Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thank You, Race Committee

On the north coast of Texas, you can see all the way to Oklahoma.

But what I carried away from Lakefest on Lake Texoma was a renewed appreciation for the volunteers who make sailboat racing possible. My friend “Johnny” did a little Hobie cat racing in his youth, but he’s not a sailor at heart. He’s a powerboater who “likes to look at sailboats” and for seven years has brought out one or another Savannah Jane to serve as signal boat for Lakefest. You know—I hope you know—that you can judge the importance of a sailboat race by how many motorboats it takes to run it.

The ladies of the Texoma Sailing Club who raised flags and kept the scoring have been at this so long that they run their own show. You don’t tell these women what to do.

And if you've never breathed the early morning air or hunted down the breeze of the day—if you've never done your time on race committee—you're missing something. It's really pretty cool.

The certified RC people and judges who came in from Houston, Oklahoma City and the like to work with PRO Jim Tichenor were smooth as clockwork. I think the sailors on the 50-some raceboats know this, but I’ll say it anyway.

We are blessed. And it's not that Texoma Sailing Club is unique, rather that all across this country there are volunteers who turn out to make sailing happen. At Fairhope Yacht Club, on the shores of Mobile Bay, people have worked for months (more like a year) to be ready for Saturday's 50th Anniversary Dauphin Island Race. There's a race to prepare, yes, but what surrounds the race is just as important. This is one of the great sailors-and-all-their-cousins-and-aunties reunions of the Deep South. It's a spirit thing. Also a spirit thing—what Long Beach Yacht Club does with its Congressional Cup. Over time, this event has been a leader in developing features we now take for granted on the match racing circuit: identical boats and sails, assigned ends, on-course judging, etc. LBYC also embraces the Congressional Cup as a communal celebration of what it means to be "us." Making the Congressional Cup happen is at the heart of club life.
Thank you, race committee.

(Congressional Cup racing kicks off next week and we'll have a winner in a week.)

On the Red River

Lakefest has been a going concern for 22 years (it was a pioneer in charity regattas and fundraising for a cause). But 2008 was the first year that Lakefest tied into the Leukemia Cup circuit to create the opening round of “three lakes in three weeks.” That has a nice ring to it, eh?

Texoma was created by damming the Red River—the state border—and over time it has become a major sailing destination for both Texas (Don't mess with Texas) and Oklahoma (Right on top of Texas). Texoma, nearly-equal drive time from Dallas and Oklahoma city, may be the only thing these two states agree on. Twelve-foot dinghies? Forty-foot racer-cruisers? They got’em. Now, one week after Lakefest, Leukemia Cup action edges closer down toward the heart of Texas, to Dallas and White Rock Lake, for centerboarder racing Friday through Sunday. Add another week and we'll have keelboats and multihulls at Lewisville Lake, May 2-5, which is also part of the Dallas big picture.

When Melges 24s hit the line, they look about like the Melges fleet racing anywhere . . .

Texas is primarily a trailerables sailing environment. Texoma is an exception. Last month I went to Mexico for MEXORC and the Banderas Bay Regatta and I spent time aboard a Beneteau 47 that was previously a Texoma boat. The name, appropriately, was Sooner Magic. Is it overkill to sail boats this size on a lake? Maybe. But what about sailing ever made sense? And let me tell you, there is plenty of elbow room. We’re talking 89,000 acres and depths to 100 feet. It’s the sixth-largest manmade lake in the USA. Grandpappy Point, home to the Texoma Sailing Club, looks like this . . .

I have a sneaking suspicion the best parties happened in the campgrounds . . .

Regrets? I have a few. I’ve been on the road for more than a week and haven’t been able to revisit the old blog in a while. That will self-correct next week. Also, Lakefest was scheduled one week too late for me to get to the Madill Spring Rodeo. On the other hand, I’ve been here . . .

And you probably haven’t. Pretty country, too.

