Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Nights of the Long Knives

Guaging the health of a class such as the Star, I can't think of a better window into the question of Who We Are, and is there an Us.

With all the Olympic classes in play at the ISAF Annual Meeting (but the Star seeming secure), the decisions to be made have effects all the way down to the weekend warriors. Otherwise we wouldn't have Star Class president Bill Allen writing to his membership, "Everything has become so professional, it's difficult for the Star class to keep being what it used to be. Of concern to me is the possibility that some of our members have started to feel that the Star Class is 'only for the pros.'

"Many of us love the challenge of competing against the best, but at top events now, the level of competition is such that the weekend sailor struggles to make the top half of the fleet and never sails in clear air."

Allen goes on to assure his constituents that he will be at the ISAF Annual Meeting "to keep 'Mens Keelboat' as an Olympic event. Hopefully, the Star Class can continue to be one of the few classes that serves both the elite sailor and the weekend warrior."

We'll come back to that, and a Bill Allen/KL conversation about the Star, "As a place to go to grad school after you hit age 25 and 200 pounds."


I've observed the growing consensus that 470s are the vulnerable class as ISAF seeks to comply with pressures from the International Olympic Committee to downsize and focus Olympic sailing. The first meeting was held last friday, thus:

Friday, November 2, The Palacio Estoril Hotel
Olympic Classes Sub-Committee
(closed to observers)
Park Suite A

It's a complex thing, isn't it? With the IOC pressuring our sport to give good TV or else, and with ISAF, our international governing body, depending upon Olympic revenue for the way it lives and operates, Olympic sailing could logically be relaunched on an X-Games model, the way that the Winter Games now include judge-ranked tricks on snowboards.

Won't happen.

Not soon anyway, and following that line of "logic" would be destructive. I'm too much a traditionalist to welcome a version of "the Flying Tomato in the Halfpipe" to Olympic medal sailing. That said, it's high time to recognize kites as Us, and ISAF is lumbering forward. The minutes of the September ISAF Executive Committee Meeting (published October 29) include this reference, to be considered in the meeting that continues through Sunday, November 11:

Emergent Sailing
The Executive Committee noted that Submission 055-07 would enable ISAF to embrace emergent forms of sailing, such as kite sailing.

Totally awesome, dude. ISAF is finally ready to see kite sailing as sailing (I hope). The Olympic debate, meanwhile, is rolling down a different track, and we are far from any X Games model as ISAF considers the "equipment," as they call it, for the 2012 Olympiad. So far, turning the final day of Olympic sailing competition into a near free-for-all for the top ten boats is as close as the sport has come to a radical solution to the problem of giving good TV. And that does not begin to address the issue of how to make the act of sailing, itself, look exciting. "Us" is wind junkies, and wind is not guaranteed. How would it go in downhill skiing if sometimes you went to the mountain, and the mountain was flat?

No lack of drama here. Stars under the lens of Fried Elliott . . .

© Fried Elliott

Let's be clear. Delegates to the Annual Meeting won't be choosing boats for 2012; they'll designate categories, and then, for a good time, we can sit back and watch as selection proceeds through 2009 while a passel of entrenched interests vie to still have a chair when the music stops.


Keelboats represent the majority of sailing. I said that, and so did Star Class president Bill Allen. That in itself is an argument for featuring the Star (not some other keelboat, let's not even go there) in the Games. Four years shy of its 100th anniversary, this 22-foot development class continues to attract many of the brightest and best. Who's the 2007 Star world champion skipper? Why, two-time Laser gold medalist Robert Scheidt, keeping his game alive.

The Star, which sailed its first Olympiad in 1932, is unique. I look forward to hearing the TV commentators in 2012 talking about the 101-year tradition of the Star.

Star Europeans 2007 as photographed by Fried Elliott

Bill Allen again: "As the 2007 season winds down in the northern hemisphere, it has become more and more apparent to me that our class is feeling some pressures that primarily relate to our Olympic status. Now we have over 30 countries in the Star Class alone seeking to qualify for the Games, and over 70 interested countries in 11 medal events worldwide. This has resulted in a huge increase in the time and monetary commitment by many individuals seeking Olympic medals . . . Of more concern to me is the possibility that some of our members have started to feel that the Star Class is 'only for the pros.' Many of us love the challenge of competing against the best, but at top events now, the level of competition is such that the weekend sailor struggles to make the top half of the fleet and never sails in clear air.

"The nature of the Olympics has changed dramatically," Allen says, "from the days when a handful of guys would gear up for a couple months, qualify for the Games, sail in the Olympics, and return to their recreational sailor status."

One of the strengths of the Star is that local fleets rule. Lose that and you lose a lot. When I chased Bill Allen down for further comment, he was in a car, on a cell phone, but it wasn't hard to hit the theme. He said, "Sixty or seventy percent of Star sailors are still of the mind set that competing against the best is the best kind of sailing. But there's been a bit of a shift. You take the guy who once in a while used to get a top five finish, but now the pros have widened the gap, and there are more of them, and there are people who are thinking that they're just not having as much fun when they go to the big regatta and they're always sitting second row.

"Olympic classes are predominantly filled with elite sailors," Allen said. "You don't have any other Olympic class to match the Star, where there are 3,000 members including 50-60 interested in the Olympics.

"This is an evolution. It's not a make-or-break crisis. But sailing is up against a lot of competing activities. One design sailing is not exactly a growth industry. I say we should shift our goals. I'm encouraging people to not focus so much on the Worlds. Let the elite sailors take care of themselves--and they will, very nicely.

