A Sailing Legend Remembered, Honoring Tom Blackaller

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Any day sailing aboard USA 76, the America’s Cup yacht used in San Francisco’s 2003 Challenge is special, but my recent outing was truly significant.

It was 25 years to the day that legendary sailor Tom Blackaller died of a heart attack and one year to the day that race one of the 34th America’s Cup took place here.


It was Tom Blackaller who famously said back in 1987, “If we ever get the America’s Cup to San Francisco Bay, we’ll show the world how good sailing can be.” And as we all know, his dream of using fast catamarans in the America’s Cup here came true.


When a very fast ProSail 40 joined USA 76 in the ACSailingSF thoroughbred stable this year, they chose to name her Tomcat in his honor. It’s an especially fitting tribute given ACSailingSF does charters; another of Tom’s goals was making sailing more accessible.


lisa blackaller-williams with daughter allie

Tom’s daughter Lisa Blackaller Williams who sailed with her family aboard Tomcat said, “It was an incredible day, so special, it really brought back memories.” She shared she had been with her father just two days before he died, helping put sponsorship logos on his own ProSail Catamaran.

“It was so rewarding to see the America’s Cup here sailed with catamarans, I wish he’d been here to see it. He envisioned making sailing more accessible, exciting and interesting to watch.”


a thrilling tomcat flyby

Extreme catamarans certainly are exciting. It was thrilling to see Tomcat, skippered by Brad Webb, two-time America’s Cup winner and president of ACSailingSF do flybys past us, the friends and media on USA76.

The mood was upbeat but respectful, man who loved life was being honored by people doing what he loved most. Favorite stories were being shared. A common theme was his larger than life personality.


kimball livingston of blue planet times

“He took over any room he walked into,” said esteemed sailing journalist Kimball Livingston, who also shared a favorite quote of Tom’s, “Everyone is a color, I chose not to be grey.”

Colorful, charismatic, elite yachtsman, Tom lived life to the fullest. When he wasn’t racing fast boats, he was racing fast cars. He actually died from a heart attack while racing in a Sports 2000.

Another favorite quote of his was “Live life wide, not long,” which proved prophetic as he lived to just 49. But what an amazing 49 years. America’s Cup helmsman, two-time world champion in the Star Class Keelboat, world champion in the International Six Metre Class… The titles go on and on.


view of tomcat from usa 76


usa 76 sailing to the golden gate

It was a glorious day of sailing, a beautiful sunny day with a nice 15 knot winds. We sailed out past the Golden Gate Bridge, around Tom’s namesake Blackaller Buoy and enjoyed a really perfect day on San Francisco Bay.


brad webb leading a toast to tom blackaller

Once ashore, we toasted Tom with champagne. Brad said, “Tom passed on long before I came to San Francisco, but over the years I have heard many stories that illustrate how much of a character he was. He was a colorful man that promoted yachting, but he was also fiercely competitive. Tom was a visionary who helped lead the way for professional sailors, and as one of many who followed, I am grateful for the legacy he left.”


the blackaller-williams-family: lisa, teddy, allie, max

I asked Lisa what her dad he taught her. She responded, “Live life with passion and have a good time.”

Cheers to that and cheers to ACSailingSF for this beautiful tribute to this amazing man.


To experience the thrill of sailing USA 76 and Tomcat, checkout ACSailingSF.com – frequent charters are offered on both yachts.

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