July is the traditional month for patriotic celebrations and outdoor festivities and in San Francisco, it’s also time for the America’s Cup regatta, a sailing competition dating back to 1851 — making it the oldest trophy in American sport.
The defending champion currently holding the big silver cup is Oracle Team USA. And over the next few months, challengers from Sweden, New Zealand and Italy will be vying to see which will make it into the final races in September. If you haven’t paid much attention to the America’s Cup since 1987, when San Diego’s Dennis Conner won the cup back from Australia, a lot has changed. Here’s your primer to the competition, where to watch it and the best parties to attend.
What’s Coming Up
The Louis Vuitton Cup races that decide which of the three challengers will sail into the finals, started July 7 and ends August 30. Artemis Racing of Sweden, Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Challenge from Italy are the three teams competing — though the Italian team boycotted the opening race over a rules dispute. The winner will take on Oracle Team USA for a best-of-17 series of races held from September 7 through 21.
What They’re Sailing
The America’s Cup race teams of 11 sailors used to sail yachts with a single hull, like the classic Stars & Stripes boats. Now, the crafts are catamarans with a pair of pontoons and a large sail that’s 130 feet high. A race used to take all day, but now they’re down to 30 minutes, since these AC72 boats are twice as fast as the classic yachts, reaching speeds equivalent to 50 mph, says Sean McNeill of the America’s Cup communications team. “One thing about these new boats is they’re so fast you can’t follow them up and down the race course,” McNeill says. “They go faster than some power boats can keep up.”
Where To Watch
The two main venues for watching races and taking part in festivities include America’s Cup Village and Park. To see the start of the race, head to Marina Green near Fort Mason, which has been dubbed America’s Cup Village. Perch on the rocks or bring a lawn chair and set it up on the grass; the area also features concession stands (such as the Nespresso Café) and hospitality booths offering America’s Cup merchandise and more. If you’re more interested in a close finish, see it from the America’s Cup Park at Piers 27/29, the new cruise ship terminal on the Embarcadero. Admission to the park is free, and inside you’ll find the America’s Cup Pavilion, an amphitheater that seats 9,000. Post-race interviews and race footage will screen there daily, and it’s also the scene of a concert series with acts ranging from Jason Mraz to Sublime to Steely Dan.
Viewing In Style
Many San Francisco hotels and restaurants are hosting champagne-splashed viewing parties and Cup-related events. The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco offers a bird’s-eye view from the 40th floor, and a summer of sipping and sailing series for $45 per person. The party starts from 1 to 3 p.m. on July 27 with a champagne and perfumology event, and on August 17, guests can expect the best of New Zealand wines. The following month, partygoers will enjoy the best of Australian bottles at the September 21 affair.
Waiheke Island Yacht Club, a pop-up eatery by acclaimed New Zealand restaurateur Tony Stewart at Pier 29, serves Kiwi-influenced, modern fare such as Hawkes Bay tartare to rack of lamb and Moa craft beer. And watch the finals from a great vantage point on the rooftop deck over Pier 39, while noshing on gourmet bites and sipping savory spirits.
Photo courtesy of ACEA and Abner Kingma