"The Star fleets that are doing well locally are the ones that are promoting fun races with a social component and a view toward involving the family. Some of the most successful fleets have morning races so a guy can have his sailing and still make the kid's soccer game in the afternoon."

Hmm, not so different from promoting PHRF.

Notes from the minutes of the most recent ISAF Executive Committee meeting:

A proposal that ISAF supply all boats to the Olympics was rejected as "unviable."

A proposal that true one-design "out of the box" boats should be selected for Olympic sailing received support and was referred to the Events Strategy Working party for further consideration.
(I don't think my friend Bill will like the sound of that one.)

A proposal to hold the combined ISAF Sailing World Championships every two years instead of every four years was supported, and a further proposal will go forward. (Star sailors were mildly traumatized by changing their Worlds format every four years, but they adapted and no doubt would re-adapt. Bill Allen on the Olympics: "This is our history. This is who we are and, I believe, this is what most of our members want us to be.")

The big bad ocean

It's an exciting time in shorthanded ocean sailing. The Barcelona World Race doublehanded fleet is standing by in the south of Spain for their start on Sunday, and the doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre fleet is already at sea on an Atlantic crossing from Le Havre, France to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. While there's something less than a rich feast of race updating available at the event web site at the moment, this link - Transat Jacques Vabre - will get you past the irritating, triple-click, slow-load intro pages. Rich Wilson (USA)and Mike Birch (Canada) represent the field from this side of the pond. Their Bernard Nivelt Open 60, Great American III is also entered in the 2008 Vendee Globe. Wilson will singlehand that race, which starts almost exactly a year from now, on November 9, 2008.

Open 60s left Le Havre on Saturday, and on Sunday the top eight of 17 Open 60s were reporting distance-to-go within two miles of each other, which is about the same as calling it a dead heat. Multihulls started on Sunday in a reported four knots of northerly breeze.

And what about amateur sailing in the USA, so much closer to home? Howzabout the 69-boat J/105 North American Championship fleet on the Chesapeake, where the fleet was split into gold and silver divisions (for the health and safety and better competition of all), and then there's the sold-out IRC East championship fleet, also on the Chesapeake and wrapping up on Sunday with the Storm Trysail Club.

Turnouts like that ought to be rather heartening, methinks. And here is a look at the proposed new clubhouse for Southern Yacht Club, New Orleans, to replace the one that got Katrina'd. The membership is scheduled to meet Monday, November 5 to vote on the rebuilding proposal—Kimball

Monday, October 29, 2007


Just in from Europe--the worst of the San Diego fires were out by the time he arrived home--one Peter Isler, whose ride, Titan, bailed on the Middle Sea Race. The next stop for "Pedro" was Spain, to work with American Jonathan McKee and Barcelona homie Guillermo Altadill, prepping Estrella Damm for the Barcelona World Race start less than two weeks away.

I checked in re. wildfires and boats, thinking that a guy who has seen one after another America's Cup, Olympic classes, and a heap of ocean racing would have seen it all, but here is Isler on this deal: "It was incredible. I had never caught up with the Open 60 scene in Europe. You can't believe the boats.

"I hadn't realized that the Open 60 rule allows the mast to be any height at all. And there are boats with rotating masts, and some have masts with compression struts to widen the effective chain plate angle. Simply put, these are the coolest monohulls I've ever seen."

So what about the Farr-designed boat that Altadill and McKee will sail?

"They have a conventional rig," Isler said, "and they're by no means the favorites in this race. PRB is that. But as long as the boat holds together, Jonathan is brilliant. Having someone in the race that you know brings it a lot closer.

"With only two people on the boat, they're never going to be able to sail it a hundred percent. It's a matter of sailing singlehanded-style, so they split the sleep and let the autopilot do most of the steering."

Hmm, says I. I've heard Stan Honey talk about how he and Sally race their Cal 40 with the autopilot interfacing through software to the polars that Stan has carefully worked out, and the line goes, "There's no reason for us to steer because 'Otto' does such a good job." Stan being, among other things, the guy who figured out how write software to "paint" the yellow first-down lines in NFL broadcasts, he qualifies as the smartest guy in the room, most of the time. (He's working for British Cup challenger, Team Origin, at the moment.)

Isler again, "Yeah, I told these guys they should be talking to Stan about software. Unfortunately, they just didn't have the time."

Jorge Andreu/Estrella Damm Sailing Team

Oh, time. McKee entered the picture in August, after completing his commitments to Luna Rossa in the America's Cup in Valencia, and these two have been on a tear, just to be ready to leave at all. The race is attracting a lot of attention, in part because people are interested in the doublehanded aspect. Also, it's a heck of a fleet. That PRB that Peter mentioned is another Farr, this one to be sailed by Vincent Riou and Sébastien Josse, each with a rather impressive resumé. Other attention-getters are Alex Thompson and Andrew Cape, inbound now from England, who cleared Gibraltar on Monday and are expected to arrive in Barcelona Wednesday night or Thursday morning with their hungry-looking Hugo Boss.

Fleet of nine.

Starts November 11.


Language makes us who we are. It unites us, but of course it also divides us between the speakers of this language or that. I feel the pain of my French-speaking friends at the finish line of the Transat 6.50, earnestly trying to convey events in this largely-French event to an English-speaking audience. Most of the fleet has arrived in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, and kudos to the race team for making the effort to communicate.

Contrast that to a simple business decision made by Le Groupe IDEC for their golden boy, Frances Joyon, as he preps his giant trimaran for a shot at the solo round-the-world record now held by Ellen MacArthur. Notice in this pic, there's a human figure looking rather small . . .

