Monday, September 8, 2014

Tribute to Tom Blackaller, Bay Area Sailing Legend

A wave from Lisa Blackaller-Williams on TOMCAT
This past weekend a special event on San Francisco Bay commemorated the anniversary of the 25-year passing of Tom Blackaller one of the Bay Area’s most celebrated sailors.

ACSailingSF, operated by Brad and Karen Webb, celebrated the occasion by taking Tom’s family for a spin on TOMCAT, a performance racing Prosail 40 catamaran which has served as a platform and inspiration for multi-hull America’s Cup sailing.

TOMCAT, the latest addition to ACSailingSF’s charter fleet, is named after Blackaller who began campaigning a Formula 40 catamaran with the same name in the ProSail Professional Sailing Series in 1988, and was leading the 1989 series at the time of his passing.

“Tom passed away 25 years ago today and incidentally it was a year ago today that the first America’s Cup in catamarans began, a spectacle on the Bay and something that Tom actually foresaw more than quarter of a century before it even happened. For us that’s very special,” Brad Webb addressed the group gathered dockside at San Francisco’s Pier 39.
Brad Webb toasts Tom Blackaller

Sailing Journalist Kimball Livingstone helms USA-76
To that point, Blackaller was once quoted, “The fastest boats are catamarans…with the pedal to the metal, flying hulls…I’d be back in the America’s Cup in a minute if it was held in big fast boats on San Francisco Bay.”

Blackaller’s family - daughter Lisa sailing with husband Teddy Williams and two of their three children - left the dock on TOMCAT while the rest of the group piled onto USA-76, San Francisco’s entry for the 31st America’s Cup in 2003 and on which Webb sailed as bowman.

A spectacular late summer day on the Bay, a
Blackaller-Williams family: Lisa, Teddy, Allie & Max
warm breeze built to a steady 15 knots by 1pm, about the time the two boats rounded the Blackaller buoy located just north of the St Francis Yacht Club, on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Dockside later, Lisa commented, “Dad was a personality and a lot of fun. I love meeting people who knew him and to hear stories I still haven’t heard. The sailing world is a little less colorful without him - I don’t know how he would have ever done if he had to be “media-trained” as he didn’t hold back! My husband and my kids never met him so sailing today so was fantastic. To do that on honor of dad was so thrilling – he would have reveled in how thrilling AC34 was.”

Lisa described how her dad had become burned out after the 1987 Louis Vuitton Cup, when he was managing the syndicate USA (US-61), raising money and skippering the boat.

“He really had stopped sailing after that. It wasn’t until this Prosail series came along – these catamarans – that got him re-energized about sailing as he just loved fast things. I do wonder what role he would have played in the new AC as he would not have liked the politics of the whole thing and I am sure he would have had unvarnished things to say about it all…”

Paul Kaplan & daughter Sarah Kaplan
Paul Kaplan, co-owner of KKMI (Keefe Kaplan Maritime Inc.) and guest on board USA-76 first met Blackaller through racing, then the two became further acquainted as colleagues within the maritime industry.

“Tom sailed with us on our Quarter Ton yacht and we learned a great deal from him,” Kaplan recalled. “With regard to what Tom would have thought of AC 34, I’m sure that he would have been absolutely delighted to see the Cup finally held on the Bay. No doubt he would have had a few choice observations about what was wrong with the event and his observations most likely have been correct. In terms of the choice of AC 72’s catamarans becoming the yachts for the event, I can almost hear Tom say, “Well what the heck took you so “expletive” long to figure this out?"

USA-76 - Photo: ACSailingSF
Visit ACSailingSF for more info on catching a ride onUSA-76 or TOMCAT.

Editor’s Note: KKMI was responsible for making the necessary modifications so that USA 76 could obtain a USCG Certificate of Inspection allowing the yacht to take passengers for hire. The most significant changes included installing watertight bulkheads, an inboard diesel engine, modifications to the keel and the necessary safety equipment such as railings around the cockpit.

Because ‘Tom Cat’ carries fewer passengers, the USCG requirements are not as stringent. The work KKMI did included to get her charter-ready included painting the hulls above and below the waterline and assisting with the commissioning of the yacht.