Thursday, August 30, 2007

NEW STARS RISE (some red)

One of the brighter developments in my favorite game is more awareness of disabled sailing, the people who do it and where they fit into the big picture of "us."

I have it on good authority that, when ALS victim Nick Scandone was nominated as 2005 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, the former college All American and 470 national champion had a dread of winning such an honor on a sympathy vote.

I have it on equally good authority that, when the decision went his way, it wasn't about that. It was about respect.

I've followed the disabled sailors at the Clagett Memorial Regatta through all three days of racing at Newport, Rhode Island, and it's been a roller coaster ride for some of them.

On day one, there was (to no great surprise) Scandone and his crew, Maureen McKinnon-Tucker, in front in the SKUD 18, a class that Scandone switched to just this year because of progressive limits on his abilities to singlehand a 2.4mR. Add a day, and we had a new leader in the pairing of Independence Cup winners Karen Mitchell and J.P. Creignou who (like Scandone/McKinnon-Tucker) have a crack at fielding the USA's first-ever female competitor on a Paralympic team.

We're talking China, 2008 of course.

Add another day of racing on Thursday to wrap things up, and both these teams have slipped, and the SKUD 18 winners are Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett, who won a tiebreaker with Mitchell/Creignou. Scandone/McKinnon-Tucker finished one point back, and so, sports fans, we've just had a competition in which the first three boats all finished within one point. That lump in the throat is somebody's heart.

I've got more results below, but first (yes, repeat reader, this is an update of an earlier post), let's talk a bit about this disabled sailing thing.

The 2008 Games will mark only the 10th year of recognized Paralympic sailing in the USA. That was slow coming, eh? Not to point fingers. It took me a long time (and in my job, I'm supposed to be a tuning fork) to get the picture. F-minus to me, but that's reality.

I came a long way on this subject in 2005, when I sailed the Centennial Transpac, and on the docks in Hawaii I got to meet the disabled crew from San Diego that also sailed that 2,225-mile jog to Honolulu. They turned out to be the funniest, most fun people who ever limped down a dock.

More recently, based upon a conversation with SKUD 18 sailor Karen Mitchell, I'm thinking that, the next time some ordinary-body starts telling me his ordinary-problems, the best thing is to walk away without a word. Hallelujah (knock on wood) I get to walk.

Would You Like to Dance ?

About Karen: An athlete in her youth—a biker and figure skater before an injury at age 19 made her a quadriplegic—and now a cancer survivor with ongoing complications following massive surgeries, what Mitchell has to say about sailing is worth a listen. She has more post-cancer surgeries to come, but she's "trying to put them off until after the Trials." In her own words:

"After I became a quadriplegic, I tried wheelchair sports, but nothing replaced skating and dancing. Then I started sailing—not until I was 35 or so—and now I find that sailing is like a dance. I leave my wheelchair at the dock, and the boat is an extension of my body.

"It's . . .

"It's . . .

"I'm able to dance.

"And I love to compete. I'd like to win every race and just kill everybody. Racing is like blue-water chess, different every time out. You have to think, and it's emotional. Often I compete against the able-bodied, and I've done well in that. Sailing is a sport where anyone can compete on skill, if you have the right equipment. It gives me a reason to keep fighting for life. When the cancer was under way and the doctors would give me the news, I'd get into a boat and sail and I'd say, 'No, I'm not ready to go.' "

Mitchell and legally-blind crew J.P. Creignou ("We both have a passion.") hail from Florida, but from different parts of the state. They take turns traveling to train together in the boat, but SKUD 18s are a relatively-new class, so there are limited opportunities to sail against a fleet. With varying crew, Mitchell is a five-time winner at the Independence Cup and North American Challenge Cup at Chicago Yacht Club—the only five time winner—but coming from south of the Mason-Dixon line, she has sometimes found Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay a bit on the cool side for late-season sailing.

"I'm a wimp," she says.

Yeah, right.

"Last year a cold front came through Newport, and it never got above 58 degrees. I couldn't leave my hotel without my drytop."

Okay, Karen, but the 2007 Clagett served up t-shirt weather, and it was all about light air; Scandone reported more than his fair share of weeds collecting on the foils.

The Clagett is am annual development event aimed at tuning up U.S. competitors in all three Paralympic classes: SKUD 18, 2.4mR, and Sonar. The 2007 edition opened with a two-day clinic (for U.S. sailors only) under disabled team coach Betsy Alison. The competition stage of the Clagett, August 28-30, was open to international sailors, and the racing fleet included sailors and coaches from next year's host country, out to raise their own game. The participation of China was considered important enough, by the organizers, to merit its own pre-event press release, and more on that below. Next on the disabled-sailing calendar is the IFDS Worlds in Rochester, New York, and then the U.S. Paralympic Trials October 3-14, again in Newport. No surprise, Narragansett Bay is everybody's new temporary home.
The 2007 Clagett was planned to replicate, as closely as possible, the format of the upcoming Paralympic Trials. The same race management team from Rhode Island's public sailing institution, Sail Newport, is running both events.