© JM Liot/DPPVidec

Now, a phenomenon like this doesn't explain why a European can get sponsorship for a boat, while an American cannot, but it sure paints a stark contrast. David McCreary at Scuttlebutt Europe alerted me to the following gem unearthed by Cowes Online:

As Joyon's web site is exclusively in French, we emailed his PR to ask if they would be publishing reports in English for Joyon's many fans who don't speak French.
The response winged its way promptly across the Channel from PR Fabrice Thomazeau:

Malheureusement, nous ne communiquerons pas en anglais.
Le sponsor du bateau n'ayant pas d'objectif à l'international.
Best Regards,
Fabrice Thomazeau"

It didn't take a linguist to work this one out - the sponsor has no international objectives so there's won't be any English language communications.
Well, all we can say is - Tu te fous de ma gueule!

Me, I'm not quite over the too, too similar responses of our America's Cup litigants to the judge's nonruling of October 22. (Both were well pleased.)

We're still waiting for further announcements, remember. Either a call back to the commercial division of the New York Supreme Court for a summary judgment from The Man, or word of a settlement between the parties. In their words they don't sound far apart, but in the gaps between the words, methinks, there is a chasm and one or the other has a long way to fall.

Still hoping for a speedy way out of this place.

I remind you again of the following—Kimball

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Letting the Elements Take Me for a Ride

Move over, Maria Sharapova. You're a looker, and you're a great athlete, but the world of sailing has a contender in both of those realms. The name is Sjoukje Bredenkamp.

"Letting the elements take me for a ride on the wild side" is how Sjoukje Bredenkamp describes kite sailing. She also says, "If you disrespect Mother Nature, she will give you a hiding."

Now Sjoukje Bredenkamp, still a teenager and still respectful of Mother Nature, is the fastest woman on water under sail. The resident of Langebaan, South Africa has a new speed record of 42.35 knots set at the Luderitz Speed Challenge in Luderitz, Namibia.

This was not shot on a record attempt, but I think the image goes to the heart of what Sjoujke's talking about . . .

And this . . .

The new speed of 42.35 knots over a measured and monitored 500-meter course awaits ratification from the World Speed Record Council, at which point it will take over the spot from windsurfer Karen Yaggi of Switzerland. Sjoukje has been the female record holder on kites since October 2006, at a speed of 37.24 knots.

The 500-meter overall record remains with windsurfer Finian Maynard of the Virgin Islands, who set his mark of 48.70 knots in April, 2005 at the specially-dug "ditch" in the south of France. But are kites coming on in the speed department? Looks like it. At Luderitz, Alexandre Caizergues made 47.92 knots and is breathing down Maynard's neck.

Some words from the organizers about the Luderitz Speed Challenge:

Similar to the moon, but colder, Luderitz is a speed sailor's dream.
A natural speed strip with a great angle provides conditions perfect for breaking the outright WSSRC 500m record. Luderitz is normally windy for a four-day period without a break at least 3 to 4 times a month. It is a 10-hour drive from Cape Town, easily done overnight. The 500 meter course is set up in second lagoon wetland.

Sjoukje was using a new kite design from the Naish Sigma series, something I can't talk about myself, so here are some words from the company's promotional material:

The Sigma Series is the natural evolution of depowering kites; a whole new angle on kiteboarding. By incorporating straight segments in the leading edge from strut to strut, canopy tension is kept constant. Wind pressure is not necessary to maintain the canopy profile, and at low angles of attack, Geo-Tech keeps the canopy from collapsing. By maintaining a consistent aerodynamic leading edge, Geo-Tech provides a wrinkle-free canopy, large depower range, and stability at broad angles of attack, where historically kites with a large depower range have experienced distortion. Combined with the Sigma shape, Geo-Tech creates the most precise and controllable kite ever, which maintain this feeling and control through an amazingly broad wind range. The Sigma outline provides two significant advantages: first, it changes the center of effort in the kite such that this point does not move during the depower range, and secondly, Sigma allows the kite's wingtip to twist in a manner that initiates lightning-quick turning.

So do we really have a kitesailing equivalent of tennis' Maria Sharapova?

I think so. The World Speed Sailing Record Council can take its time. Around here, Sjoujke's ratified. And now take a look at what kites are doing at the famed surf site, Mavericks—Kimball

Monday, October 22, 2007

So We've Been to Court

But we haven't been to court and back.

Interesting that BMW Oracle Racing would imagine that they could put their team-colors 40-footers through their paces off the San Francisco cityfront and no one would notice.

Russell Coutts was "in town for meetings" according to a source inside the team, "and it's hard to keep Russell off the water."

The presence of James Spithill was neither confirmed nor denied, but he was undeniably there on the water, sailing out of the Golden Gate Yacht Club. A friend of mine who sailed with a different team in Valencia tells me that Spithill has signed with BMW Oracle—his former ride, Luna Rossa, is not coming back for the next round, remember—so we may have to add a Spithill-Oracle alliance to the long-rumored, eventually-announced Coutts-Oracle alliance as one of the worst kept secrets of 2007. It will give armchair analysts plenty to work on as they try to figure how the boys might divvy up responsibilities under a single roof. I was told that John Kostecki was also part of the sailing, but didn't see him myself. I was busy yachting thisaway and thataway on a 1946 sloop named Kate II, a past Swiftsure winner recently brought to San Francisco from Puget Sound and slated for a complete restoration. She's a beauty already, and don't worry, friends in the Pacific Northwest, she will be treated like the lady she is.

From the Department of Useless Factoids:

1) BMW Oracle Racing was 91 minutes ahead of Alinghi in releasing a brief reaction to the day in court, which consisted of arguments from each side and then a statement by the judge that he intended to render a judgment quickly, probably in a matter of weeks.

