If you’re a regular Wednesday Alice Lewis "Middle Ground" reader, stop reading. Go back, click on and read the first part first. (That is, unless you are like my good friend/book club buddy, Michele, who reads the end first and then decides whether the whole book is worth her time.)
If you're still with me, or back with me, let me tell you how the universe works. My editor asked me to interview Alameda-based Swedish Team Artemis, an America's Cup challenger stationed at Alameda Point. Getting an interview isn't easy. After waiting for several days, I received an email saying I could attend a press briefing at the Marina Green — "Meet the Skippers."
On Monday morning I tried to steal a cafe table at Webster Street's Wescafe from a handsome fellow with a sexy accent. I noticed his accent, took a chance, and asked him if he was a sailor. Turns out he was the Artemis tactician — the guy who reads the wind and current, helping the skipper to correct the boat.
Great Britain's Iain Percy is an Olympian and America’s Cup sailor. He began sailing at the age of 4 in an Optimist dinghy. In 1998 he turned professional and within two years represented Great Britain at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He struck gold in the Finn class and was honored by Queen Elizabeth. He raced in the 2004 Athens Olympics in the double-handed Star class, and again in Beijing in 2008. He became a member of the Artemis team competing for the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Dubai. After that, he took a break to focus on the 2012 Olympics, where he won silver for Great Britain in the Star class while intermittently sailing with Artemis.
When I spoke with him, he had been in Alameda for a day and a half. When I congratulated him on his silver medal, he looked down at his lap and mumbled something about not getting the gold.
I remembered the vice commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club saying that in 1851, Queen Victoria asked who came in second. The fellow said, "Your majesty, there IS no second." Iain thinks most Olympians have a kind of "hollow" feeling after the Olympics, and he is trying to fill it with the Artemis program.
When I mentioned that I was eager to take a ride on one of the AC45 practice boats, he shook his head and said, "You don't want to do THAT!" He said he has sat on the back, and it's the hardest place to hang on.
In their short practice time, he has seen a lot of carnage and wing sails getting "quite trashed." He said there wasn't much left of the Prada (Italian) boats after recent practices, but the good news is that there are plenty of spare parts. He equates our Bay to playing rugby "full on… just battling."
I asked about various nationalities sailing under the flags of foreign countries. He said the sport is not nationalistic, but when I asked where the best sailors come from he said, "Obviously, of course, Great Britain!"
Standing on the sidewalk after the interview, my daughter Sarah said, "Mom — right here in Alameda, there are celebrities in our midst!"
Later that morning I received permission to attend a briefing to interview and photograph the skippers of the America’s Cup World Series in the Media Center at the America’s Cup Village on the Marina Green in San Francisco.
On the way, I realized I didn’t have a camera or my iPhone. I ran into Walgreens and bought a tiny candy apple red $20 camera and a set of AAA batteries. I grabbed a prime spot, but a staff member said I wasn’t allowed to stand there. I found a second place between two massive video cameras on tripods, but by the time the briefing began I was surrounded by so any other reporters I could neither see nor move. I poked my arm through small holes of available air space, taking pictures with my embarrassingly small and embarrassingly bright mini-cam, taking scribbled notes on the fly.
I should have put the camera down. My notes are barely legible, as if I wrote them while crashing through the white-capped waves aboard the airborne hull of an AC45.
Just when I was ready to admit defeat, Jennifer Hall — my Artemis team PR contact — asked if I wanted to interview Santiago Lange of Argentina, one of two the Artemis skippers representing Sweden. I asked him how he liked being based in Alameda, and he said he thought it was a really great decision.
He feels welcomed and supported by the Alameda community, and is glad to be sailing on the Bay. He said, “It’s good to have two boats out there in the area where we’re doing the series next year.” When I asked what he thinks their chances are against Oracle, he said, “I think it’s a very open cup.”
I noticed one of his fingers was splinted. When I asked him what happened, he said, “It just got a little bent.” (Obviously, this is no longer a gentleman’s sport…)
As I was leaving, I passed by two Italian team members deep in conversation with the onshore commentator. One was relaying a story about having to cut something loose and then watching their boat start to sink. He asked if the commentator had seen the article about the Great White Shark spotted near the Golden Gate. (He seemed a little nervous…)
After buying various and sundry logo items from the white tents along the Marina Green, I headed to my car to see if I had any worthy pictures. As I pulled the tiny camera from my bag, its hatch opened and all three batteries fell out. A yellow slip of paper on the passenger seat beside me said, “Warning: Removing the batteries before downloading photos and videos from the camera will cause all the photos to be erased.”
So unless my arm got in the way of the local news cameramen, I have no personal proof that I was ever there. Not even a blurry photo to pass around our dining room table. I drove to Alameda, licking my wounds.
But the sun broke through the fog and I realized that I had my interview — a better interview than all the veteran reporters had, with Iain.
This is what makes Alameda special. You can try to steal a table from a guy in a local coffee shop and come off with a better understanding of America's Cup sailing than if you had 20 years of Presidential press corps experience.
For more information on the America’s Cup or this week’s AC World Series, go to http://www.americascup.com. The best viewing is either from the Marina Green or from the warmer comfort of your own living room with coverage on NBC.