1 Year. 25 Years. Remembering Blackaller

7 Sep

It was one year ago as of September 7 that race one of the 34th America’s Cup launched on San Francisco Bay.

It was 25 years ago on September 7 that Tom Blackaller died of a heart attack at the wheel of a race car. Being Tom, he got the car off the track and safely shut down, first.

And it was Blackaller who agitated for catamaran racing for America’s Cup, and it was Blackaller who told us, “If we ever get the America’s Cup to San Francisco Bay, we’ll show the world how good sailing can be.”

He was right.

Six-time AC competitor and two-time winner Brad Webb on Sunday took Tom’s daughter, Lisa, and her family for a fast-cat ride on San Francisco Bay. The boat, a ProSail 40 of a type that Tom raced in the 1980s, now carries the name Tomcat and on other occasions carries paying passengers on thrill rides not to be forgotten. This day was different, more focused, but also not to be forgotten. Getting under way, Lisa said, “My kids have never seen the Blackaller Buoy.” AKA YRA-16, everybody’s weather mark off Crissy Field. Later I watched Tomcat round the Blackaller Buoy, so I can tell you, that’s taken care of now.


I’ve had other occasion to recall Tom. It was the women, not Tom, who named him the Silver Fox. The first time I ever saw the guy, he was flipping a coin with Dennis Conner to decide who was the greatest sailor in the world, and it doesn’t matter how the toss came out. There were no concession speeches. In a history of his yacht club I wrote:

“He was larger than life, and there was an air of danger that followed him, like the danger surrounding the handsome, popular boy in high school who drove too fast and loved mischief; the boy that others followed because some part of them yearned to be that bold, that free, that reckless, that good.”

Tom would have been 74 now, had he lived. Lisa mused, “I wonder what he would have been like?” Leaving unspoken the thought that, like the rest of us, she cannot imagine an old, mellow Thomas David Blackaller. The Tom we knew had to go out like a meteor, leaving a trail of memories of things he had done right, and things he had done wrong. If Tom was no saint, he never committed the sin of being boring. Creating a bio for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, Roger Vaughan recalled the time that Tom finished dead last in an ocean race in Florida and deadpanned to the raised eyebrows waiting on the dock, “Oh, we stopped in Cuba for cigars.”

There also was the rivalry that carried over from Star boat racing to the America’s Cup, when Blackaller and Conner both took up the gauntlet of racing 12 Meters in Newport. And there was that night in Conner’s syndicate house when the fire alarm was ringing and sirens were blaring and Conner looked up at the anxious crew who had come to wake him and declared, “It’s Blackaller.” And he rolled over and went back to sleep.

And he was right, too.

Catamaran footage from back in the day . . .

Space on Tomcat being limited, additional guests sailed on USA 76, the Oracle Racing Boat that made it to the finals of the 2003 America’s Cup challenger eliminations, but lost to Alinghi, which went on to take the Cup. Both boats operate under Webb’s acsailingsf.com. USA 76, in particular, is out almost every day. It was a good day—Kimball

This article was syndicated from BLUE PLANET TIMES


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