The complete transformation of the San Francisco Marina for SailGP’s second stop on the global tour, following an inaugural run in Sydney Harbor, included a pop-up, invite-only VIP tent nestled between the two anchor yacht clubs and the waterfront. Chilly winds from the water were matched by sunny skies over San Francisco for the two-day event that drew thousands of excited spectators in the grand stand as well as public areas of the waterfront, including San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Bridge. We came to see the boats whiz by us on the shoreline of the VIP Adrenaline Lounge, after criss-crossing the bay and turning around markers in the distance. Our view from the terrace of the lounge was framed by the Golden Gate Bridge to the west and by Alcatraz Island to the east. Helicopters with camera crews circled above the sailboats, streaming different vantage points to the enormous screens in the VIP view areas. The live-cast from helicopters above provided deeper understanding of the scale of the course. From the terrace, watching the boats slide smoothly back and forth across the sometimes choppy water was one thing; but it was impossible to discern which of the six teams were in the lead, how tightly the boats sailed together, which way they’d turn around the markers, and how and when they suddenly lost or gained the wind power.
And so it was that we tore our eyes from the spectacle in front of us to the screens to the side of us and back to fully understand the scope of the competition between teams from the USA, Australia, China, Japan, France and the United Kingdom. Between races, we retreated inside the lounge to warm up. Caterers and servers served from silver trays of towering appetizers and teetering glasses of champagne. Coffees and cappuccinos were served to chilly patrons and a luncheon of duck a l’orange served over greens pleased the invitees. Our very own SailGP souvenir store inside of the VIP lounge displayed the official SailGP gear and sales were encouraged by the wind chill from the bay. Over the top of many a chic outfit, San Franciscans layered an official SailGP jacket to ward off the cold. Rob Colegate, who heads up hospitality for SailGP events, gave us a tour of the VIP lounge and terrace before Saturday’s first race. “Everything is top-notch, from catering to furniture to the technology behind the live-cast,” he said. “SailGP is a start-up in its inaugural year, and we knew from the beginning that we had one opportunity to demonstrate our aesthetic and alignment with other sailing events.” “The entire set up is brought in by containers,” said Christy Cahill, director of communications for SailGP. “Around 70 containers arrived by sea from Sydney. They take several weeks to unpack and set up. Then it’s the two-day event and we’re off to our next set-up.” The SailGP crew is an impressive group on the ground – around 150 full- and part-time crew members working together, supported back in the UK by around 60 who don’t travel on the tour, but are working on the live-cast television overlays, photo editing, and updates pushed out via the official phone app. Another 30-plus photographers who follow SailGP and other regatta events around the world comprise the press contingency. The photographers are treated like crew, with dedicated work spaces, vantage point and catering. But the impressive event would be nothing without the sailboat crews themselves, who battle it out on the water, criss-crossing and handling tight turns, while managing the speed and agility of the boats powered only by the wind. In the end, it was Team Australia who lifted up the celebratory champagne on the podium. On the next stop of the global tour in New York, we will see if Australia can repeat or be taken out by any of the other five worthy contenders.