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