Here, via the wonders of our press release, we have a few Fun Facts regarding China and Paralympic sports. Pictured are Skud 18 competitors Hailiang Jia and Aiping Cao:

Chinese athletes first competed in the Paralympic Games at Barcelona in 1992, in sports such as Athletics, Swimming and Table Tennis, and finished as the 12th nation overall in the number of medals won. Over the following five Paralympic Games they steamrolled the competition. At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, China won a staggering 141 medals to place first overall in the medal wars out of the 75 participating nations; Great Britain’s haul of 94 medals and the U.S.A.’s collection of 88 placed those countries second and third, respectively.

And at the end of racing on Thursday, we had Minq Xue Qi on top, barely, as the winner of a three-way tie with Americans Mark LeBlanc and John Ruf.

A three-way tie? You guys are too much.

The only fleet where there was a dominant team was the Sonar, and even there the winners, Rick Doerr, Tim Angle, and Bill Donohue, had their worst day on the last day, slipped on points, and finished only one point up on the Israeli team of Dror Cohen, Benny Vexter, and Arnon Efrati.

And so

If Qindao is going to be light air in 2008, and there is every reason to expect no less and no more, Newport served up some good conditions for prep. Typical forecasts for Narragansett Bay for the final races promised five knots. A cold front was approaching and expected to pass through on Thursday night and Friday, to replace the high pressure of the last few days. But, apparently, there is not a lot of energy in the front. Think, a lot like New England late in the summer, and winds to 10 knots, which might have been a welcome feature for the racing had they arrived in time.

Farr, Farr Away

The usual suspects continue racing in Copenhagen, Denmark in the Farr 40 worlds, where the top four are all former champions, in this order: Mascalzone Latino, Alinghi, Nerone, and Barking Mad. There's more info at the end of our Farr link, but not a lot of race detail. The big breeze that blew through and kicked the fleet around on Wednesday left almost nothing behind but streaks and a pretty picture.

I never get tired of looking at boats—Kimball

Sunday, August 26, 2007

SPEED KILLS (boredom)

John Winning has it figured out. The problem with 18-foot skiffs is, "They're too easy to sail."

Forgive him. He's not only the consummate veteran, he's Aussie.

And he's one of the few with such an opinion. Then there are these American kids who also have it figured out. Different strokes, though. Cameron McCloskey developed his skiff-sailing chops in 29ers and 49ers, and after one regatta in an 18, "I'm looking for any opportunity to get back into these boats."

Giving the floor to Steve McLean: "I’ve never felt so scared, or so alive, as when I'm sailing an 18 footer.”

And here, courtesy of Abner Kingman, is an example of what they're talking about . . .

We've just wrapped the Ronstan International 18 Foot Skiff Regatta at Crissy Field, a breeze-blessed beach launch just inside the Golden Gate on San Francisco Bay, and if you push John Winning's buttons -- Yachting Australia, a national sailing authority that's not afraid of the "y" word, recently awarded this past class champion for Contributions to Yachting – you can count on getting something worthwhile. He's been racing 18s for more than 30 years, so the boat is a second home to him. That's where "easy" comes from.

At the bottom of this report I have much more, taken from our conversation about the sociology of skiff sailing on Sydney Harbour, and how 18s became a success story. But in the new-news-to-me department, John informed me that there is now a viable game in replica skiffs reprising the even-wilder days of yore.

I've long heard tales of the old 18s, with crazy spreads of canvas and the boats loaded with crewmen (upwind) who didn't necessarily have to finish with the boat (downwind).

Looked (and looks) sort of like this . . .

"Now we have ten of the replicas racing," Winning said. "We thought we'd do a race a month. Instead we're up to a race a week. We've got third-generation skiff sailors out there, and we've got the Beashels involved and Harold Cudmore too, when he's in town. A hull takes $10,000 in materials—we cheat a bit with aluminum spars—and $40,000 in labor. Then, to go sailing, we have seven or ten crew in each boat. That means you have a lot of people out there.

"We're trying to revive the old skills. To me, sailing's got too easy. In the old boats we'd carry three spinnakers instead of one. We'd have a pole that's 30-feet long. And now we're going back to doing things the hard way, sailing with block and tackle. I'm one of the youngest guys out there doing it, because a lot of these guys hadn't sailed at all in 20 years. Not many people get out of 18s and go sail something else. It just doesn't grab them."


