SD Port Officials OK Bid to Host America’s Cup

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Port commissioners voted unanimously Feb. 11 to submit a bid to host the next America’s Cup on San Diego Bay in August 2017.

The commissioners, two of them sailors, spoke enthusiastically about the prospect of hosting sailing’s marquee regatta. The commissioners directed the port’s staff to respond to a request for information from America’s Cup officials by March 3.

America’s Cup officials are talking with other venues about hosting the 35th America’s Cup because San Francisco officials haven’t offered the same terms they did for last summer’s regatta, which ended with Oracle Team USA staging one of the greatest comebacks in sports.

San Diego “definitely is one of the venues that seems to be ticking quite a lot of boxes,” Russell Coutts, the CEO of Oracle Team USA, said by phone from the British Virgin Islands, where he’s attending a regatta in the RC44 class, which he helped launch. “It’d be a really good venue.”

Coutts said the plan is to eliminate two or three potential venues in the next month or so, and then negotiate host city agreements with two ports. One of those ports would be a backup. Officials also are looking at venues to host the challenger eliminations and warmup regattas called the America’s Cup World Series.

Coutts, who skippered Team New Zealand to a 5-0 win against Dennis Conner off San Diego in 1995, said the process could stretch into the summer.

The only other confirmed potential venue is Hawaii. While not confirmed, it’s believed Newport, R.I., and Long Beach, Calif., also are in the mix.

San Diego hosted the America’s Cup in 1988, 1992 and 1995, with racing on the Pacific Ocean off Point Loma.             Commissioner Dan Malcolm, who said he’s passionate about sailing, used a basketball analogy for the San Diego Port’s bid.

“Even though we’re in 3-point land on this shot, I think it is definitely worth it for the potential impact that this could have on San Diego to take this shot,” he said.

Continuing the analogy, Commissioner Marshall Merrifield said it was “maybe a solid outside two-point shot. This isn’t just a sailing race. This is not the sailing we’re used to. These are sailboats that actually fly. It’s very exciting stuff, very dramatic.”             The 34th America’s Cup was contested in 72-foot, wing-sailed catamarans that rode up on hydrofoils, with both hulls completely out of the water. Those boats were expensive and, some felt, overpowered with their 131-foot wing sails. To cut costs, organizers are proposing sailing the next America’s Cup in catamarans of 60-65 feet, with smaller wing sails and fewer sailors. Merrifield said he felt San Diego has more to offer than San Francisco.

“We have much better stadium sailing viewing,” he said. “People in Berkeley cannot see these like the folks in Coronado can.”
He also said the port has more control over the services the America’s Cup officials are looking for.

“We may be a stalking horse. Others may be a stalking horse. But we should put our best foot forward and be assertive,” Merrifield said.

The America’s Cup in San Francisco was the first to be sailed inshore rather than miles offshore.

“I think the racecourse in San Diego, quite frankly, sets up better than San Francisco,” said Coutts, a five-time America’s Cup winner.

Negotiations in San Francisco have perhaps reached the point of no return. Talks are at an impasse because America’s Cup officials want free rent for piers, as well as have police, fire and other services provided. They’re also opposed to paying the equivalent of union wages for construction work.

America’s Cup officials are requesting free use of piers and fire, police and other services in San Diego, according to a presentation Feb. 11 by SEA San Diego. The group organized an America’s Cup World Series regatta in November 2011 and a regatta in the RC44 class in March 2011, both on the bay.

If San Diego is chosen for the America’s Cup, Oracle Team USA would move its base to San Diego in mid-2016.

Port officials said it was too early to calculate costs and economic impact of an America’s Cup in San Diego.

“Today was an important step,” said SEA San Diego board member Troy Sears, who has been active in past America’s Cup regattas and owns Next Level Sailing. One of his boats is a replica of the schooner America, whose victory over a fleet of British ships in 1851 gave the oldest trophy in international sports its name.

“It’s nice that their enthusiasm has been revealed, and today’s public hearing provided that opportunity,” Sears said.

 — Bernie Wilson

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