Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stories Sailors Tell

So here we are on the Mysterious East coast, and Harken has just opened a new shop in Newport, so Peter, Olaf, and a passel of the usual suspects from Pewaukee are basking in the (relative) warmth of Rhode Island, where the snow is only about 10 inches deep and a day old. Wisconsin, eat your heart out. Naturally there's a launch party. I'm on the scene, coaxing Around Alone vet Tim Kent to recount tales from the fluky weather of his qualifying sail with Everest Horizontal.

Not to fall asleep with the spinnaker up, that was Tim's goal. Because the breeze was light, except for the occasional slammer squall. And I'm not someone who can come away from a night like that with every detail in place, but the story went something like this—

Naturally, Tim did fall asleep. And naturally he awoke to discover that The Squall With His Name On It had arrived.

Boat on its ear. Spreaders in the water. Spinnaker way out yonder in the south forty with the fishies. Whitecaps hissing. Lightning flashing. I said LIGHTNING FLASHING. Fast-forward then through a few I'll-never-do-that-agains and we find our man Tim scrambling into position to do the right thing. As he tells the story:

"I had a moment when I said to myself, 'Tim, stop, look at this. Just look. Hardly anybody in the world will ever see such a sight.' "

And Now

Now we're in a four-wheel drive car and snow is falling and Ted Hood is driving us from Portsmouth to Bristol via the Mount Hope Bridge . . .

And the subject comes up, stories sailors tell, and I decide to tell a story about telling a story. Tighten your seat belt, because we're going all the way back to America's Cup, 1987, and in the media center (centre? it was Aussieland, after all) I fell into a conversation with Walter Cronkhite. It was a big deal for me to be talking with "the most trusted man in America," and he told a tale about searching for a bell buoy in the Maine fog and—

He got that far before a phalanx of phalanxers surrounded him and the head phalanxist announced, "Mr. Cronkhite, they're ready for you now." With an apology, he excused himself and was gone.

Oh, well.

A day later, maybe two, I was walking down a street in Fremantle. Walter was walking the opposite direction on the opposite side of the street. Then he crossed the streeet, came up, looked me in the eye and said, "So we could hear the bell through the fog . . . "

Back to driving to Bristol.

Ted is indulging me because I have never been to the Herreshoff Marine Museum, and it wasn't hard to talk our way in, even though the museum is technically closed for the winter. They close because boats that live outside or in the water in-season are brought indoors for shelter. No problem for us if things are tight-packed. In fact, for me, it's not the exquisite old boats but the model room that has the most impact. All those half models on the wall, and right there the cabinetry from the Herreshoff house and the lathe and tools used for making models . . .

For that matter, there's a half model that Halsey Herreshoff has in-build for someone right now . . .

A patient person, we hope, because Halsey is off on a long cruise.
Sorry, Halsey, you're busted.

I'm taken with the discovery that Jack Sutphen's Mushrooms have one of the larger exhibits. The Mushrooms, a few of you will need to know, were the speed-test team on Dennis Conner's other boat in his America's Cup campaigns. They became the Mushrooms when one of the crew remarked how they were kept in the dark and fed S#&@, "like a bunch of mushrooms."

That objet d'art above the sign is a set of wings briefly and forlornly attached to the 12-Meter Liberty in 1983 to see if the boat would suddenly take wing against the dreaded Aussie II. In the department of interesting to me: I've heard lots of analyses of why the Australians passed the US defender on the final downwind leg of the seventh race, but Hood was the first to ever say to me, "The Australians had a much better spinnaker—I didn't build it, Schnack built it—so I can say that."

Hood couldn't have built the Australian sail because that would have been illegal for an American sailmaker. Such was the case beginning 1962. As we stroll a little farther through the America's Cup Hall of Fame building at the Herreshoff Museum, we come to a print on the wall of a famous black and white photo you've probably seen--Gretel surfing past Weatherly. Ted points to it and remarks, "I built that spinnaker for the Aussies. After that, the committee decided that sails had to be built in the boat's country of origin. It was the Ted Hood rule."

I felt a bit evil doing this, but I made Ted pose for a tourist-style snapshot, close to his own picture on the wall . . .

Sailmaker, designer, builder, skipper of 1974 America's Cup defender Courageous. That's Ted Hood. In 1994 he bought back his 1959 ocean racer, Robin ("Sue, my wife, wouldn't let me name any of the kids Robin, so it had to be the boats") for $4,000. If anybody needs a reality check re. the cost of old, wood boats, consider that this one has been restored, still wins races, and has soaked up about $200,000 so far. Ted describes this first of many Robins as, "a heavy-weather hull with a light-air rig." The boat is dry for the winter, but not warm . . .

With that image of Robin we're out of the Herreshoff Museum, out of Bristol, and back in Melville, RI, which is, municipally, some sort of slice of Portsmouth, RI (I don't understand and I don't have to and I'm definitely not doing the research) and we're still in the car but now we're in this huge marina complex that Hood developed from nothing and then sold (mostly) to Hinckley. However, he still owns the signature office building at the front of the complex, which, if you squint through the snow and read the names over the door, you will recognize as quite a hub. Newport R&D, btw, is Garry Hoyt . . .

But I'm still in a car with Hood and we're down the way and looking up through the windshield at 12 Meter US19, Nefertiti, on a cradle on the hard. The snow is still coming down and Ted points to the underbody—the long keel of the day, attached rudder—and he says, "We went to the tank testing and the tank kept saying to make the keel longer, make the keel longer. So we made the keel longer. But the tank had the wrong numbers for wetted surface. When we raced-off against Weatherly [for the right to defend the America's Cup in 1962; Ted was, uniquely, designer, skipper, and sailmaker], we were faster in a breeze; they were faster in the light stuff. It came down to that. The last races of the trials were light air, so Weatherly defended."

