“For me, it really got started around two years ago when I was out on the San Francisco Bay aboard the America, the full-sized replica of the first yacht to win the America's Cup,” began Morton Beebe during a recent phone conversation. “The mayor of San Francisco was there, and we were thrilled to be able to look up through the sails as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge.”
“Then, as the America docked at the Golden Gate Yacht Club, an Oracle AC45 came swooping by and, all of a sudden, the catamaran pitchpoled, flipping head over heels throwing everyone into the drink. The consensus of everyone on board the America was that this was certainly an exciting, if not risky, sport.”
So began Beebe’s involvement with the greatest sailing regatta in the world. As a third-generation San Francisco-based photographer and film producer, Beebe has created some of the most distinctive and iconic images of the city and surrounding areas. Many of his photographs have appeared in magazines such as National Geographic, Life, and Paris Match, though his most famous work might well be his best-selling photo book San Francisco: City by the Bay.
An avid explorer, Beebe was one of the first men to arrive at the South Pole with the U.S. Navy in the mid-1950s, and was honored in 2011 with the prestigious Explorers Club Communications Award in New York. Now, at age 79, covering the America’s Cup regatta for Corbis Images seemed a natural thing to do.
And what a regatta it was. After being down 8-1 in the series, Oracle Team USA staged what has been described as the greatest comeback in all of sports history, culminating in a 9-8 series win over Emirates Team New Zealand to retain the America’s Cup for the United States.
“Just about everything that one could have imagined happened in those races,” recalled Beebe, “unfortunately, in one case, to an extreme.”
While Beebe was able to get out on the water on multiple occasions, he drew equal inspiration from watching and capturing the people and activities on shore, often getting caught up in the drama and pageantry of the surroundings. “It felt like you were in New York or somewhere because of all the different languages everywhere,” mused Beebe. “You could find people from literally every corner of the world, more so than any other summer in San Francisco that I can remember. And the crowds just got bigger and bigger as the races went along. That last day was just incredible.”
Interestingly, Beebe found much of the crowd, even San Franciscans, cheering for the underdog, widely perceived as Emirates Team New Zealand. “There were fans of the Kiwis everywhere, with little kids running around with New Zealand T-shirts,” noted Beebe. “That changed though when Oracle Team USA started advancing in their comeback.”
Beebe credits much of the excitement and crowd involvement to the America’s Cup organizers, who smartly offered free access to the finish line along Pier 27/29. “Most people that came to the entrance assumed that they had to buy a ticket and were pleasantly surprised that it was free,” explained Beebe. “The big screens, in particular, were wonderful, along with the inflated cushions. I saw whole families gathering on those cushions and watching the on-screen real-time markings and animations. That was simply a work of genius.”
In Beebe’s view, San Francisco served as an ideal venue. Not only was the bay a natural enclosure, but spectators could watch and cheer from just about anywhere on the north-facing waterfront of the City. “I even saw a large group of people watching from Alcatraz Island,” Beebe noted.
“I’ve seen America’s Cup races back east,” recalled Beebe, “and you pretty much had to be the guest of someone, go out to sea for an hour and then, unless you were an experienced sailor, still have no idea where the race was starting or ending. It was very hard to watch.” All of that was very different in San Francisco, enthused Beebe.
Beebe hopes that the America’s Cup returns to San Francisco, though he also is in favor of a rules change to encourage nationalities to factor into team makeup. “Basically, New Zealanders and Australians were the predominant members of both teams,” explained Beebe. “So it was like having a football game between Cal and Stanford, where they are all mixed together on both teams. Dividing along national lines would probably elicit an even more spirited public following.”
So, will Beebe be there again if the America’s Cup returns to San Francisco, perhaps in 2015 or 2016? Beebe answered without hesitation, “Absolutely!”