SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The America's Cup provided the U.S. with one of its greatest comeback stories, and also a boost to the image of sailing as a cutting-edge sport that can thrill observers and turn them into fans.
"A lot of people who were never interested in sailing suddenly got interested in sailing," said Larry Ellison, the software billionaire who owns Oracle Team USA, after the American boat retained the Cup with one final thrilling win on Wednesday.
Interest spiked because of Oracle's almost unimaginable comeback from an 8-1 deficit, the 72-foot catamarans that would pop up on hydrofoils and speed above the waves, their hulls completely out of the water, and the scenic backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
Now comes the challenging part for Ellison and Russell Coutts, a New Zealander who has won the America's Cup five times, three as a skipper and twice as Oracle Team USA's CEO.
Oracle Team USA will have to decide whether the America's Cup remains in San Francisco and whether the AC72 catamarans return or are downsized.
This was the first America's Cup sailed inshore rather than miles out to sea, making it more accessible to fans and TV viewers. While Ellison has raved about San Francisco Bay as a natural amphitheater, organizers ran into vocal political opposition, lawsuits and community protests over the public cost of the event to the city's treasury and environment.
Ellison joked that the next America's Cup will be around the Hawaiian island of Lanai, most of which he owns.
The Cup could be back in San Francisco, or it could go to Hawaii or the highest bidder. After Oracle won the silver trophy in 2010, there were reports Ellison was interested in holding the regatta in Italy.
"This regatta was the most magnificent spectacle I've ever seen on the water," said Ellison, a long-time sailor. "San Francisco Bay is a great backdrop for a sailboat race. These 40-plus-knot catamarans are absolutely amazing."
As for the boats, the big cats were thrilling but they're expensive, hard to sail and require huge shore crews simply to launch and retrieve. If catamarans return, there's a chance they'd be smaller than the AC72s but bigger than the 45-footers that were sailed in warm-up regattas called the America's Cup World Series.
Ellison said organizers have to figure out how to reduce costs to get more teams involved. Only Oracle and three challengers built 72-foot catamarans. One of the challengers, Artemis Racing, was never a factor after its first boat was destroyed in a capsize that killed British double Olympic medalist Andrew "Bart" Simpson during a training run.
British Olympic star Ben Ainslie, who replaced John Kostecki as tactician after Oracle lost four of the first five races, said sailing the AC72s changed his mind about the future of the America's Cup.
"If you asked me that question three months ago, I would have said match racing in monohulls is still for me preferable," said Ainslie, who has four Olympic gold medals and one silver and hopes to launch a British challenger for the next America's Cup. "But after what we've seen with this final, it's just been breathtaking.
"To be talking about trying to make sailing a more popular sport for the future, then this is clearly the route. If you saw fleet racing in these types of boats it would be better still."
Ellison said Oracle has accepted a challenge from a foreign yacht club that will serve as challenger of record to help make decisions about the future. Oracle hasn't identified that yacht club, but it's believed to be from Australia.
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