Howie Hamlin and Mike Martin together were the first Americans to crack the 18s and win the class championship. It took years, but they got there, and as Team Pegasus they won the Ronstan this time around (St. Francis YC hosted the regatta) with the expertise of Paul Allen on the bow. Here's how it looked from above. Dig the choreography, going into maneuvers . . .

These guys are also disciples. Getting youth into 18s is a form of religion for them, and the newbies this time around were three aspiring Olympians who don't have any expectations out of the 2007 trials except to get their first experience of it behind them. Danny Cayard said, "You've got to go through the suffering, get out there, stick to it, don't break too much, keep the costs low." He will sail the trials in a 49er with Binstock, who was forward hand on the 18.

With a mere 45 minutes in an 18, prior to race one, these three got through the Ronstan regatta in good shape, and they got through the final day of racing without a capsize. Sometimes, you just have to know how to measure the value of these things. Per Max Binstock: "Breeze, waves, wipeouts; it feels great!" Here's Max . . .

And Danny . . .

And Cameron, working on the pesky mast track that kept cracking and threatening to bring down the rig . . .

Don't be standing in the way when these guys come around the learning curve. Again, there's more 18 stuff at the bottom, but first I want to ask:

Where Do Old 505 Sailors Go?

Bob McNeil is not your average former 505 sailor. He had a bit too much "luck" in venture capital to qualify as average.

Bob built the original MaxZ86 (fixed keel, now Windquest) and when that deal took a left turn he got into restoring classics. First it was a P class sloop called Joyant that got the fine-piano treatment, and he has committed to restoring the incredible Victorian schooner Coronet now laid up at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, Rhode Island. Here's a Franklyn Bassford painting of the way Coronet is supposed to look, which is not at all the current state of affairs . . .

In the meantime, our Bob also took on the restoration of the steam yacht Cangarda, entrusting the oversight to Jeff Rutherford. I attended the relaunch on Friday in Richmond, California, along the eastern reach of San Francisco Bay.

Here we have Rutherford on the left, and McNeil . . .

Cangarda was trucked to a launch ramp and eased into the water, using two semis heavily loaded with counter-weights. The pic looks gray because the sky was that (high fog, thick marine layer) But pay attention to the way the hull is supported forward, or not . . .

. . . because there were issues as soon as the stern started to float. As in, a sudden lack of adequate support, and one of the most thrilling (hmm, wrong word) launches anyone could remember. Sun came out, though . . .

They got it sorted out with no loss of life or limb and with no obvious damage to the boat, though it might be simpleminded to assume that none occurred. By early afternoon the boat was floating properly alongside a dock, and guests were allowed aboard. Here's a detail of the original Cuban mahogany of the smoking lounge, which at present is lacking the partition that once separated the ladies' parlor . . .

And a view of the original steam power . . .

I was mightily perplexed because I could not for the life of me find the helm station, but this image from the days of yore explains that. Cangarda might be ready to launch, but the work is far from complete . . .

Now, SAIL fans, I know this isn't a sailboat, but you have to understand. I just like boats. I may be a fanatic about sail, but boats? I love'em all.

I was amused by the various takes on the incident. One paper attended the relaunch and ran this headline: Millionaire's Yacht Nearly Capsizes. Another accepted Bob's spin on events -- that the boat recovered, so you know she's a good'un -- and ran the headline, Restored 1901 Yacht Proves Her Worth.

And then a guy like me comes along, viewing events through my own prism and proving that, once a 505 sailor, always a 505 sailor. Right, Bob?

It's worth noting that Cangarda is yet another boat that passed through the hands of Elizabeth Meyer, via J Class Management.
J Class took over the boat when it was lying sunk in Boston Harbor. Here are specs, along with a description from their web site:

Cangarda: 1901, Pusey & Jones

Clipper-Bowed Steam Yacht, 138’ x 18’ x 7’8”

Cangarda is the most original clipper bowed steam yacht in the world. Every piece of her interior, deck joinery, funnels, scrollwork, skylights, interior joinery, plumbing fixtures, hardware and all seven of her original steam engines are in excellent condition. Cangarda was donated to J Class Management in 2000, when her steel hull was lying on the bottom of Boston Harbor and her engines, interior and deck joinery were disbursed to private collectors and in storage in various locations from Florida to New Hampshire. J Class raised Cangarda’s hull, located the missing pieces of interior and deck joinery and put them into storage in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. In 2003, J Class found the perfect buyer for Cangarda and is now consulting on her archival restoration.