Fink, Texas was never incorporated after its founding in the early 1800s. The population topped out below 100, and I’m guessing that I could count all of today’s denizens on my fingers and toes. But Texans know a good Fink when they see one. The state celebrates Fink Day every fourth Friday of June. Get ready to haul out your Lone Star bunting—Kimball

P.S. It's back to the road. See those trailers rolling, rolling, rolling?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Soft Water Only This Time

Things change when you win the Olympic Trials.

US Finn rep Zach Railey has just wrapped up racing at Lago di Garda ("probably my favorite place in the world") where conditions have not smiled upon the Expert Olympic Garda event. Think light air, rain, and the threat of not making a complete calendar of races. Going in, however, Railey was recalling other regattas at this stupendously scenic mountain lake in the north of Italy. "I'd sail all day and ski all night," he said. "But not this year. Even if I didn't hurt myself on the slopes, Dean Brenner would kill me."

Brenner being the tough-minded volunteer chairman of the US Olympic Sailing Committee who has made it his mission "to maximize US medal chances" in the Games and to get his charges to Qingdao in good order. Brenner has also been voted to a second term as OSC chairman, the first time that US Olympic sailing has had such continuity. Brenner says, "It's unique for us because in the past we've thought in four-year cycles. Instead, we're taking a young team to Qingdao, and we're already doing our diligence on 2012."

Don't underestimate the demands placed upon anyone who occupies this unpaid position. It takes initiative, brainpower, a lot of travel, and a willingness to face a heap of grief. Look for Brenner to be at the center of the storm next month when ISAF at its mid-year meeting in Qingdao reopens the question of "equipment" for the 2012 sailing Games at Weymouth, England. The hullabaloo over dropping the catamaran—that was the vote last November—is heading toward a crescendo, and let's not be simple-minded. Many forces are in play, and there is good reading at Andy Rice's blog on the subtleties of ISAF's invitation to delegates to "reaffirm" decisions already made, and the vote count required for changes, and questions of the longterm best interest of Olympic sailing given that both our international and national sailing authorities depend upon the Olympics for their lifeblood cashflow.

I called Brenner "tough-minded." A man would have to be that to stay in this game. The US vote received a lot of attention at the last ISAF confab, and will again next month. With that thought in mind, let's revisit some conversations from last fall about why the US delegation did not throw its support behind the multihull:

So here we are talking to Dean Brenner on his cell phone, and Brenner is telling us . . .

"There have been suspicions of secret deals. I'll look anybody in the eye and say, no. But we never shied away from saying that men's keelboat was a priority for us, and that's because we believe it affords the US team our best medal chances. You could take a different approach. Some people say you should make decisions, not on medal prospects, but on what's best for the sport, and that sounds good, but if your team doesn't win medals your fund raising is going to dry up and you're not going to be successful in the long run, are you? In the end, we made a sensible, tactical choice on how to vote, and the only legitimate gripe is if you think the US would have a better medal chance in catamarans."

And now we're talking to another volunteer on his cell phone, and that would be US Sailing President Jim Capron, on the subject of the ISAF Annual Meeting in Estoril, Portugal . . .

"The Events Committee put up a slate, but the Council typically does not vote the slate," Capron says. "That was true again in 2007. Once that happens, each event is back on the table. Our proposal for 5-5 gender equity was voted down, and soon it was apparent that five of seven events were a shoe-in, no matter how US Sailing voted. The windsurfer was in, because the rest of the world wants it. That left keelboats and multihulls in question. If we had voted exactly in line with our submission—no to the windsurfer, yes to the rest—it would have been a non-vote because the windsurfer was going to be in. So we had a choice, and the only way we could express that choice was to vote for one and not the other, the keelboat and not the multihull."

Switching back to Dean Brenner . . .

"We believed that if we voted for both the keelboat and the multihull," Brenner says, "we were wasting our vote and leaving the final decision to somebody else. It was a close vote. It could have come to a tie, and that means you've taken a chance. My dream scenario would have multihulls racing and not boards, but somebody was going to be left out, and the boards were definitely in."

