On any given day, San Francisco's picturesque Bay Area is dotted with sturdy-hulled sailboats and private pleasure craft. This sheltered stretch of water is synonymous with splash-filled American summers, but when the leaves turn this September it will become a battleground of a different sort, as the Bay Area gears up to host the 34th America's Cup.
Thousands of spectators will flock to the San Francisco to take part in the festivities, as reigning America’s Cup holders Oracle Team USA gets set to face the challenge of Emirates Team New Zealand for the oldest active trophy in international sport. Contested as a series of 17 races against the backdrop of such classic Bay Area sights as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, this celebrated carnival of yacht racing gives as good an excuse as any to visit this quintessentially Californian town.
In a city surrounded by water, it's no surprise that many of San Francisco's major attractions boast a maritime theme. Fisherman's Wharf is not only one of the city’s busiest neighbourhoods, it is also home to the tourist-friendly Pier 39 and the landmark-registered Ghirardelli Square, as well as eternally popular arcade game museum, the Musée Mécanique.
The striking red hue of the Golden Gate Bridge frames an unforgettable Bay Area entrance, and this stunning suspension bridge remains the undisputed symbol of San Francisco. Spanning some 2.7 kilometres in length and looming almost 230 metres above the deep waters of the Golden Gate, the modern engineering marvel is reputedly the most photographed bridge in the world.
One of the city's most enduring tourist attractions is the infamous Alcatraz Island, located smack-bang in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Once an isolated military garrison, the island gained notoriety for its near 30-year stretch as America's harshest federal prison, from which escape was said to be impossible.
City of sails
Originally in contention along with fellow sun-drenched Californian cities San Diego and Long Beach and celebrated sailing hotspot Newport on Rhode Island for the right to host the 34th America's Cup, San Francisco ultimately prevailed thanks to its favourable weather conditions.
The city has long been a favourite for water-loving locals, with the sight of sails fluttering in the strong Bay Area breeze a common sight from the foreshore. However, this year’s America’s Cup will feature one of its most radical innovations, as a new class of lightening fast AC72 wing-sail catamarans lines up to compete for the famous Cup.
Not only are the catamarans some of the fastest ever built, they're also capable of sailing closer to shore, meaning spectators no longer need to charter their own boat to watch the action. Instead, the city’s beloved Embarcadero waterfront will be packed with fans eager to catch a glimpse of the action in what is one of world sport’s most ferociously contested sporting events.
For 132 years, the New York Yacht Club presided over the longest continuing winning streak in the history of sport. It lasted until 1983, when the John Bertrand-skippered Australia II stunned the world by defeating Dennis Conner’s Liberty to wrench the America’s Cup from the grasp of the NYYC for the first time in 27 race meets.
"Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum," Australia's then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke memorably quipped in the aftermath to the 1983 race and today, the America's Cup remains one of the most fiercely fought-over trophies in world sport.
The 2013 edition pits the Golden Gate Yacht Club and its representative Team Oracle USA, against the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s outfit Emirates Team New Zealand, in what is sure to be an enthralling series against the backdrop of one of the United States’ most colourful waterfront cities.
For assistance in arranging Group Travel, contact Flight Centre’s Group Travel Experts by phoning the team on 1300 307 598 in NSW, 1300 309 693 in SA & NT, 1300 513 149 in WA, 1300 301 900 in Vic & Tas and 1300 557 813 in Qld.