2) The reactions of each side were similar.
BMW Oracle Racing headlined:
GGYC welcomes prospect of speedy court decision
Alinghi headlined:
Alinghi welcomes prompt resolution

Click on the links above to see the full text of each statement plus so much more as you enter the wonderful world of valid versus invalid challengers of record.

Or just have a gander at a few of the examples from our local fleet of classics sailing the Jessica Cup regatta. As my fellow crew, Joe Horn, pointed out with a certain sense of wonder, "They all have new sails."

And hedging on just a few, it was true. Here we have a Farallon Clipper and a Lion sloop, each looking rather pristine . . .

Shh. Don't tell anybody, but Alpha (foreground) is aluminum . . .

And here's a variety pack . . .

The schooner Yankee, 101 years young but, no, not one of the new-sails gang . . .

Point of view, Kate II . . .

And here is the schooner Santana. The sail fabric is manufactured in tan; that's not an effect of age . . .

In another time, rigged as a yawl, Santana belonged to Humphrey Bogart, who sailed the pants off this boat, spent a lot of weekends at Catalina and won a lot of races on the Southern California circuit. As you see, she has fallen into good hands again. I would have cropped more from the left but decided to leave you with the additionally useless quiz item: What softward mogul who backs America's Cup teams has a house at the top of yon hill? Yes, I'll accept "duh" for an answer—Kimball

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Make Something Happen

I have a friend who likes to close a conversation with the words, "Now go make something happen."

So here is a story about someone who makes things happen.
The name is Craig Bergh.

Craig proudly advertises Minnesota's Lake Okabena as "the fastest lake in the nation," and he has his reasons. The guy's a one-man sailing association/race committee/promo unit who, three years ago, strapped a GPS to his wrist, went windsurfing, and was fascinated with the speed readouts. He says, "I realized that other people would want to do this."

Thus was born the Midwest Speed Quest, and now Bergh is on a quest to add sailboats to the Quest. Pay attention, people, you might be missing something.

Think of this as an American example of an international phenomenon. Bergh puts in 60-hour weeks as a nurse-anesthesiologist in Worthington, Minnesota (about 175 miles from Minneapolis/St. Paul), but Worthington is not just any small town in the heartland. Dig this . . .

Here's the Craig Bergh deal: Over a six-month season, people come to Lake Okabena whenever they want, and he takes care of them—or someone else in the family does—providing meals and hydration and sometimes a bed in his lakeside home. "One of us will meet them with a GPS," he says. "The GPS has a memory card that allows my computer to look at their entire day -- or year -- on the water, second by second, to 1/100th of a knot." Come mid-October, he has his winners for the year.

Unlike the international 500-meter course records ratified by the World Speed Sailing Record Council, Bergh looks for the fastest 10-second intervals. So far, all his takers have been windsurfers, but he is eager to expand to dinghies and catamarans. Why do it at all? He just thinks this is all so cool.

Photo by Pam Bergh

What does he get out of it? Well, if you have to ask, you just don't understand how cool this is. All the photos here are taken from the event web site, and here's an outtake from the text:

This Event is designed to be fun. We are geared to beginning sailors as well as the top racers. The Event remains completely free, and there are no entry fees.

There are prizes and gear give-aways courtesy of our sponsors such as Dakine, Murray Sports, KA Sails, Windsurf Deal, La Azteca Mexican Restaurant, LOCOSYS Technology, Aquapac International, AmericInn of Worthington, and the Worthington Chamber of Commerce.

Let us know when you are planning to attend. We will assist with your travel expenses, including gasoline. We would be delighted to provide free or discounted motel rooms at the AmericInn of Worthington. We have great discounted meals at La Azteca, the best Mexican Restaurant anywhere. The Worthington Chamber of Commerce is at your service to assist with your travel plans to Worthington. The Midwest Speed Quest Crew will meet you at the Sioux Falls or Worthington Airport to assist you with transportation.

We have free refreshments and hot meals served on the Beach.

We provide the most precise GPS units available: the LOCOSYS GT-11.

We have lots of great demo gear for you, courtesy KA Sails Australia, and from Starboard International.

We have free Hot Showers, Pet Care, Child Care, Spousal Care (care of the Windsurfing Widow), all provided on-site!

Yes, pretty cool. And it's all about Craig Bergh taking a notion and then beating up on potential sponsors and trumpeting the deal and then following through.

Sailors come to Lake Okabena from all over--not in great numbers, 47 this year, and it's reasonable to wonder if too much success could wreck a good thing.

Whatever. Bergh describes his home as one of the windiest spots in the country, "And October is really windy; the best guys look for 40 knots plus." Being located on Buffalo Ridge, a high point between the Missouri and Mississippi Basins, Worthington and Lake Okabena are, shall we say, exposed.

Photo by Todd Spence

At one point last summer, Richard White of Portland, Oregon was leading the search for speed at 32 knots . . .

Photo by Craig Bergh

. . . but Bergh was anticipating an October influx to top that, and he hit my Inbox last week with some high-wind alerts for the lake.

Nope and nope.

The Midwest Speed Quest is all wrapped up now and 32 knots it is for a high note, or rather, 31.94, as the soft-water sailing season comes to its end among the rolling hills of southwestern Minnesota with Richard White still on top. Just an inky-winky back is Chris Lock of Plainview, Minnesota at 31.24 knots.

The fastest woman for 2007 was Annabel Ferguson of Windsor, Ontario at 20.02 . . .

