafter swore off ocean racing all together, and Sayonara, would compete only in buoy events on inland seas and the Chicago Mac, which became her swan song after finishing first in the 2000 event, where she was subsequently placed in storage while Team Oracle began focusing on other programs.
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And for a commentary on Sayonara's win in the 1998 Sydney Hobart race click here?nid=90718