Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pundificatorially Speaking

I observe that the defender of the America's Cup, Alinghi, has been backpedaling for some time now on the particulars of the protocol written for the 33rd match, which represented, if nothing else, a great moment in the history of overachieving.

I observe that the chatter has shifted to expecting a match in 90-foot monohulls in Valencia as soon as 2009—or 2010—but the threat of a match between big catamarans on terms dictated by the Deed of Gift (for lack of concurrence between challenger and defender) cannot be discounted.

I observe that the challenger of record for the previous match, BMW Oracle Racing, has welcomed each of the defender's proffered compromises while giving up not an inch of its perceived legal advantage in matters pending before the commercial division of the New York Supreme Court (matters that challenge the legitimacy of hastily-organized Club Náutico Español de Vela to serve as challenger of record for AC 33; matters that characterize CNEV as lapdog rather than adversary).

I observe, in my post-regatta notes from last summer, scads of references by Alinghi's Masters of the Universe to their frustrations and difficulties, 2003-2007, in trying to have things their way in negotiating with BMW Oracle. The name Tom Ehman kept popping up, spoken with an edge.

I observe that they didn't know the half of what was coming.

So will CNEV really appeal if they lose in court? Will they really try to press a case that Spanish law and not American law applies? See my November 5 report for the setup. No answers, unfortunately.

(And Tom Ehman, if you don't know, is a longtime power player, working now for Larry Ellison's squad, who has never worked for any America's Cup team that was not - this has become unusual - American.)

Meanwhile, the America's Cup retains its magic. How else to explain Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird as the ISAF Rolex Sailor of the Year? Imagine being in the meeting. Imagine trying to argue that the sport should raise its banner behind anyone who had been less prominent this year in the public eye, no matter what they might have achieved.

For Ed, I do believe, a lot of the experience of America's Cup 32 came down to that final leg of the final race, and the big windshift, and trying to get the people around him to see that train a'coming.

Thierry Martinez/Alinghi

This just in from those who are out

The Transat Jacque Vabre is one of those great, Euro-centric Atlantic crossings, and it is now under way from Le Havre, France to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Rich Wilson and Mike Birch on the Open 60, Great American III, represent the North American contingent in an Open 60 fleet that has become the new gold standard for transoceanic competition. The 60-foot ORMA trimarans that looked so dramatic in pictures (especially upside down) are fading fast.

Great American III today is listed 15th in class behind Safran, which shows a 24-mile lead over Foncia. However, it is early in a long race, and getting through the doldrums and positioning for the ride to the finish are worth much more than 24 miles here or there.

Meanwhile, hopeful Artemis is limping toward port without its mast. Here is a report that landed at 0919 Pacific Standard Time today from onboard Artemis (the Open 60, not the TP52 of the same name that won the Breitling Med Cup last summer). Britons Jonny Malbon and Graham Tourell are sailing Artemis.

Jonny Malbon, I feel your pain.

Day 5 after the Start of the Transat Jacques Vabre

Artemis speed = 5.3 knots

Artemis position = 97 miles from Vigo (42.36.73N 011.03.57W)

Malbon writes:
I have never been so disappointed, shocked or upset. For those of you who don’t know, we lost the rig on Artemis yesterday at around 1530 UTC.

We were sailing along at pace in 25 gusting 30 knots of wind with the jib and one reef in the mainsail aboard Artemis, loving life and making great progress towards our next waypoint. We had reduced Artemis’ sail area a few hours before, as things were getting a little hairy and the forecast was due to increase.

The boat felt fine, even slightly underpowered at times. We also had the Solent and small Solent plugged in on the front so that we could easily change down as the breeze picked up.

The sea state was pretty messy, but we could play on the waves and were enjoying surfing down them. Occasionally however there were some pretty steep sets that came in threes, with very short wavelength, very tall waves. I was helming quite happily thinking how great things were, when we sailed over the top of one of these waves and just fell off the other side. The bow went down, and although I tried to come up a little Artemis stuffed herself into the wave in front. There was a lot of water over the boat, never fun, but a common situation. This time things were different, and to my horror the mast just fell over the bow of the Artemis and then over to starboard breaking just above the first set of spreaders. In disbelief I watched as Gringo came through the hatch saying, “is everything ok?” To which I replied, “no!!! the rig has just fallen off”

Gringo was great and snapped into action straight away as I tried to steer the boat downwind so that the mast now in three bits wouldn’t punch through the side of the hull. The toolbag came out and Gringo set about cutting away the standing rigging, the beautiful new main sail and our gorgeous new halyards, to release the broken sections. By now we had quite a trail of rigging and sails that caused the boat to skew round into the wind. This made life a lot more dangerous as the broken sections were really close to smashing the hull. We were going to try and salvage the bottom section of the mast and the boom, as they were still standing, but as the situation became more dangerous we had no choice but to cut it away to prevent holing the side of Artemis and making the situation worse.

With a horrendous noise the last part of the rig went over. Afterwards we just stared with shocked and dazed expressions as our race was officially over.
I felt pretty sick, and was in shock for sure. Gringo and I sat on the cabin top and strangely enough burst out laughing… a sign of a huge amount of adrenalin I guess. We watched as the rig and finally the boom sank and the reality of the situation became clearer. We turned the boat downwind and just sat with the stern to the massive seas (4-5m). We got the liferaft and survival suits ready and notified Artemis shore team, the race committee, our families and Finisterre Traffic.

Pretty limited with choices, we had to sail downwind all night, away from land, as the sea state was too difficult to motor into, and the breeze was gusting 35 knots. There was no way that we could be towed anywhere until the wind and sea calmed down, so we settled into a system of two hours on deck watching for ships and keeping the boat on course followed by two lovely hours in the bunk each!

At daybreak this morning the breeze lightened and we were able to stick the engine on and try and head south to the lighter breeze. We have now come up a little and we are nearly heading straight for Vigo, where Simon Rogers, Nipper (Gareth Rowley – shore crew) and Blandine (team member) will be waiting. We have a tow organized but it is still too rough, so we will plod on at five knots under engine and hope to be in early tomorrow morning. Scotty and Lovely (shore team) are on the ferry and they have already organized for the container to come down which should be in Vigo on Saturday…

Quite a day… it has only just really started to sink in now, and I know it will take some time to get over this. It’s horrible to think of how much time and effort went in to getting the boat ready. The whole team, either on the boat or shore crew, has been working so hard, weekends and late nights, and we left Le Havre in the best possible shape. The rest of the season is also up in the air, but for sure I will not be taking part in the Transat BTB (race back from Brazil). Also I hope we can get the boat up and running ASAP for Artemis.

I cannot really find the right words to express what I am feeling inside at the moment, but as Adrienne Cahalan our weather router said to me this morning, “Hopefully during the next day at sea you can come to grips with it all so when you hit the shore the fury from within has settled a bit so you can handle facing it all.” That was perfect Ado – thanks – I think I am furious more than anything, furious that the one thing we cannot fix has been thrown in to the equation…… furious that our race is over, and furious that the boat that has been a huge part of all our lives for so long is now damaged, crippled.

The one consolation for me, is that Gringo and I are both physically ok…. Such a sad way for our Transat Jacques Vabre to end. I just want to wish all those out on the course the best race possible – good seas and fair winds - Jonny.

The bottom line

Congratulations to Southern Yacht Club, New Orleans, which this week approved plans for a new clubhouse to replace the one that got Katrina'd. More to come on that subject—Kimball