(Which got pretty sporty, and now continues.)

Back to Skiffs

OK, John Winning, carpenter by trade who "built that into a pretty big retail concern," tell us some stuff:

"Sailing still suffers from the stigma of being a rich man's sport. Skiffs have always been the cowboys, the cheap way to go sailing in Sydney.

"All the best hands were in the trades, and they would put in their time and then go race skiffs. In the old days, people paid to watch from ferries, so there was a gate, and you could win money for start, show, or finish. Most boats would get at least one win per season, and that would go a long way toward paying for running the boat.

"These days there's no gate," Winning says, "and the club
[ Australian 18 Footers League, the source of the historic skiff photos shown here) owns the boats, and we rely on sponsorships, but we set a maximum sponsorship of $25,000 per year because if you allow one $100,000 program you lose five smaller ones. Our best blokes [sponsors] bring clients to the club for lunch and then go out on the ferries.

"This kind of sailing is like being in a football league. We stress to the guys, the boat has to be out there every Sunday. And we're not anti-pro, but a pro can't be paid to sail an 18."

Thanks, John. And because it seems relevant to "several" discussions I've had of late, regarding the future of sailing, here is a cut-and-paste from the 18-Footers League web site, about the thinking that got them going:

The birth of 18ft Skiff Racing as we know it today occurred on Sydney Harbour on 26 January 1892. The father was Mark Foy.
Foy was a local businessman who loved sailing and believed Sydney Harbour to be the world’s best aquatic playground, and was disappointed that, unlike many other sports, sailing attracted practically no public interest.

He was quick to realize that the sailors themselves were responsible for this lack of interest as they made no attempt to cater for the public

They raced over a 12-mile course and were out of sight for up to two hours.
A complicated handicap system caused a further delay while the winner was being determined later in the clubhouse.

There was no attempt to entertain spectators while the boats were out of sight.

Determined to change this situation, he discussed the matter with a few close friends and came up with a series of initiatives which he believed would popularise sailing as an exciting spectator sport.

His plan was split into three simple steps:

1. Racing must be exciting and faster.
2. Boats had to be more colourful and more easily identified than by a number on the Sails
3. Race winner should be decided on a first-past-the-post basis.

The major problem with Foy’s plan was producing a faster racer, but he solved this with the first of the 18-footers, which was an open, centreboard boat with a very light hull, an 8-foot (2.4m) beam and only 30 inches (76cm) amidships. It carried a crew of 14 (compared to the previous boats with 25 crew) and had a huge spread of sail which gave it a sensational aquaplaning speed downwind.

Foy’s original idea of having striped sails to identify each boat had to be abandoned due to the excessive cost of manufacturing varying designs for registration.

His alternative was for each boat to have a colourful emblem on its mainsail - a tradition which continues to this day, although the colourful emblem is now almost exclusively the logo of a corporate sponsor.

When Foy tried to enter his boats with the Anniversary Regatta Committee of 1892, they were rejected as the committee believed that "such badges were not in keeping with the dignity of the oldest regatta in the southern hemisphere".

Foy was furious and announced "we’ll run our own regatta on Anniversary Day. I’ll pay for it and we’ll give the public what it wants".

High-pressure publicity given to Foy’s plans paid big dividends. On regatta day, Clark Island (Sydney Harbour) was packed to capacity, while moored ferries and jetties provided additional accomodation - as did every vantage point along the foreshores of Sydney Harbour.

The crowd was without precedent in Australian yacht racing although most of these spectators knew little about the sport. The vast majority were there to thrill to the excitement that Foy had promised.

Okay, that's more than enough for one day. My inner cop is speaking in a clear, loud voice: Put your hands up; back away from the computer. BACK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER.
See ya—Kimball

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adventures in Human Ballast

"If you can sail an 18-foot skiff on San Francisco Bay, everything else is easy."

That's Mike Martin speaking, a man who is clear on what he wants, and it's not all about 18s. He's also going to keep on sailing 505s until he wins the worlds as a driver, he says, "because nobody's ever won both as driver and as crew."

The crewing side he took care of in 1997, winning the worlds at the front of a 505 with Howie Hamlin on the tiller. This is getting-to-know Mike Martin day at the old blog, and here's the man . . .

On a 505, whoever's on the wire gets to be the tactician, as Mike points out, "because the driver can't be looking around." (The other thing about crewing a 505 is, you can set up your booties to aim spray at your driver's face if he starts to bug you.)

