Those lucky enough to have been on the scene at the 34th America’s Cup will be familiar with the spectacular backdrop the city of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay provided to the equally spectacular racing.
Indeed, it seemed as if the Auld Mug had found its new spiritual home; so much so that it was a shock when it was announced that AC35 would be contested on the waters of Great Sound, Bermuda.
It did not take long for Tom Ehman, vice-Commodore of the golden Gate Yacht Club, to fill this void, as well as the one created when Cup racing matriculated from monos to multis in AC33’s Deed of Gift Challenge back in 2010. In 2017, a fleet of turbocharged 12-Meters will take to San Francisco’s waters in a new international racing series, chasing $500,000 in prize money.
Teams entering Ehman’s San Francisco Yacht Racing Challenge will compete in one-design “Super 12s,” with carbon-fiber hulls and decks, modern rigs and a bare minimum of electronics to place the emphasis squarely on sailing skills and teamwork. “It’s going to be like watching Tony Bennett singing a duet with Lady Gaga,” said Ehman, “or a reincarnation of the Beatles…the music that everyone loves.”
While the Challenge is not affiliated with the Golden Gate Yacht Club, the annual event will place a premium on competition between different yacht clubs, much like Cups of yore, and will be contested with mixed-gender crews of high-level sailors.
Ehman says all teams will be challengers—meaning there won’t be an entitled defender—and all racing will take place, year-on-year, on San Francisco Bay, giving the event a permanent, reliable home, like the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
“There’s a lot of international interest in monohull racing with strong teams, in classic-looking boats,” says Ehman. “There’s a nostalgia and romance with the 12-Meters, and to have those boats racing in a lot of breeze on spectator-friendly San Francisco Bay will remind people of the halcyon days of racing 12-Meters in big breeze off Fremantle, Western Australia, during the 1987 America’s Cup.”
The “Super 12s” will be built from the same female mold by the same builder, all rigging and deck hardware will be identical, and each team will use the same restricted sail inventories. Instrumentation is limited to just a handheld GPS, a VHF radio, a depth sounder, a compass and a Windex.
“We’re talking about Lasers,” says Ehman. “The boats need to be identical in order for the owners and teams to have confidence and want to participate.” Also, all boats will be wet-sailed, with the teams only allowed one haulout per year.
Competitors must be invited, and the SFYRC will enforce strict nationality rules: all members of each 12-person crew must be from the same country. Additionally, the SFRYC will include an age rule that stipulates that at least two crewmembers must be 22 years old or younger, while at least one crewmember (the so-called 12th man) must be at least 62. All teams will also be required to sail with at least two female crewmembers (or, on a mostly female program, at least two male sailors). Owners can drive some or all of the time, or they can opt to have a professional take the wheel. A 13th spot allows for VIPs, media and sponsor sailing days.
Critically, Ehman envisions annual budgets of around $1 million and an initial build cost of under $3 million, which he hopes will make this breeze-on series attractive to owners and sponsors who were either priced out of the America’s Cup or who have grown disillusioned with the current Defender’s “vision” for AC35. For more information, visit sfyrc.com.