Friday, February 19, 2010

Ellison to Bring Cup to the Bay!

Oracle Corp. Chief Executive and multibillionaire Larry Ellison won the America's Cup on Sunday, claiming sailing's most prestigious trophy for San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club. Now he hopes to bring the next edition of the regatta—which will likely be held in about three years—to San Francisco itself.

Mr. Ellison, 65 years old, cultivated his passion for competitive sailing in San Francisco Bay, which he dubs "a wonderful natural amphitheater for sailing." He adds, "I'm not sure there's any place in the world that is better for viewers."

Fresh off the America's Cup victory, Mr. Ellison—who is the Bay Area's wealthiest individual with an estimated $27 billion fortune, according to Forbes—discussed his favorite places to sail in the region and where in the Bay he hopes to hold the next America's Cup.

Larry Ellison, winner of the America's Cup off Spain on Sunday, says bringing the race to San Francisco could boost its appeal in the U.S.

Q: Is San Francisco a feasible site for the America's Cup?

A: Absolutely. We match raced [Switzerland-based rival sailing team] Alinghi in San Francisco Bay in the Moët Cup [in 2003]. It was a spectacular regatta because people could watch from office buildings. The boats are big enough that you can see the entire race. We had hundreds of thousands of people watching this race—it was probably the most watched sailboat race ever. And we beat them.

Q: How did you first get into sailing?

A: Reading an article in National Geographic by Robin Lee Graham, where he sailed around the world in a 24-foot boat. I was about his age when he did that. He started out as a teenager.

The freedom to harness the wind and go anyplace you want to in the world seemed magical to me. That kind of independence, demonstrating that kind of self-sufficiency, at least in my own mind became a very romantic idea and something I wanted to do as well.

Q: And your competitive side took it to another level?

A: I first started sailing just for the joy of being out there. I was in San Francisco Bay and I couldn't go around the world—I had a job—so I just did day sailing. I learned on a 14-footer called Lido 14 at the University of California Yacht Club.

[Later I bought] a 24-foot boat. As long as I was out in the Bay sailing, there were races, and I started doing these.

Q: To hold the cup in San Francisco you would probably need a lot of space, though.

A: Well, that's the thing. I intend to talk to Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, and we'll see if there's room on the waterfront to do this. Maybe we can get out to Treasure Island. We want to develop a sailing village like they have in New Zealand and like they had in Valencia [in Spain, where the America's Cup was just held.] We want teams from all over the world to come here.

Q. Where is your favorite place to sail in the Bay Area?

A: Starting down at the Bay Bridge and racing up to a buoy near the end of the Bay. That's a fabulous place and about two-thirds of the race is along the city front. We get very close to the headlands and people onshore can watch.

Q: The America's Cup isn't as popular in the U.S. as it once was. Would holding the race in San Francisco be a way to change that?

A:If we have the America's Cup here in San Francisco, it will allow many more people to watch it. But we also have to do a better job of televising it. We can make sailing much more understandable and much more exciting by putting cameras on the boats.

These boats twist and groan and the sounds are a very important aspect for gaining an appreciation of the sport and how much stress we are putting on these boats.


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