Driving a 505, Mike had a good run but not quite good enough at the 2007 worlds in Adelaide, Australia, so he'll have to keep at it (and I bet, if and when he succeeds, he'll be like other 505 sailors and just keep on sailing those sweet little boats). I caught up with him at Crissy Field, on the San Francisco cityfront, where he is racing 18-foot skiffs through Saturday in the Ronstan International. It was an instructive session as we talked our way through his beginnings in sailing, his discovery that he'd rather go high-performance, the three classes that have held his attention, and the challenges and future of those ever-lovin' wild things, the 18s. Wild, as this shot by Abner Kingman reminds us . . .

Along the way, Mike took time out to consult with young Danny Cayard, whose mast track was cracked and would surely prove a failure point for the rig if it went out again in a 20-knot seabreeze, and there was every reason to expect that 20 knots was coming on. It wasn't there yet, but you could feel the nip in the air, and the Golden Gate had its fog hat on, and that's a sure sign. Here's the consultation . . .

As he got Danny and crew Max Binstock and Cameron McCloskey started on repairs, the class master remarked, "I've been impressed with these guys. They're 29er sailors, so they have the idea, but they had less than an hour's practice time in an 18 before race one, and they finished both races of the day."

With Hamlin driving the 18, Martin in the middle, and a revolving cast of very quick talent on the bow, this is the American team that first made a dent in the Down Under stranglehold on this native Aussie hot rod, winning the worlds in Sydney not once but twice. But what keeps the 18s coming back to San Francisco Bay? In Australia, they're a phenomenon. Or, as Martin puts it, "They're part of the history and culture of Sydney Harbour; on the final day of the worlds you can't walk through the lot. But 18s are getting organized to become an ISAF class. The 2009 worlds will probably be in Europe, and some time in the next five years we should see the worlds on San Francisco Bay.

"And that will be interesting . . .

"There's no better place to sail skiffs than San Francisco," Martin says, "and there's no place that's harder. If you can sail an 18 on San Francisco Bay, everything else is easy. The point of bringing 18s back to San Francisco every year is not keeping it going but getting a class started here. To make that happen you need people with skiff skills and the money to afford the boats. There was a time when you couldn't find the skiff skills on this side of the Pacific. Now you have kids who sail 29ers and 49ers, and they have skills, so then you're looking at the other side of the equation, how to support a class of 18s, and that's the dilemma."

There's no dilemma in this picture, however. Look for more info on the regatta at the host St. Francis YC web site. Here's Howie Hamlin, Mike Martin, and bowman Paul Allen looking good in the Golden Gate . . .

Along about there in our conversation, we had another diversion, and as we picked up again I mentioned something about watching a fleet's worth of kids racing O'Pen BIC dinghies last weekend at Newport (I was there to sail Sonars in Hinman Masters team racing out of Harbour Court; the kids were sailing out of Fort Adams) in a regatta where the whole point was fun. That is, one of the courses offered was a square, with the requirement to sail a 360 on the top reach and to capsize (at least once) on the bottom reach – and with first place for the weekend determined by judges and awarded to the kid who had the most fun. The whole thing was on my mind because, in the morning email pile, I had found this photographic evidence from Peter MacGowan proving that the formula worked . . .

Mike Martin's thought: "That's a perspective that people who sail at a high level can lose – and Howie and I sail at a high level, even though we're not pros. The most fun 505 worlds I've ever had was when Peter Melvin broke his kneecap a week before the event, and he certainly wasn't going to make it, so I called Jeff Miller, who's a fixture with the local fleet here, and we went to the regatta with no expectations and no pressure. In a way, it was my best worlds ever.

"Mind you, winning is fun too."

So what happened at the 2007 worlds in Adelaide?

"Jeff Nelson and I won the pre-worlds in mixed conditions, then in the worlds we got a lot of marginal trapping [marginal trapeze weather]. That's not good for us, and the Danes [Jan Saugmann and Morten Ramsbeck] forced us to sail riskier than we like. That worked for a while, but like most risky sailing, it stopped working."

The next opportunity: Italy in October, 2008.

Me, I already know Howie Hamlin as a working guy who takes a few months off every year to go sailing [he sells commercial real estate, successfully enough to own a helicopter, and he doesn't take clients who don't understand the passion, and yes, there's a Blackberry for emergencies].

So what is the secret to how Mike Martin finds so much time for sailing? After all, he went responsibly into the work force after becoming Old Dominion's first national collegiate champion and a two-time All American. Today, as an engineer, he designs equipment for retinal eye surgery and, "I probably take eight weeks a year off. What I don't get as vacation, I take unpaid. My theory is that you gotta do what you gotta do. When I interview for a job, I tell them up front that I sail a lot. If that's not OK, then I'm not the guy they're looking for."

