Popular historians describe the "Roaring Twenties" as a kind of dionysian revel in which people were inebriated, partying, senselessly throwing inflated money around, and generally getting into mischief. The first great American fortunes of the 20th Century were being made and spent, and the children of the rich were just getting their sea legs for the latest yacht race in the harbor. Of course, this fantasy was never true, though yacht racing as a pastime continues to live on.
This last week, the America's Cup races were held in San Francisco Bay. Don't ask me to describe the technicalities of the elimination process, which reduced the number of participants to just a small handful of competitors, because I can't. Actually, I'm not much interested in sailing, never having been sailing in my life. (I know people who do, and have, but none who took the sport seriously enough to want to compete in races.) Sailing a sailboat is difficult at best, and often dangerous, especially when the seas are rough and the weather uncooperative. I haven't any desire, at this late date, to volunteer as a deck-hand on a sail boat, and I don't have any rich friends who own one, so the likelihood of my being involved in any sailing venture is nil. Owning a boat is an expensive hobby, and isn't something one undertakes lightly, as I surmise.
The America's Cup
The self-made billionaire Larry Ellison, whose company Oracle is among the most successful software companies in the world, decided that he wanted to "challenge" the "holder" of the "cup" in 2013, and the race was contended in the San Francisco Bay. The style of the boats competing for the Cup has changed over the last century and a half, the present versions being "wing-sail catamarans" with multiple hull designs. These are what I like to call the new "formula one" racing boats. The America Cup races were "sold" to the City of San Francisco as a tourist and revenue-generating event, and there was some controversy about whether this was really going to be a suitable investment for the Bay region. Like most ordinary people, I suspect, I wasn't very concerned about the financial side of it, I just had mild curiosity about the sport itself.
As a spectator sport, viewing is limited to watching from the shore. Like most large-scale events, it was more efficient and revealing to see it filmed from helicopters and "chasing boats" which circle around the action, than simply to sit in low grandstands on the shore--in this case, along the Marina Green along the Crissy Field near the San Francisco Yacht Club harbor. Wife and I had the occasion to be near the yacht racing event a week ago today, when we were queuing up for the annual Friends of the San Francisco Public Library book sale, held here each September. There were groups of avid photographers gathered at the ends of the Herbst Pavilion piers, which were wind-blown promontories from which to catch glimpses of the racing craft as they plied back and forth from East to West and back again over the waves of the Bay. Not being a sailing buff, it wasn't clear to me who was "winning" but it was clear that when the big vertically mounted sails were in a strong following easterly, the boats were almost elevating at 50 miles per hour!, with white spray flying.
The money it takes to mount a craft and a crew to sail competitively is such that only the very rich can participate. Contenders represent "clubs" so the Golden Gate Yacht Club was officially the challenging entity, though the actual winner of this year's competition was Oracle Team USA. At the end of the competition, Team Oracle overcame an enormous deficit of eight points to win on the final day of racing.
Yacht racing is clearly a holdover from an earlier era, when rich men made public demonstrations of their power and wealth. New Money supplants Old Money, and the dogs bark but the caravan moves on. Rich men still like to show off, and there is of course the pride of nationhood which infuses everything that involves people from different countries competing with one another. The rest of us just get to watch and marvel at the spectacle, the same way we do professional baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey, soccer, auto and bike racing, or the international Olympics. But yacht racing is so exclusively a sport of "kings" (or knights of commerce), that it's difficult to imagine oneself ever having a hoot in hell chance of participating--even in our dreams.
So, in the spirit of imagination, vicarious and mild, here are a few recent cocktail mixes I've come up with at the stainless steel bar in our kitchen. I haven't had the inspiration to name them, though I think they all qualify as contenders in the free-for-all of mixology. After a day of racing, one could do worse than hit the local tavern for a celebratory toast, or two.
As always, these drink recipes are by proportion. (One needs to be able to navigate homeward after indulging, so moderation is always recommended, unless you're already in your digs, or have made arrangements to have the chauffeur available with your car.) We live in a time of diminishing prosperity in America these days, as the post-war boom continues to wind down, and the fruits of our hyper-indulgent means continue to be more concentrated among the top 1 percent of the economic pyramid. Yacht racing's days may be numbered, but we can still dream of a time when the playthings of the rich carried the spirit of our folly. We play to win, or do we simply play to play? Who can say? Cheers!
Shaken and served up
2 Peach Schnapps
1 Fresh Lemon
1/2 Triple Sec
1/2 Pomegranate Liqueur
Shaken and served up
1 Becherova Liqueur
Swirled and served up
3 Ginger Beer
1/2 Fresh Lime
Swirled gently--in order not to over-excite the Ginger Beer, which is carbonated--and served up