Photo by Don Ferguson

Those numbers are well short of a world mark but not bad for a run-what-you-brung, all-comers event where nobody's out to get famous. (Bergh's personal standard for the spirit of the event was set in 2006, when Americans Chris Lock and Jay Corbett, "sailed for two days and wouldn't let each other out of sight; Chris logged 135 miles in two days.")

Congrats to all, but to me, the story is not the winners, the lake, or even the increasing popularity of speed sailing. It's this guy who decided to make something happen. Here's Craig Bergh . . .

Photo by Pam Bergh

. . . who writes, "Kimball, good to hear from you. It's getting cold here. Only the heartiest of sailors are going out now. We usually have a little contest to see who is the last one on the lake before it freezes. I have sailed in 34 degree water. A little brisk."

And after that, of course, there's only one thing to do, as demonstrated below by Kevin Gratton.

Now go make something happen.

The Olympics? What Does it Take?

Not only because he's a fellow Tulane grad do I want to note the specialness of seeing John Dane make the Olympic sailing team in the Star. After Katrina wiped out his boatbuilding business in New Orleans, John could have pocketed a bundle of insurance money and walked away. Instead he reinvented the business from the ground up and put a lot of people back to work and (incredibly) still found time to sail and win a Bacardi Cup and now the Trials. With his son-in-law, nonetheless, Austin Sperry.

Considering what they did to get this far, I'm pretty sure these two will spare nothing to be ready to race at the Games in Qingdao.

Here is a look at Sperry hiking down on #10 at Cascais, Portugal earlier this year . . .

And below is a list that Austin posted on their web site, detailing what went into the Los Angeles leg of the campaign. Get this:

4 star boats

2 tenders

1 team house for 6 months

weather team

strength coach/trainer

massage therapist

3 coaches (Hans Wallen, 1996 Silver medalist from Sweden, Marc Pickel from Germany and Rod Hagebols from Australia)

we have ridden over 200 miles on our bikes just warming up [speaking of a two-week period]

we have spent about 30 hours in the gym [speaking of a two-week period]

an average of 4 hours of on the water tuning, testing, practice racing daily

After hours debrief, more meetings, more sail testing, more meetings to schedule meetings...

coaches sleeping on the couch because the other coach snores…

tested 15 masts

tested 4 booms

gone through 2 boxes of paper for printing our weather reports, mast pictures, side bend, fore aft bend, every type of picture or video you can think of we have done it...

more stretching, dog calls, elevated mountain climbers, swiss ball crunches, & wall sits.... those suck…
gone through more bottles of sun tan lotion than wal mart wanted to sell us…

had some seriously long days, and some serious gut checks, some long looks in the mirror

1 trip to the hospital, 1 trip to the orthopedic surgeon

More days living out of a suitcase, sitting on airplanes and away from home than I care to remember...

But now we know it was worth it.

Gotta go. Got the Jessica Cup regatta for classics this weekend, and of course I'm on countdown to the opening of court on Monday.

Feel free to sing along:

I'm glad I'm not a part of it ... New York ... Neeew Yooork—Kimball

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sailing with the Masters

Not to take anything away from the importance of youth regattas, masters events are thriving. Finn and Laser dinghies have active masters fleets, to start a short list. Right now, however, I'm thinking about special-event racing in keelboats.

Last weekend, at the Fremont Bank International Masters Regatta on San Francisco Bay, I re-encountered Tony Smythe of the Houston Yacht Club, a guy I first met last August in Newport, Rhode Island at the Hinman Team Racing Masters. No big deal, this meeting, but pleasant. Both of these events were hard-fought on the water, but what happened ashore was just as important, more so than in the everyday of let's-play-a-game-of-yacht-racing. The old line that "It's all about the people" glows a little brighter. At both events I ran into old friends plus a lot of new people, including some that I had known for years by name and reputation only—people such as By Baldridge, who also went to my alma mater, Tulane (he was on the sailing team, of course). and then sailed all over the world and navigated America³ in the 1992 Cup. Somehow we had never howdied up.

Masters competition puts the emphasis on Corinthian sailors, but that made it all the more interesting to sit down with someone from the Other Side, the owner of Doyle Ploch Sailmakers, Mark Ploch.

Mark came to San Francisco to sail in the Masters for his second time with John Jennings, the affable, low-key chiropractor from St. Petersburg, Florida, whose magic hands seem to work on the helm as well as the joints and spine. (Mark: "Once in Miami in Melges 32s I pulled my back out, and John put me back together right there on the dock and I was able to sail the next day."

The basics: St. Francis Yacht Club hosts the Fremont Bank International Masters, an invitational fleet regatta for skippers over 60 who bring their own crew to race in J/105s. Minimum age for crew is 45, and it sure can't hurt to have a sailing animal like Ploch on your side; Jennings won for the fourth time. But John has also won without him, and this time he barely beat the local talent, so winning is not as simple as bringing along a . . .

Pro. Rhymes with Ploch. To explain the scene, here's Mark:

"This is a gentleman's regatta. On Friday, instead of going out for the first day of racing, we stayed in because it was raining and everybody had a great day just sitting around and catching up. If the race committee had taken us out in the rain, man, I'd never come back.

"People come here without a big intent to win. They come because it's a social event as well as a sailing event, and for someone like me it's a chance to sail purely for fun. I've been catching up here with Glenn Darden and Stuart Johnstone, and there was another year when Ted Turner was here, and I've sailed against his clan for years. It's all very relaxing, and I get to play the game and then hit the dock and not have to talk to people about the bubble in their main. This is not about the sailmaking business. This is for me."

