SAN FRANCISCO – Oracle CEO Larry Ellison became one of the richest and most influential software executives in the world by building his database software company he founded into a global multibillion dollar powerhouse.
But he acknowledged that helping to bring the storied America’s Cup sailing trophy back to the United States and to his home base here in the San Francisco Bay area ranked as one of the greatest achievements and experiences of his life.
Ellison, normally noted for being publicity shy, positively beamed as he took a bow at City Hall here Feb. 20 with the rest of BMW Oracle Racing team, which won the America’s Cup regatta by defeating the defending Alinghi team of Switzerland in a two-race sweep on Feb. 14. The team also officially introduced the sterling silver trophy to bedazzled yachting fans who packed a reception in the City Hall rotunda.
Ellison said the trophy will start what the team hopes will be a long and indefinite residence at its new home at the Golden Gate Yacht Club after it completes in a few weeks an official tour across the country to Washington, D.C., and to some of the nation’s other great yachting centers, such as New York and San Diego.
However, the team won’t get long to rest on its laurels. Potential challengers are already getting ready to throw their hats in the ring for the next America’s Cup defense that by the rules normally takes place every three years.
The next question is whether the team, the prospective host, the Golden Gate Yacht Club, and the city will be able to work together to make San Francisco Bay the next venue for the next America’s Cup defense.
Mayor Gavin Newsom vowed that the city “will do anything that can be done” to make San Francisco Bay the America’s Cup venue with an eye to reaping an economic windfall that BMW Oracle Racing estimated could total as much as $1 billion from increased tourism and other business.
BMW Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts said this year’s America’s Cup race brought an estimated 680 million Euros in business activity to the host city, Valencia, Spain. Coutts is now a four-time America’s Cup winner, twice as skipper with team New Zealand, once with Alinghi and again in February with BMW Oracle Racing.
Ellison said that if it was only up to him, he would instantly choose San Francisco Bay as the site for the next America’s Cup defense. The bay, one of the largest inland harbors in the world, is set in a natural amphitheater surrounded by coastal hills that would provide excellent views of the yachting races.
It’s one of the few places in the world, Ellison noted, where for much of spring, summer and early fall months sailors can expect that “around 1 p.m. you’re are going to get 20-22-24 knots of breeze” nearly every day to provide excellent sailing in a protected bay with moderate waves.
However, much will depend on whether the city can provide access to land and marina facilities to serve a number of challenging teams from around the world. Ellison said its possible that besides the losing Swiss Alinghi team, boats from United Kingdom, France, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, even China may issue challenges. Each of these teams will want to build a “racing village” where they can fit out their boats and get ready to compete, Ellison said.
Ellison mentioned Treasure Island, a former navy base and world’s fair venue in the shadow of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, as a likely place to build these villages if the city is willing to provide the facilities.
BMW Oracle Racing won the America’s Cup sailing “USA-17,” a radical and hugely expensive trimaran design built of carbon fiber composite. It has a single 223 foot tall “wing sail” as high as a nine-story building and longer than the wing of a Boeing 747. The wing sail easily makes USA-17 the fastest racing yacht on the planet, according to team members.
At speed, the trimaran is able to surge along the waves on a single outrigger with the central hull and opposite outrigger sailing free in the air at a 45 degree angle or more.
USA-17, incidentally, became the ultimate advertising platform for Oracle and BMW. Oracle also made sure that the wing sail was also emblazoned with some of the key logos of its most recent corporate acquisition, Sun, SPARC and Solaris.
Coutts said that sophisticated technology will likely have a major role in future America’s Cup races. But the goal has to be to get closer to a 50-50 balance between technology and sailing skills.
Ellison said that now that America’s Cup is back in the United States, one of the goals will be to make rules for future races that would provide more of a fair and level playing field for all potential entrants. Racing budgets also need to be brought into balance, Ellison said, because few teams around the world can afford the cost of the America’s Cup campaign waged by BMW Oracle Racing and the Alinghi team.