I'll paraphrase the rest of his words this way: Mike Martin works his buns off on the job to get ahead and stay ahead of his commitments, so that when the time comes, he can go sailing.


I asked, and Mike said . . .

"It's funny, I drive on some of these boats and crew on all of them. When Howie and I had two 18s in Long Beach (California), I steered one of them. But by far my favorite boat to steer is the 505. It's like a dinghy in light air, and it's like a skiff in the breeze.

"The 14 is somewhere in between an 18 and a 505. You can get away with moves in a 14 that you'd never get away with in an 18.

"Before I discovered speed, I sailed Lasers, Finns, and Thistles. I didn't have a junior program. I just bought a Laser and started racing with our local fleet on the Potomac. I also crewed for Brent Barbehenn. He taught me how to see the fleet from out front, and we won two Thistle nationals. Then, when I started at Old Dominion, the team wasn't even ranked. Then Charlie Ogletree came in the next year. Then Terry Hutchinson came in the next year. That was a great experience."

And that, you may believe.

Yes, Virginia, there is an America's Cup (sigh)

On the heels of Wednesday's New York court ruling in favor of an expedited hearing for BMW Oracle Racing's complaint against the America's Cup defender and his "you are all my prisoners" protocol comes a response to the effect that, “Larry Ellison is holding the Cup to ransom for competitive gain." The defender expresses himself "disappinted" that Ellison has actually gone to court.

I'll tell you the truth. I'm not ready to get my juices up about this court deal yet, but I can see us headed there unless the defender blinks.

Hasn't Ernesto Bertarelli ever been to "the room" and doesn't he know you don't want to go there?

Sometimes you get a big surprise.

BTW, I'm still looking for the right new name for the old blog, so don't be surprised to see it change again. Think, adventures in mental ballast—Kimball

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wind and More Wind

It's natural to want to show the best side of your home waters when a big regatta comes to town, so it felt good for the San Francisco locals when the Golden Gate wind slot finally went "nuclear" and the seabreeze touched 30 knots, late in the U.S. Windsurfing Nationals and North Americans. On the Formula boards--think wide wetted surface--the downwind stuff was an exercise in hang'n pray, baby.

Granted, not everybody likes that much breeze, but without it, you really haven't sailed on San Francisco Bay.

That's the stuff we were looking for when the Kite Nationals came to town earlier in August, but we just didn't get hit with it at the time. There's also the whole spirit of the thing, as seen in the windsurfers' regatta poster. San Francisco in 2007 is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. There's still no peace, man, but tie-dye we got.

The look of the racing on the water was a bit more down-to-the Blue Planet.

Here's course racing as seen through the lens of Paul Buelow, before Seth Besse separated from the Formula board pack in the final race. Besse won 9 of 10 Formula races and figured that, "I probably could have taken the other one, but I got conservative."


Conservative? The guy who dislocated his shoulder on the racecourse, hit the beach, replanted that sucker, and went back out? Conservative?

Anyhow, winning Race 9 made a happy man of Steve Bodner. It also made him second for the regatta and at the same time raises a point about the scale of the event. Both of these guys are local sailors. Competing events close on the calendar discouraged many sailors who might have come from a distance, though as Besse pointed out, whenever there's that much breeze—anywhere you go—Crissy Field sailors are going to do well, because they feel at home.

The racing was equipment-intensive. Moderate winds early on, increasing later, rewarded those who brought a full quiver of weapons, and there was the slalom racing on Friday that also wanted special gear. The Formula boards favored by locals are nearly twice as wide as the RSX Olympic boards, so downwind in a breeze they're a lot to handle (Bodner showed me the deep, carbon fin on his Formula board and commented, "Eight hundred dollars").

Robert Willis was the winner on the RSX, winning 8 out of 8 races.

Here, justfer justfers, is David Wells leading a slalom race, again as photographed by Paul Buelow . . .

Meanwhile, the scene beachside would be familiar to anyone who knows Crissy Field (it's part of the Presidio National Park), with the breeze blowing parallel to the shore and driving sand along with it. I walked around and took a few snaps. Regatta-gear hoodies were not a bad call . . .

There's quite the cultural mix here. St. Francis Yacht Club, which hosted the event, took the lead years ago in bringing windsurfers into its world. With some of its most prominent "yachtsmen" taking up windsurfing (including ex-Olympians and members of the board of directors) that move was hard to avoid. And there was no reason to avoid it. And now we're beyond that, and around here anyway, it's all one world. Looking east from Crissy Field beach, here's the race announcer's tower, and if you peer through it you see the StFYC clubhouse. At the end of a raceday, people move down there (downwind, so literally down there) for hot showers, refreshments, and the inevitable "and there we were" debriefings . . .

