With the America's Cup's days numbered, the controversial sailing competition could very well have reached its spectator climax over the weekend as tens of thousands of locals and just as many, if not more, out-of-towners came out to watch the races.
Going into Saturday, Emirates Team New Zealand, up 6-0, needed only three more victories to take the 34th regatta. But an Oracle Team USA win that day and another on Sunday erased the team's two-point cheating penalty and kept the competition alive, with New Zealand up 7-1.
"It's fantastic. The support of the Kiwis is mind-blowing," said New Zealander Raylene Reihana-Ruka, 34, who arrived in San Francisco with family on Saturday. "I don't think there is anyone left in New Zealand because they're all here supporting the Emirates."
While the crowd has been diverse, New Zealanders in particular have inundated the event spaces on The City's northern waterfront.
"The Kiwis brought a lot of money to hotels and the snack bars, restaurants, gift shops — everything had a long line," said Sharon Krainer, a San Francisco native who has volunteered at the event with her husband since July 4. "There's also Europeans — Spanish, Italian — and Americans with the Fly Emirates jerseys."
Indeed, a sizable number of Americans said they have been on New Zealand's side due to the politics surrounding the race. Software billionaire Larry Ellison and his Oracle team were able to set the rules and pick the boats because they are the defending champions. Costs associated with building 72-foot-long catamarans made the race too expensive for many countries, leaving only four teams competing.
The rules "weren't fair," said Kate Emberley, 21, of Alameda, who sailed for the University of Oregon and now works in The City.
"I'm cheering for New Zealand because I think they would make better rules if they get the Cup," she said. "It's also kind of crazy that so many of the sailors in the U.S. [team] are from New Zealand."
There were, however, some locals who stuck with the home team.
"We love it being right here in our city and if we don't win, it won't be coming back here," said San Francisco resident Carol Jupiter.
The total spectator count is approaching 700,000 since July 4 — far less than the estimated 2 million — and the busiest venue has been America's Cup Park, drawing about 30,000 on Saturdays, according to Tim Jeffery, a spokesman for the America's Cup Event Authority.
But with Emirates staked to a big lead, the crowd count might not grow much. If the team wins the next two races Tuesday, it will take the Cup.
So are New Zealanders feeling victory already?
"No, you can never be arrogant to say we've got it in the bag," Reihana-Ruka said. "Being a Kiwi, you can't say that because Kiwis are humble people."