Karen Willard, a Patterson resident, is spending some time hanging out and watching extreme performance boats and world class sailors race at unprecedented speeds, volunteering at the 2013 America’s Cup, around the waterfront of San Francisco Bay.
"It is quite the experience, and it takes a lot of people all working together to put on an event of this size," Willard said. "Everyone should find something they are passionate about and volunteer. It is very personally rewarding."
Chosen from among 1,400 applicants, Willard is part of an army of 850 volunteers doing their best to make sure fans have a worthwhile experience at the $120 million America’s Cup Park that commands Piers 27 and 29.
She’s been a fixture of the Cup proceedings since she was enlisted to help in July.
"I assist the commercial team with sponsor and partner services and administration," said Willard, who has logged more than 30 hours of volunteer service. "I enjoy being behind the scenes at America's Cup Park, and not being tied down to just one spot."
Willard also recently worked at the event's Youth Day, which welcomed children of all ages to explore all that the event in San Francisco has to offer. Activities included a high school sailing demonstration, as well as the Kid’s Zone, where spectators were able to race mini AC45 boats, create posters to cheer on their favorite teams and partake in activities that teach about the environment.
"We escorted more than 225 kids from the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club through several of the exhibits," Willard said. "They learned about healthy eating, exercise, and of course, the America's Cup."
The job may not pay, but it does come with benefits.
"It was fun to see the wonder in their eyes as they learned about sailing."
Part of history
America’s Cup, dating to 1851, 45 years before the modern Olympics, might be the oldest trophy competition in international sports. The U.S. yacht America won the inaugural event, giving the international sailing competition its name.
"I became involved because I like to volunteer, I love sailing, and I get to be a part of history through the America's Cup," Willard said.
A second venue, the America’s Cup Village, at Marina Green, is active on race days.
"That is where most of the racing action is -- the starting line and most of the course," Willard said.
The winner of the trophy gets to set the parameters for the next competition -- when, where and what kind of boats. There is no governing body to guide regularity. Each event starts from scratch.
Oracle Team USA won in Valencia, Spain, in 2010, on the team's third attempt. The defending champion, owned by the billionaire Larry Ellison, proposed bringing the next competition to the natural amphitheater of San Francisco Bay.
"The winner gets to change the rules -- no other international sport allows that," Willard said. "The event is truly unique and filled with history."
The 34th America's Cup is the first in the 162-year history of the event that will be sailed in a bay rather than miles offshore. San Francisco was selected as a host in part because the geography and race course allow people to view the contests from land.
"Most of the volunteers are as excited as I am to be a part of history in the making," Willard said.
Now through August, four countries are set to compete in the Louis Vuitton Cup for the right to challenge Ellison’s Oracle Team USA, the defending Cup titlists. Those races will feature 72-foot-long sailboats -- wing-sail catamarans, the so-called flying boats -- for the first time.
"The tourists are in awe of what is taking place. A lot of them just happened to be (visiting San Francisco) and have no idea what's going on, and have stumbled across this event," Willard said.
On September 7, the America’s Cup defender, Oracle Team USA, is scheduled to line up for Race 1, the first of 17 possible races, against one of three challenging teams: Artemis Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand, or Luna Rossa Challenge 2013.
All in all, the event stands to offer exhilarating racing and shoreside activities to excite visitors of all ages, Willard said.
"There are several exhibits that give great detail about the history of the race and the evolution of the boats," Willard said. "And if you're lucky, and it's race day, you get to se the boats as they fly by."
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or email@example.com.