THIS WEEK we sailed from Alameda harbor for a bay tour to show Marco, our young Italian visitor, some memorable San Francisco views from the water. As a bonus, we hoped to catch sight of the America's Cup racing catamarans practicing for this summer's championship races. These racing yachts are big and fast, built with state-of-the-art material with a radical boat design. They are historically the fastest sailboats ever built specifically to compete in the upcoming "world series" of sailing.
Racing sailboats are no longer slow-moving vessels. With advanced technology they can reach incredibly fast speeds of 50 knots by the power of wind alone. In contrast we sail about 7 to 8 knots (9mph) maximum and past racing sailboats would reach 26 knots (30mph) top speed. That's faster than the wind blows. Such speeds are possible with foils that lift the hull above water reducing hull drag, and a fixed airplane-style wing that transfers wind power to the boat similar to the force that lifts a jumbo jet airliner.
During our outing we saw Oracle's Team USA AC72 catamaran darting about all over the water but very far away -- crossing the Golden Gate, around Alcatraz Island, passing the Marina Green, shadowing Crissy Field, and passing under the Bay Bridge. At our pokey speed we would never catch them so we headed toward San Francisco for a leisurely sightseeing excursion along the Embarcadero waterfront, Ferry Building, and AT&T Park, but still keeping an eye out for the racing boat.
Then to our surprise and delight we saw them sailing toward us, closing at an incredible speed. The huge fixed wing catamaran screamed just a few yards past us at breakneck speeds that must have clocked at 50 mph!
We could hear her tight well-tuned sheets and lines vibrating fiercely as she whizzed past us on those racing foils during a downwind run. We could see the faces of the crew as they cranked the winches adjusting the foils. It was a brief, powerful, and incredible encounter -- a delight to be so close to this huge sailboat traveling at record speed!
We were fortunate to have two encounters with the Oracle that day -- one near the Ferry Building and a a half hour later we got a second "buzzing" near AT&T Park south of the Bay Bridge. Here's a sequence of photos of the second passing from our position on the water. The event was over as quickly as it began, but we will never forget the sound and spray of that boat screaming past!
My brother Cliff commented later, "I let up on my sails to slow my breakneck speed as to not embarrass Oracle if any news teams were filming. I am certain that they wanted to catch up to us the second time to get a closer look at my sail rigging and test my race tactics in preparation for the Americas Cup challenges."
Today I'm certain that Marco found something to write home about!