His story.

Mine: Even the guy who landed the big one (12 years later) laments the big one that got away. Ted Hood is known as a man of few words, but that's a load of BS. Ask him, Ted, how do you feel? You'll get nothing. But he'll talk engineering till the cows come home. Watching him respond to generations-old but intelligent hardware at Herreshoff's was a revelation, and he's not exactly shy about the virtues and comforts of his new Expedition 55 Motorsailer.

I found the boat rather comfortable myself. Little though I wanted to, eventually I had to leave.

What Set Me Off

Was the San Diego Yacht Club's call, in connection with its Vallarta Race -- the fleet is off the coast of Baja right now -- for Mexico race stories to be published on the
web site.

I had a few chats with various parties associated with the race—I'll be at the other end for Banderas Bay Race Week/MEXORC—and I have to admit the process brought back a few memories of my own. Reading about their pre-start party plans sounded fantastic—except for all this talk of a genuine, Mexicano sendoff and my wonderment: Would they do that margarita fountain again?

I remember one San Diego Yacht Club margarita fountain (rather dimly) as the night before the morning that I remember (all-too clearly) as the only time I've ever had the dry heaves on a start line.

Shifting, gratefully, to 2008:

Dennis—that Dennis—offered thoughts on racing to Mexico, and so have others. Here's mine:

I was in grad school in 1974, but the situation was imperfect. For example, I was the only person in graduate school with a tan. I had a meeting with the dean and we agreed, more or less: If they would give me a masters degree, I would leave; and if I would leave, they would give me a masters degree. About 72 hours later I was on my way to Mexico on the last of the Acapulco Races.

SDYC had begun racing to Acapulco in 1953. Acapulco was the place to go at the time, but times change. Other good options appeared as Mexico grew and emerged, and eventually racers from the USA preferred to avoid the obstacle of the last few hundred miles down the mainland. Think light air.

We proved the problem.

In my 1974 race to Acapulco, we woke up on the morning of day nine (I believe it was day nine) looking at Acapulco off the bow. When the sun went down, we were still looking at Acapulco off the bow.

But that's not my story.

We had one guy on the crew who had promised us, long-distance rookies all, that he would take care of us once we got to that place where, apparently, most of the people spoke Spanish. That faraway place called Mexico.

So when a light breeze finally carried us into Acapulco Bay and across the finish line in the deep darkness when we felt like we should have been there hours before, we motored over to the only light we could see on the water. It was a small fishing boat with two guys dangling poles over the side. Our man said, "Dandee istee clubee yachtee."

They didn't even look up.

But that's not my story.

I sailed the race on Ed Perry's Ambush, a One Tonner (hot at the time) as the bow boy for both watches (think, less sleep, more fun).

This could lose me some friends, but I'll tell you a secret. I don't drink on boats. Not beer, not etc.

I was also the only member of the regular Ambush crew that was free to race to Acapulco, so Ed brought in a bunch of his fellow airline pilots. Sailing freaks all, including a couple with somewhat more of a yen for beer than I've expressed, if you get my drift.

Being heavy, the six-packs were loaded into the bilge along with (being heavy) the non-feathering propeller for the trip back up the coast.

Now, define "battery."

Salt water in the bilge plus aluminum plus a second metal agent, for example.

Halfway down Baja, the beers started coming out of the bilge suspiciously light. It was almost a moral issue.

Can you spell c-r-i-s-i-s?

Me? I just popped the new guy into the pole, every time we gybed. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it—Kimball


Sunday, February 24. As reported by the Australian 18 Footers League:

The young Gotta Love It 7 crew of Seve Jarvin, Sam Newton and Robert Bell officially became the new world champions when they won the SLAM-Winning Appliances Giltinan International Championship, which concluded on Sydney Harbour today.

Photo by Christophe Favreau

Defending champions Michael Coxon, Aaron Links and Nathan Ellis brought Fiat home a narrow winner today to finish second overall behind Gotta Love It 7, while Hugh Stodart's Asko Appliances was third, just ahead of Omega Smeg (Trevor Barnabas).

Coxon and his team led all the way in today's race and looked likely to score an easy win but had to survive a brilliant finish by Kinder Caring Home Nursing (Brett Van Munster).

Fiat crossed the finish line just one second ahead of Kinder Caring while yesterday's Race 6 winner Rag & Famish Hotel (John Harris) finished another 1min 55secs back in third place.

Coxon and Van Munster elected to take their skiffs to the right hand side of the course on the first windward leg while Gotta Love It 7 and Club Marine (Adam Beashel) went to the left.

At the windward mark, Fiat led from Kinder Caring with Ssangyong Yandoo (John Winning) in third place.

Fiat was 15secs ahead at the wing mark and gradually increased the lead throughout the race.

At the second windward mark the lead was out to 1 minute from Kinder Caring while Ssangyong Yandoo and Gotta Love It 7 were battling hard for third place.

The Gotta Love It 7 crew worked their way into second place at the final windward mark with just the spinnaker run between Rose Bay and Clarke Island to the finish.

Fiat and Gotta Love It 7 were above the finish line and had to gybe twice near the mouth of Double Bay.

Kinder Caring had carried their spinnaker much lower than the others and were on a direct line to the finish.
Fiat completed her gybes but Gotta Love It 7 capsized as Kinder Caring came 'steaming' home.

The experienced Fiat crew were under terrific pressure but retained their composure to beat Kinder Caring home by a mere second in a wonderful finish.

By Australian 18 Footers League.

A final note: The skiffs are coming back to the USA this summer, to San Francisco Bay, and they're upping the number of boats. I like that.