The Maritime Report: Out on a Stake Boat - Guarding the borders of the America's Cup course

The Maritime Report: Out on a Stake Boat - Guarding the borders of the America's Cup course

Dave Bloch

It was completely unplanned. At a large gathering of America's Cup fans Wednesday night at the South Beach Yacht Club in San Francisco, I ran into Gerry Cannon, the gentleman who sold my wife an I our first real yacht (in this case, defined as a boat with a real engine).

Gerry is working this week as a volunteer "stake boat," which means each day of America's Cup racing this week he and his son motor their sailboat, the 40-foot "Good Omen," out onto the Bay with a large red flag flying at the masthead. He and six other boats go to GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude) and drop anchor; these boats create a huge rectangle within which the race will take place. Spectator boats, fishing boats, and any other boat not authorized to be inside this restricted area will be chased out by a fleet of bright orange "marshal boats" or small boats from the U.S. Coast Guard.

We left South Beach Harbor (next to AT&T Park) right at 11:30 and were out in our appointed location far out in the Bay off Crissy Field well before 1:00. We listened for the Race Director to call for "Stake Boat 2" and confirmed receipt of the coordinates he gave us. Gerry motored us to the exact spot and we dropped anchor in nearly 100 feet of water. I watched our position relative to land to make sure we never moved; the anchor set well and we were secure.

Once in place, we were free to enjoy the box lunches provided to the staffed and volunteer boats (all in compostable trays and wrapping, by the way) and watch whatever we could see. We were out on the northwest corner of the course which is quite a ways from the center of the action off Marina Green, but we had binoculars and cameras with zoom lenses to bring us closer to the action.

We had one incredible moment before the races began as one of the AC45s came out to "say hello," which they do by flying past the boat close enough to do a "High Five!" It happened so fast that we didn't grab a photo, but it just shows how confident these skippers are in their abilities to control these catamarans at high speed.

Thursday was "Youth Day," and during a break between races several dozen small sailboats came out onto the Bay by Marina Green for a kids' regatta. The PA system announcers (who are also broadcast on marine VHF radio channel 20) made a special point of encouraging the crowd, many of whom had never watched a sailboat race before, to try out the sport for themselves. "Get over to a yacht club, or look for a community sailing center in the area, and see what's available." (Especially for those of us who live over here on this Island, that's exactly what I'm hoping the excitement of the America's Cup will get people to do.)

We had two match races (two boats racing each other) and two fleet races (all 11 boats going around the course twice) Thursday afternoon. Oracle Team USA was the big winner. But our Alameda "home team," Artemis Racing representing the Royal Swedish Yacht Club, did really well taking both second and third place in the second fleet race and are third and fourth in the overall standings after the two Oracle boats. (Artemis has two boats in this series, simply called Red and White.) The announcers kept saying that winds were in the 12-16 knot range (1 knot is just a bit over 1 mile per hour), but they were often above 20 knots out where we were. There were also very strong currents Thursday, and the teams were constantly trying to use both the winds and currents to their advantage.

By around 4:00 the racing was done and the Race Director announced that the stake boats could weigh anchor and head for home. It was a great day, and felt pretty special to be able to have a small part in making this huge event happen.

NOW, SOME NEWS YOU CAN USE:

From this experience, I would highly recommend watching these races from Marina Green, rather than taking the trouble to go out on a boat. By far the most action takes place very close to shore, and the size of the restricted area puts you quite a ways out in the Bay. The prime area for the "spectator fleet" is straight out from Marina Green and even from our location it was easy to see that it got CROWDED over there. So go out in a boat for the experience of being there, but to really see the races, stay on shore.

The America's Cup World Series races continue Friday and Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Take transit to Marina Green (or BART with your bike!) and grab a spot on the grass or (if you're early) one of the benches right along the waterfront walkway. Have a great time enjoying these races!

Be sure to check my blog at http://alamedawaterfront.com/blogs/dave-bloch for updates and photographs (coming Friday).