Those who give

I'm always impressed by the way that local fleets contribute to national and international racing by loaning out their boats. In this case, it's J/105 Fleet One, San Francisco Bay that produced 12 race boats plus backup. The payoff: An owner's rep gets to ride along as a contributing player, and every now and then a local has a brush with fame. Gary Sadamori, known as a good man on the bow, was recruited four years ago for the 25th Masters to handle the front of the boat for Paul Elvstrom, who brought along Hans Fogh as tactician. Gary's take: "When those guys say 'tack' or 'gybe,' it's not a plan, it's a fact."

This year, one would-be owner's rep was sidelined by a newly-broken finger suffered in a volleyball game. That would be Kelsey Deisinger, 14, and we missed her. She belonged on Natural Blonde, the more so because the winner, Jennings, drew that boat for the final day of racing. The way father Dennis explains Kelsey, "I knew I had a sailor on my hands when she was 10 years old. We were out one day and I death-rolled the thing [boatquake, noise, flying spray, fear] and then I got the boat back and got the boat on its feet and looked up front to see if I still had a daughter, and there was my 10-year-old and she looked at me and said, "Dad, you let the main out too far."

Sailing. The greatest game going—Kimball

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Uh Oh I Did it Again

Hemingway said to never trust a man whose story hangs together too well, and I thought that might help me understand Ernesto Bertarelli, because his story doesn't hang together for me, eloquent though he is in the telling.

More than once now I've heard Mr. Bertarelli explain that the defender needs to sail in the challenger trials because the protocol does not allow a boat of the proposed 90-foot class to line up and speed test against another 90-footer and therefore, lacking racing experience, a defender would have no speed comparisons at all and would be a sitting duck. But as to how a defender, guaranteed a pass to the Cup, could mix with a challenger fleet without biasing the outcome—that I don't get. And if the defender influences, or could influence, the challenger selection, how do we consider that to make a challenger?

[What times we are living, eh? With the Cup in its courtroom conniptions and the Mini fleet at sea in the Transat 6.50 and developments there by the hour, and the dramas of the U.S. Olympic Trials coming full-flower? And the Railey family drama, what of that, where it is possible that Zach could qualify in the Finn while once-dominant Paige could lose out to the surging, well-timed peak of Anna Tunnicliffe. Or not. This is one amazing week in the world of SAIL.]

Back to Topic A.

All the Cup sailors I know are ready to move to a new class, but more than that they want to see the Cup cranking along. And for the sake of the public, for the sake of growing awareness—even for 99.9 percent of the sailors who actually understand what's going on—the type of boat is irrelevant. All sailboats are slow.

More than one of the players in this drama—including challengers under the July 2007 protocol—now find themselves current-bound between a rock and a hard place.

By Ernesto's account, the 90-foot switch would not actually cut costs, but by eliminating two boat testing might succeed in holding costs at about the present level. The boats would come out marginally faster upwind, much faster downwind, and they would be more satisfying to sail. By my account—which does not dispute any of that—the public couldn't care less about a boat that goes downwind faster, and why get into a dither because other types are more advanced. We went through years of that chatter with the Twelves, and yes it was time to change, but the "lead-bottomed money gobblers" did nothing to diminish the luster of the Cup. (And when we made the WIND movie, the only thing that mattered to the cameras was the way those puppies punched waves and drove heaps of water and spray down the deck.)

Meanwhile the defender professes to be pursuing a goal of putting the America's Cup (eventually) on a solid business footing while telling us that, even taking the lion's share of 60+ million Euro profits from AC 32, he remains 30 million Euros in the hole. (No, he did not specify whether that included the outcomes of real estate dealings, if any, in Valencia, and no, I did not ask.)

Here is Bertarelli:

"Organizing a successful America's Cup is a complex thing, but I can assure you that our intent was to allow people to use the momentum of the 32nd Cup to maintain their sailors, maintain their sponsors, and not have to do the same thing over and over again but instead get excited by a J class-like boat.

"The two year time frame is the only way you can you reduce costs, and the biggest promoter of a two-year time frame was Larry Ellison. It becomes even more relevant, if you introduce a new class, because the longer you have for design, the more money will be spent. To introduce a new class and allow it to be done over four years with a two-boat campaign is just unacceptable.

"I've been in the biotech industry and I know where the money goes. It doesn't go into the marketing of the products; the selling; it goes into research and development. If you give a scientist or researcher 15 years to come up with a product, he will use fifteen and a half years. You need to put pressure on the process. If a boat is designed in 15 months, sure, it's not going to be as fast as a boat designed in 52 months, but it's still going to be a boat; you're still going to go sailing, and if everybody has the same amount of time you're going to be okay. Now, if you think that we are dishonest, or that we're trying to gain an unfair advantage, we are happy to have a discovery of what these designers have done over the past year. And I'll tell you that what they have done is try to win the 32nd America's Cup, which is not a small task, and then they've tried to go on vacation for a few weeks, and then what they've tried to do is come up with a rule that is simple enough so that we can have close racing very quickly, in a boat that will make sense.

"It's straightforward. The work we've done is to answer the question, can a 90-footer plane downwind, because if the answer is no, then why bother?"

© Abner Kingman/St. Francis Yacht Club

Seen above: Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird and Ernesto Bertarelli.

I accumulated about six hours of Bertarelli Time during the defender's recent PR push in the USA, and I expected to find him likeable, and I did. He pitched his case on West 44th Street to the New York Yacht Club, and he pitched his case on the shoreline of San Francisco Bay to the St. Francis Yacht Club. Meanwhile, he gave a lot of press interviews, and those two institutions presumably provided the setting he desired. On his West Coast stop I listened to the defender's end of several telephone interviews; I also listened to him speak to audiences he considered select and semi-select.

