Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
With a slight off-ocean breeze, we glided through San Diego Bay, leaving the beautiful landscape of behind us. The morning crisp air brushed across our faces as the sun began warming our backs. Mists broke over the bow, bringing the fresh smell of salt water as the undulate ocean beckoned the boat as it reached the open water. Slowly heading through a fair-to-middlin’ marine layer, the air cleared, and the quest had begun. On this day, the short voyage the crew accommodated me as a quest and approximately 25 people who were visually impaired, many getting the first tastes, feel and sounds that sailing in open water provides.
It wasn’t long before we heard the first breach and the words we all had been waiting for: “Thar she blows!” It was like a step back in time aboard 19th century yacht America in full sail. As we neared the pod of humpback whales, Captain Troy Sears, cut the engine and the America drifted in circles as we watched these magnificent animals, some with calves, as they fed in open water, apparently oblivious or uncaring whether we watched or not. When they ate, the hump of the whale’s back would breach high above the water line and as it disappeared, its large fluke pulled out of the water pointing to the sky as we watched it slowly withdraw into the ocean. Everyone aboard watched and listened from all sides for the next whale to appear, never knowing where they would breach again after an average 10-minute dive. (They can dive for up to 30 minutes.)
This is just one adventure that Next Level Sailing offers aboard the replication of the world’s most famous racing yacht, the America. With a rich record in sailing, from the original to this replica (which was built in 1995), this low, black schooner earned its reputation both past and present. As our guide for the day, Fathom Neft took over as coxswain, who recently passed her captain’s test, and told us how the original America put race yachting on the map. This is why the most prestigious trophy in sailing is called The America’s Cup.
Originally built in 1851 to prove that the United States’ mastery of the ocean was as defined as the British Royal Navy, the America won the Royal Yacht Squadrons’ 100 Guinea Cup — awarded to the winner of the race around the Isle of Wight. When Queen Victoria asked who came in second, the famous answer was, “Your majesty, there is no second.” And in short, The America’s Cup was born, named after this infamous boat that continued to be a part of U.S. history until her destruction in 1945 during World War II.
At a cost of more than $6 million, the replica we sailed on was built in 1995. She is 139 feet in length, weighs 226,000 pounds, has a mast height of 105 feet and possesses a grand 5,900-square-feet in sail.
Captain Troy first participated in the 1987 America’s Cup as a fan. By 1995 had risen to Designated Federal Officer of the 29th Defense of The Cup in San Diego. He began Next Level Sailing with his friend Eddie Novak in 2003, purchasing two former America’s Cup racing yachts, the Stars & Stripes and the Abracadabra. In 2005, he partnered with “Papa Doug” Manchester to bring yacht America into Next Level Sailing’s fleet. Next Level Sailing took over sole ownership of the America in 2017. Captain Troy lives aboard and has sailed America more than 100,000 nautical miles.
Next Level Sailing
Whale watching is available in San Diego year-round and Next Level Sailing boasts a 99 percent rate of seeing whales. Next Level Sailing also has a whale-watching guarantee. No whales, no fees. (It also has a seasickness guarantee as no guest has experienced seasickness in the bay and only 1 out of 200 in the ocean.) During anytime of the year, humpbacks, fin, minke and orcas can be seen. Gray whale watching runs December through April and blue whale watching is in late spring, summer and early fall.
Next Level Sailing offers more than whale-watching tours. Its four-hour America Tour explores the power of the American Navy from the San Diego Naval Base to North Island. From May to August, guests get an interactive sailing experience with its 39th Annual Beer Can Races. Themed sunset sails offer spectacular evenings as the America sails out to Point Loma to watch the sunset over the water while looking at Downtown’s lit skyline. Movies are shown off the sail for family movie nights and it also offers Tiki and Wine & Cheese nights. All of the America’s tour packages include entry into the San Diego Maritime Museum, home berth for the yacht.
Next Level Sailing is also available for private charter trips and as a unique venue for weddings. It can incorporate nearly any themed event. The America can carry up to 76 guests for day trips and has an overnight capacity for 12, with a commercial galley and heads below decks. All guests are encouraged to bring their own food and snacks, dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes. Tours offer a cash bar of beer and wine on board, but guests can also bring alcohol as long as they pack plastic cups.
—Albert Fulcher can be reached at email@example.com.