One day is all that was needed for proof of concept of Sunsail's newest base, located on the northern reach of San Francisco Bay. Here in the center of a booming tech industry, at the gateway to the California wine country, on the cusp of an America's Cup year and with all of San Francisco and its Bay as a playground, you have an ideal environment for Sunsail's vision that emphasizes corporate team building and incentive programs, corporate hospitality and events, and competitive racing along with charters and a sailing school.
Team building is a core mission of Sunsail's newest facility. With eight brand new Farr-designed, Beneteau-built Sunsail First 40s in the lineup and (this seems miraculous, if you know waterfront politics in the region) a new pier under construction to accommodate them, the prospects are extraordinary. Sunsail has partnered aggressively, placing its facility in downtown Sausalito, within walking distance of the best that this Riviera-like village has to offer. One promising partner is the Spinnaker Restaurant, a prominent feature built on pilings over the water, with sweeping bay views, good grub and parking, the hardest thing to come by in downtown Sausalito.
Sunsail also has a partnership with the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC), across San Francisco Bay on the San Francisco harbor front, which just happens to be the Defender of the 34th America's Cup, to be sailed in GGYC's "front yard" in the second half of 2013.
For the introduction to the San Francisco Bay sailing community, Sunsail hosted a reception at the Golden Gate Yacht Club in the last week of July and invited a mix of sailing and local journalists to sample the boats and Bay. The reception highlighted the company's plans for developing a business on the Bay and offered an update on progress toward the next America's Cup, delivered by Tom Ehman, GGYC vice commodore and a man whose Cup background sweeps across most of its modern history. Name your intrigue, and “the Chairman” was there.
The following morning, bright (as bright as it can be when the fog is in) and early, the same troops gathered in a meeting room at the Spinnaker restaurant, where I was told that leaving my car in the lot for the day was “no problem.” There was a briefing on a plan, and soon we were on our way to the boats.
Aboard boat number 6, we enjoyed an experience shared all through the fleet, with a competent skipper and first mate from Sunsail helping newbies with all those little things they just have to know, and most of all providing reassurance, and then more reassurance. It didn't take long to be on our way, outbound on an iconic patch of sailing water sure to thrill anyone, grizzled salt or first timer. Sausalito lies just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, in the most scenic portion of the bay—fair to say, this is the most common destination for daysails in the area, no matter where they originate—and the vista of that big red bridge, spanning the gateway to the Pacific, opens as soon as you clear the dock.
We had a straightforward program for the day, one that could be adapted to corporate team building or a simple daysail. First, just sail for a bit. Then rally for lunch. Then stage a “race” that tours the most popular areas of the Bay in a single lap.
At the state park known as Angel Island, beneath a sheltering hill in Ayala Cove—named for Ayala, the first European navigator to enter San Francisco Bay—we tied up the boats at floating wooden docks and carried box lunches to picnic tables set on a long green lawn. (It is not wrong to protect any and every thing edible from the gulls, who have no respect.) Lunch was an opportunity to get to know each other better, trade a few sea stories among those who had them to tell, and look forward to the adventure to come.
And then, the adventure came.
Your correspondent has been in a few boat races, but we had two people aboard for whom everything was new, and it is always satisfying to share the sailing experience. There is the fear factor, and there is the fear-overcome factor, and that speaks to the whole enterprise that Sunsail is tackling here. And what finer place? Our Spanish captain, Juan Manuel de Ayala, was dazzled to enter San Francisco Bay and discover a grand refuge, fully protected from the not-always-pacific Pacific Ocean. But the Bay is also a place of powerful natural forces, with strong winds and currents, and it has its challenges.
In the course of one afternoon aboard our Sunsail First 40, we experienced pounding gusts, near-roundups to weather, fog and chill, the requirement to keep a watch for shipping and then an instant transition as we rounded Blackaller Buoy, off the Presidio, and turned to reach down the San Francisco cityfront. Suddenly our world was calmer. Sun replaced fog. The puffs abated, and our newbies were ready to try the helm, silly grins and all.
Call it yet another good day on the water, mission accomplished. And, hmm, a Sunsail First 40 would provide an easy way to play the game in September at the Rolex Big Boat Series, wouldn't it? Hmm, indeed.
Photos courtesy of Sunsail