After the hit-the-beach debriefs, of course . . .

Nothing average about the setting. Here's Bodner hauling out, and you can see the Palace of Fine Arts beyond the trees and one of the hills of San Francisco in the background . . .


But probably a good call. The Royal Ocean Racing Club on Sunday announced a postponement for the start of the classic Rolex Fastnet Race. The cause was "the continued severe weather warning issued by the UK Met office."

Apparently, there was a chance of dangerous conditions, just when a good part of the fleet would have been crossing the exposed waters of the Western Channel and Celtic Sea. One note of personal interest to me, having been up close and personal with races in which people died and the judgement of the race committee was questioned, was the comment from RORC racing manager Janet Grosvenor that, even thought the RORC has taken the responsibility of not starting at the scheduled time, the responsibility for those who do start on signal still rests with the skipper: "It remains the RORC policy to start a race when it is safe to do so and the responsibility for a boat's decision to participate in the race or to continue racing is hers alone."

The intent now: Start the 300-boat fleet on Monday for the race out to the Fastnet Rock and back. The delay, intended to avoid exposing smaller boats to the worst of a passing low pressure system, doesn't mean that everybody is off the hook for some rough sailing. This from the race web site:

Chris Tibbs, the meteorologist for the Rolex Fastnet Race, has forecast a south-westerly wind, Force 3/4 (7 - 16 kts) for tomorrow's start. Tuesday should see the strongest winds, likely to be near the Lizard and Land's End with the wind south-southwest Force 6/7 (25 - 38 kts), with a possible increase to gale-force Force 8 (34 - 40 kts). By then, the bigger boats will be past and the smaller boats will still have options for shelter if the breeze strengthens.

When you're talking Fastnet, there is no forgetting 1979, when 303 starters set out from the Isle of Wight in fine weather only to encounter a storm that proved especially fierce on certain parts of the course, and deadly to certain sizes of boats. Fifteen people died, twenty-four boats were abandoned, five boats sank, and only 85 boats finished. The '79 race was immortalized in a book that is still a good read, John Rousmaniere's Fastnet, Force 10.

Weather forecasting has improved more than slightly since 1979, and the weird thing is, all this just makes me sorry that I'm not there—Kimball

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Arbitrating the Camel Racing

Hearing Vincenzo Onorato come out against the Alinghi protocol for America's Cup 33—Onorato is Mr. Mascalzone Latino—I decided I really had to labor through yet another reading of The Document, as I suppose the protocol will be referenced if we make it all the way to court. I came away with two thoughts.

1) If they had opened the process to all parties to decide how to conduct the next event, and appointed a committee, and this protocol was the result, there would be howls of derision at what an ungainly, compromised "camel" the committee had produced: to qualify in older boats and then race for the cookies in hastily-developed, hastily-built 90-footers. Those things can hurt you.

2) If the owner of the New York Yankees became simultaneously the Commissioner of Baseball, would that be a good thing?

Yeah, I've asked the baseball question before, but it won't go away.

Onorato's comments were released on the Mascalzone Latino web site during La Copa del Rey at Palma de Mallorca, where his Mutua Madrileña came second in TP52s to Alberto Roemmers' Siemens and tactician Paul Cayard (Cayard hints that he may soon be living back in Valencia; does the second-Spanish-challenge rumor have legs?).

At almost the same moment, spokesmen for Patrizio Bertelli, Mr. Luna Rossa Challenge, were announcing that he's pulled the plug on the Prada Team heritage and bowed out of AC 33. We know that Bertelli was another big player unhappy with the protocol -- and given his efforts to support Alinghi in keeping the Cup in Europe, he may have been, well, mmm, shucks (shyly kick the dust with your sneakers) disappointed -- but his nicely-crafted public statements thanking this and that party for past efforts give us nothing to chew on here.

I understand the Larry Ellison/BMW Oracle legal effort, including the challenge in a 90-foot catamaran, as an attempt to force Alinghi to the bargaining table to forge a new protocol, one where "Commissioner" Ernesto Bertarelli cedes a few powers to the teams. Bertarelli insists, however, that the matter should be heard by "our independent arbitration panel and we hope to have their resolution soon."

So about that panel

The Arbitration Panel for America's Cup 33 was appointed by America's Cup Management, which was created by Bertarelli through the vehicle of his challenging club, Société Nautique de Genève, and it consists of three members, two of whom served on the jury for America's Cup 32, and both of whom voted in favor of Alinghi in the two protest situations that developed.

One of those Arbitration Panel members, Graham McKenzie, is a former partner of the same Auckland law firm (Bell Gully) where Alinghi general counsel Hamish Ross was a partner for 12 years.