Bertarelli noted that he had been criticized in 2003 for not going to a new boat after winning in New Zealand; so this is a long-running question. He (or his people) has/have also said since winning again in Valencia in July that the decision to change boats was not made until the very end. But Alinghi's chief designer, Rolf Vrolijk, was quoted in the June issue of Seahorse (minimum lead time 45 days): "The AC rule ends here."

And then, why would you make a snap decision about something that matters so much to so many?

You see, this stuff just doesn't hang together for me, nor does his contention that, "The changes to the protocol were very, very small."

We see huge amounts of time and money devoted now to justifying the defender's choices, however and whenever they were made. I don't know what it takes to fly a G5 from Europe to the USA, with stops in New York and San Francisco and accommodations for Ernesto Bertarelli and Ed Baird and the entourage and of course two bodyguards for "the old lady," the America's Cup. I don't know how Mr. Bertarelli bills his time. I do know that to every question put by me, he had an answer that fit his logic, and the answer felt persuasive while he was going at it, and then—

An America's Cup match takes a defender and a challenger. A strong defender and a strong challenger, if you're talking a strong match. Get away from that model and it's not the America's Cup and we don't have to resurrect George Schuyler to tell us so. Meanwhile, we've gone a long way down the road of creative complications, as in trying to fit the defender into a challenger eliminations series. I find Mr. Bertarelli's reasoning sensible to a point, the point at which the trail leads over a cliff.

I notice now that things are not going as well as I thought they would be, back when guys like me were enthusiastically writing about the most exciting Cup competition since 1983. The defender is in a box. Either he prevails in court or he will have to swallow his pride and deal with his former friend, Larry Ellison, either through the terms of the counter-challenge and Deed of Gift or through a renegotiation of the protocol (the stated aim of the BMW Oracle Racing lawsuit). The defender is already on record that negotiating with BMW Oracle is a pain in the nethers. (I suspect Tom Ehman takes that as a compliment.)

It's not a situation in which the path of the statesman is easy.

Meanwhile, like most of my friends, I'm following Cory Friedman's legal analysis at Scuttlebutt, but since I don't have a legal mind, myself, I keep trying to make sense of the scene in my own little way. This, I'm afraid, is just another record of failure—Kimball

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Alinghi in America

It's hard work being Ernesto Bertarelli.

Imagine: It's Thursday night last and here is The Man Who Holds the America's Cup, and he is speaking with animation and charm to a small gathering of officers at a West Coast yacht club about his trials as a defender in the context of being assailed from all sides about his vision of racing in the future. Only hours before, his G5 had landed (behind schedule) at SFO from the East Coast . . .

Bertarelli and "the old lady" in the Model Room of the New York Yacht Club
East Coast tour photo by Rick Maiman/Alinghi

. . . and a similar gathering in New York, but wait . . .

Before we have time to complete our thoughts about our little West Coast dinner and the conversations that took place it's already morning, and it's Friday, and here is Ernesto Bertarelli in a private room at the yacht club, cranking through an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, then talking by phone to a Spanish radio station and then to The San Diego Union and – let's spare ourselves the whole list – meanwhile this blogster guy is kicked back in an upholstered chair chatting with the vice commodore of La Société Nautique de Genève, Fred Meyer, who is musing over whether or not the BMW Oracle legal challenge is driven by a desire for revenge on the part of Russell Coutts and what do I think, he asks. And danged if I know. Russell never calls.

A casual, conversational question from Fred, or a clever plant? I'll never know.

And now the morning is getting on and I have the undivided attention of The Man Who Holds the America's Cup, who knows full well that I have been hammering on him since about two hours after he announced the protocol for the 33rd match ("The protocol can be boiled down to five words, You are all my prisoners"), and part of the reason he has come to America at all is to attempt to make peace with the likes of me and we have not quite an hour of this happiness ("The 32nd America's Cup was great, and we organized that; I was hoping they would at least give us a chance to repeat that success") before his handlers start fidgeting and he has to go pose for photographs with the America's Cup and a background of the Golden Gate Bridge (yes, the Cup came along, still traveling in its Louis Vuitton case with two bodyguards) and then immediately The Man has to stand up in front of a lunchtime crowd of a couple hundred people and turn his story into a stew of information and argument and entertainment and then rush back to the G5 at SFO and -- take a breath -- I can tell you this: It is impossible to spend time with Ernesto Bertarelli when he's on-message and not like him and want to dash home and bake him an apple pie. He's that good.

Here's one thing he had told us the previous night, "We have our catamaran races on the lake at home, and I won four times in a row because I had more money, but I got bored. Then we went to one-design catamarans and I lost three times in a row, but this year I finally won, and now it means something."

(thoughtful pause)

Ernesto Bertarelli is an astute intelligence with talented advisors and he knows, when he tells a story like that, it makes him sound good, a real stand-up guy. And I figure he knows that I know that he knows that I know that he knows that I know.

And it still sounds good. I believe him.

But we are left to ponder whether it is a sign of strength or weakness that Team Alinghi would launch a PR campaign in America as we hurtle toward a showdown in the courts of New York, with Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth off in the great elsewhere giving interviews and expressing optimism that an agreement will be reached between Alinghi and BMW Oracle without going to court.

BTW, here's catamaran racing on Lake Geneva, with Alinghi on the right . . .

Now, don't worry, guys. I'm not going to leave it here. I'm just getting warmed up. But I do believe this sets the stage.

Y'all come back, hear?

