Brad Webb, the founder and owner of ACsailingSF, has sailed in 6 America's Cup regattas. In the last 4 events he has proudly represented ORACLE Team USA, including the recent spectacular win against Team New Zealand at home in San Francisco.
With such a rigorous training and travel schedule these sailors endure, it’s hard to fathom how Brad managed to acquire his own America's Cup (AC) boat and start a company focused on bringing the sport to the public - but he has!
Operating out of Pier 39 and sailing on the iconic San Francisco Bay, guests of ACsailingSF are whisked away on USA 76, a bona-fide America's Cup sailboat. USA 76 is an International America’s Cup Class racing yacht used by ORACLE Team USA in their preparations for the 2003 America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand.
Sailing on an authentic America's Cup yacht like USA 76 is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with only a handful of such yachts available to the public around the world. Brad was in Valencia, Spain where Team Oracle won the Cup in 2010 when he saw the boat in storage.
“It occurred to me that there really wasn’t any connection with the America's Cup in San Francisco outside the yacht club,” recalls Brad in his charming New Zealand accent. “And SF has had quite a long history with the America's Cup. Lots of challenging and independent teams have come out of the city. I really wanted people to experience America's Cup boats, get a feel for the technology and really get a sense for the scale of what the America's Cup is all about.”
Brad went to the team and made an offer on USA 76. After going back and forth a bit, he finally bought the boat, shipped it back to SF and set it up as a charter boat operation. “That really was a result of my passion for sailing and my love of San Francisco,” admits Brad, “I’ve lived here for 10 or more years and I wanted to have something here for the public to enjoy and for the public to connect with that revolves around the America's Cup.”
Since then, the America's Cup has moved to the multi-hull design, a far more technical hyper-performance version of sailboats. The latest models use hydrofoils, a super-light carbon fiber hull construction and rigid carbon fiber sails to pick the boat up and out of the water. The result is a spectacular show with much higher speeds and boats that appear to fly across the water.
USA 76 is one of the last single-hull boats to compete in the America's Cup, and the carbon fiber technology that is employed today is still evident on USA 76. Just like the AC boats of today, the grinding pedestals are still set up with all the winches to be race ready.
Jeanette Leckie is the crew chief and one of the longest standing crewmembers of USA 76. As one of the newest captains at ACsailingSF, she is proud of the experience they have created around the America's Cup here in San Francisco Bay.
“We’re the only AC hands-on experience in the Bay Area. There are a few other companies that do something similar – one in SD and one in Hawaii – but we have the most modern boat available to the public. Being at the location of the most current AC race gives people a really close up experience of what the AC is. They actually get to sail the course and get to touch and feel one of the most modern AC boats in the world.”
The boat can be sailed solely by the 4 official crew that are on board at all times, but they try to involve their guests as much as they’re willing to help raise and trim the sails. This is totally optional, however, as guests can always enjoy the sail itself. There’s what’s called the “after guard” which is the stern (back) end of the boat where the team – when they were racing – would look at the big picture, strategize and call the shots for the rest of the crew. This is where guests can go who just want to observe and watch it all happen.
Every guest also gets a chance to take the helm and drive the boat, which is one of the most popular aspects of the entire experience. “It’s so responsive it’s unlike any other sailboat – or boat – they’ve probably ever driven,” explains Jeanette, “It’s effectively a race car experience.”
For the active folks who really want to see what it’s like, they get to grab the “coffee grinders” which are those pedestals with the bicycle cranks that sailors turn with their arms to raise and trim the sail. “We use 4 people for every maneuver, which the crew can do but we encourage our guests to hop in and give it a try.”
On a typical charter, USA 76 can see anywhere from 10 knots to 14 knots on days with a heavier breeze. To understand how fast this is for a sailboat, it helps to sail alongside some of the private yachts already out on the Bay.
“Sailors always joke that if there are two boats on the water, you’re racing,” laughs Jeanette, “So we will get close to other sailboats to show our guests how much faster we are – and it puts it in to perspective.”
When asked to explain her favorite part about the experience of sailing USA 76, Jeanette offers a thoughtful answer: “It’s hard to describe how unique this experience really is. These sailboats are one of a kind and were built to be the fastest in the world. It’s like driving a Ferrari or a NASCAR, but on the water.
"Having Winspire folks on is always such a blast and they are so proud," Jeanette adds. "They always let us know that they won this experience and tell us about the event or cause they supported by winning this experience.”
The crew of ACsailingSF is very proud of their ties with the sport and of the America's Cup. The recent win by ORACLE Team USA on their front doorstep has made that even more apparent, “Having Brad Webb on our team and the fact that a member of Team USA is the owner of our boat – we have a very close relationship with the sport and we can explain really well to our guests what that’s like without actually sailing those boats.”
Brad is quick to turn his praise back on his team, “One of the biggest things for me is the crew. We have a great crew that comes with the same passion about sailing that you’ll find on any AC team. And that really translates to the experience that people have when they see the crew enjoying themselves so much.”
One thing both Brad and his Crew can agree on is their affinity for USA 76, which is at the heart of this incredible experience. USA 76 is a one-of-a-kind sailboat that brings its passengers as close as they will ever come to experiencing the thrill of racing in the America's Cup.
Brad sums up, “I went sailing on the boat last Saturday for the first time in months and it may sound a little bit corny, but it’s absolutely true that even with all my professional yachting experience - especially recently with the extreme high-performance boats that the AC teams are using today, as phenomenal and awesome as they are – I still get a kick out of going out sailing on USA 76. It loads up nicely, it sails beautifully and it’s really just a lovely boat to sail. You still get to experience how she was as a high-performance AC boat. Compared to the high performance boats of today, it took another level of teamwork to sail these boats. We try to encompass that in every trip with our crew and with our guests and that’s really why I love this boat.”
For more information or to reserve the Winspire Experience, America's Cup Yacht Sailing in San Francisco, visit the Package Detail page and add it to mySuitcase - or click below to speak to a Winspire Fundraising Specialist.