I remind you that both protests in AC 32 (or perhaps you were not close enough to the grapevine to know) were decided on the same 3/2 (partyline?) split in a jury of five.

What's next for Number Three of the threesome, I wonder?

Is it possible that Alinghi higher ups are so innocent and naïve that they have given no thought to appearances?

And of course I speak only of appearances.

And I would not over-Freud Mr. Bertarelli's reference to "our independent arbitration panel," emphasis mine.

It's interesting at some level that I have been for 30 years a member of a yacht club in San Francisco (not the Challenger of Record for AC 32), and Mr. Ellison has been a member of the same club since 1995, but I have never once met the guy. I've followed his career through the technology-obsessed press of Northern California, where something on the order of "ruthless" has been about the most positive portrayal of the head of Oracle software. Then, as racing went along in Valencia, I began to see a lot of positive portrayals in the sailing press. Angus Phillips of The Washington Post interviewed Ellison and really liked him, and that seems to be more or less the state of affairs, except among those who think he's mucking up America's Cup 33 by being a contrarian.

On the other side, I know that Alinghi got kicked around ugly in New Zealand in 2003, and the individuals were made to feel it and probably still feel it, but I don't think there was any international pushback until certain events of AC 32, and then of course the publication of the protocol for AC 33.

Myself, I had nothing but high hopes, and I can even remember when certain members of my profession regarded me as a pollyanna case.

I still favor the sunny side of the street, but thinking now of Alinghi skipper/tactician Brad Butterworth's famous get-out-of-here, "You're on the other side" declaration to Luna Rossa lawyer Luis Saenz—Stuart Alexander reported the incident out of last month's press conference formalizing Valencia as the site for AC 33—I am reminded of the last time that America's Cup racing got mired in court matters. That was also, perhaps coincidentally, the last time that a catamaran was involved, and the year was 1988 and San Diego Yacht Club was fending off New Zealand's unwanted Big Boat challenge, and Dennis Conner observed to the press corps, "If you've been out for a ride on one boat, you probably haven't been invited out on the other."

Such was the poisoned atmosphere, and it took a long time for the air to clear.


Parting thoughts:

1) Having Team New Zealand as one of its challengers for AC 33 is a boost for Alinghi's public relations, but it would be easier to view the Kiwi move as a high-ground play if they hadn't taken startup funding from Alinghi after 2003.

2) Now that I'm finally back in California and digging through the piles of mail that accumulated in my absence, I discover that I should not have been so surprised when Alinghi dumped the AC class. I see that the magazine, Seahorse, published a relevant interview of Alinghi principal designer Rolf Vrolijk and chief engineer Dirk Kramers, which ran while racing was underway.

Taken in total, this interview does not in any way imply that a final decision had been made. However, this quote tells us something about the thinking:

Rolf Vrolijk:
"There is no space left. The guidelines for the rule rewrite in 2003/4 were driven by Ernesto Bertarelli and Larry Ellison's belief that it was very important to have close competition on the water. They really wanted to show how close America's Cup racing could be, especially for the Cup's debut in Europe.

"So the rule was narrowed right down into a tight box rule. Outside this box there is no option, only a range of penalties, and, within, all the parameters and the speed-producing factors are carefully controlled by Version 5. That also goes for the materials, construction techniques and also applies to the rig. So the rule basically comes to an end now."

3) So much for what I know. About a million years ago, in my enthusiasm for the tight competition of AC 32, I compared the excitement of the 1983 Aussie II win at Newport to the excitement of AC 32. Here's what I imagined:

"One difference between 1983 and 2007 is critical; 1983 was a one-off, with Ben Lexcen's "winged keel" providing a significant advantage to an off-the-wall challenger. That's not replicable. But the tight racing we're seeing here will happen again."

Or maybe not.

The SAIL blog will be updated often from now on, but trust me on this one, it won't be all fustigation, because it won't be all-America's Cup. The world of sailing is too big and too wonderful for that. I'm still hotted up on the subject of hydrofoil kiteboards (see previous post, below) and frankly, if I had my druthers, I'd be on Lake Michigan this weekend to witness the Chicago Yacht Club's running of the Independence Cup. Over the last few years I've watched my sport finally become aware of disabled sailing, and open up to it, and I think it's one of the best things ever. Above is Chicago hometown heroine Kristi Walker competing in a 2.4. With racing scheduled to wrap up on Monday, Kristi is running fourth in the 2.4's to Mark LeBlanc of Southern Yacht Club, New Orleans. I reckon Kristi would rather be first, but she's out there, right?

Just do it—Kimball