For the moment let me leave you with a reminder that the mini-Transat fleet is back at sea. Here is a thought lifted from Joe Groton, a friend of the only American racing the Transat 6.50, Clay Burkhalter, thinking back to the departure from Madeira on Saturday: "The morning was gray and misty, with glimpses of sun breaking through. The wind was nowhere to be found. The docks were bustling with sailors and their families - a few weeping girlfriends and many hugs all around. I remain impressed with the camaraderie among the 89. I watched Clay as he shook the hands of his competitors; each saying 'be safe' to the other. It was difficult not to be moved by the scene and the magnitude of their journey ahead."

Three thousand miles in tiny boats. Yeah, Joe got it right—Kimball

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Frodo! Let Go of the Ring!

I'm betting and certainly hoping that the Big Guys will sort out the issues surrounding the next America's Cup match without the long-running agony and long-term damage that came out of the big boat/catamaran fracas of '88, the last time that AC teams went armed to the courts of New York, which is where we are again unless something changes. And—

I was literally in mid-sentence when this pinged the Inbox:

"As a consequence of the uncertainty and the delays arising from the Golden Gate Yacht Club Law suit in New York, AC Management is concerned that the feasibility of organising the next America's Cup in Valencia in 2009 has been effectively compromised. ACM will in the coming days engage in consultations with the Defender, the Challenger of Record, the Competitors and the Spanish Authorities on this specific matter."

Hmm. Uncertainty, yes, but I don't know that, to this point, there have been any actual delays on account of the legal action. Was there ever time to do a 2009 regatta, comfortably, in a new class of boat?

But how else would ACM want to frame the problem?

Ernesto Bertarelli and Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird are paying visits in New York City and San Francisco this week in an attempt to win opinion makers to the defender's point of view. I figure it's a tough sell. No way have Americans rallied around Bertarelli's chief opponent, Larry Ellison/Golden Gate YC, as a flag bearer against the protocol of America's Cup 33. (My British colleague, Tim Jeffery, reports that Bertarelli and Ellison have recently, finally, talked by phone.) But neither have Americans embraced the defender's ideas, and my own reception to the protocol was cool from the start.

I remember July 5, 2007. I raced out of the press conference in Valencia where the protocol had just been outlined and I double-stepped up two flights of escalators in the Media Center in time to be the first guy to the top floor to print out and begin studying a copy. With papers in hand I went back down one floor, pumped up a triple espresso, rode back up one floor to read the document medium-carefully, and then I sat down and wrote:

Forgive my lack of outrage. Or if not outrage, indignation, or, something . . . I am privileged to have a front-row seat at the greatest circus on earth, my earth anyway, the America's Cup. And love'em or hate'em, the defenders today announced intentions that go a long way toward guaranteeing my gainful employment for the next few years.

We're talking a concentration of power, expanded monetization of the Cup, a dynamic new 90-foot class that will thrill all of us and doubly challenge the upstarts—in short, ample fust for the fustigation . . . Alinghi has grandly shouldered the traditions of self-interest in the face of slings and arrows, a tradition that was launched by a very different set of defenders in 1870, and which has been honored since with a consistency wondrous to behold.

Remember, that was just a first impression.

I am now told I will have a bit of face time with Mr. Bertarelli before the week is out, and I'm reviewing old news to remind myself that I didn't need a counter-challenge from BMW Oracle, or the announcement of a lawsuit, or a phone call from Tom Ehman to tell me what I think. The original, July 5 protocol for America's Cup 33 runs twenty-six pages, but it can be boiled down to five words:

You are all my prisoners.

Yep, I was dismayed by the protocol. Often in such matters, if you didn't go to the meeting, you missed elements of why this or that decision was made for reasons that seemed just right to people who were listening to the full discussion. I'm willing to believe that's true at some level in the framing of the protocol. However – for example -- between the letter of the protocol, and appearances surrounding matters relating to the Jury and the Arbitration Panel, there have been problems of (did I already mention?) appearances.

And making later compromises by ceding powers to people that you've appointed will not get you over Jordan when the river is rising.

Are we headed for negotiations? The defender is reaching out to public opinion, and certain concessions have been offered, but we don't yet know what that means.

I look forward to conversations with Mr. Bertarelli, who no doubt will be highly persuasive in person. This is a far-from-average guy (thanks for the pic, Thierry Martinez) who stepped into running a major family-controlled company while still in his twenties, redirected its focus from pharmaceuticals to biotech, and doubled the revenues in six years. Later he figured out how to use his fortune to win the America's Cup – I call it to your attention that a number of other smart rich guys have tried and failed – and then re-imagined the racing to include pre-events, fleet racing, and a stronger public face than ever before. It was a performance that (except in New Zealand, where he hired away the leading talents and left the local fan base a trifle sore), earned him top approval ratings. Our Ernesto was the golden boy. Then, so it seems, came the effects of clasping the Ring of Power.

Some day, when a different generation writes America's Cup history, Ernesto Bertarelli will have his own chapter.

You don't cross him – ask Russell Coutts – but Ernesto Bertarelli is uniquely positioned to play the role of statesman in a game that dearly needs one. Perhaps he feels that he is playing that role. Presumably he has noticed that, for some of us, the appearances don't line up.

So I look forward to the next few days. Mr. Bertarelli has the opportunity to persuade me to his point of view, and I have the opportunity to say:

Frodo! Let go of the ring!

An Explanation of Everything

Some of us are well versed in the intricacies of the AC controversy; some of us are not. Plenty of words have been written and the lawyerly types will soon add many more. I'm not reviewing the details here. Instead, I offer a more transcendent view. Merely contemplate the sign in this picture, apply your undivided consciousness, and you will gain enlightenment on the state of America's Cup 33 . . .

Shantih Shantih Shantih—Kimball