It will be no less labyrinthine, and Byzantine, methinks, when next ISAF meets.

Final results for the Garda event, including Vincec Gasper's first and Zach's sixth, can be found HERE.

And, hmm, since Peter Huston has taken the trouble to write a thoughtful comment in response to this blog—find it at bottom; it's worth the read—and since my purpose was not to "parrot" a party line but to hang a few things out there in stark relief—I'm coming back to add this other thought. It too is dragged forward from my response to the ISAF vote in Estoril, and it's a bit closer to my own thoughts, because . . .

There is no other sport where being part of the Olympic Games has so much power to skew the deal. I mean, there's no reason for Lightnings to be part of the Olympics, but if they were, it would radically redefine what it means to race Lightnings. And there was a point ahead of the 2007 ISAF Annual Meeting when keelboats were apparently being squeezed out, and keelboat sailors were complaining in the forums that this large group of sailors was being, that word again, disenfranchised. As of April 2008 we see the mostly-American readers of Scuttlebutt sending a strong signal that they are not happy with the present state of affairs.

And as I try to listen to all sides I only increase the depressing sense that ISAF—no matter how informed and motivated the individuals—is incapable of making any inspired, creative leaps.

And unless my ears deceive me, I hear you, my friends, replying, well . . .



Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Torch is Passed

In the news bz, we have a saying, there's always a local angle.

And, there's always a sailing angle.

San Francisco officials hoodwinked a horde of spectators, protesters, and scene-makers by switching the route of the Olympic torch, but the crowds were ample, nonetheless, when they brought the thing right to my home away from home on the San Francisco cityfront.

The sailing angle . . .

And the crowd. I had to hold the camera over my head to take this shot of people holding cameras over their heads . . .

And the torch. Hard to spot, but it's in there. I believe the message is, Don't even think about about messing with this . . .

We had dueling flags . . .

Plenty of opinions . . .

Partisans . . .

And danged if I know. It's San Francisco . . .

BMW Oracle Goes Sailing

Now it's Russell Coutts' turn to try his hand at sailing a Formula 60 tri. Knowing how badly Ed Baird got burned, is he reciting Shepard's prayer?

(don't know Shepard's prayer? you could google it up)

Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget

Gitana Gets Her Record

Pacific records have yet to be beaten down hard, so it is no surprise that Lionel Lemonchois and crew aboard the maxi-cat, Gitana 13, were able to claim a new record on the San Francisco-Yokohama route. But that is not to belittle the gutsy seamanship involved. The boat covered 5,616 miles through the water at an average of 21 knots, and it was kicked around by one weather system after another. Top speed burst was 39.7 knots, and the best day's run covered 612 miles. Normal sailing for these guys, but not for the rest of us mortals. At 11 days, 12 minutes, they took a big bite out of the old record of 14 days, 22 hours.

New to the crew was Around Alone veteran Kojiro Shiraishi, who was hired to help scout the tricky final approach to Japan. Before he left San Francisco, however, Shiraishi made a pilgrimage to the museum at the Maritime Historical Park—closed for renovation, but opened for him—and the 19-foot Mermaid that Kenichi Horie solo-sailed from Japan to San Francisco in 1962 in 94 days. That epic voyage is etched into the minds of Japanese sailors. The boat may not look like much, but for a Kojiro Shiraishi, it's like touching the holy grail. Photographer Christian Buhl was his guide, and Christian supplied our pic . . .

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Trench for Your Maritime Museum?

As he shut down the "French Trench" and the Masters of Speed event where Antoine Albeau set a new sailing speed record earlier this year, organizer Christophe Simian mused that, perhaps, the moment for the purpose-built trench has passed. He described the trench as, "still the best place for breaking records, but only for windsurfers. Don’t forget, the kitesurfers aren’t far behind now and they're climbing fast. And l’Hydroptère is a serious project. Either of them could end up sending the speed canal to the maritime museum."

As in, 50 knots in 2008.

Albeau made 49.09. So close.

The trench has set the standard for quite a while now, but?

l’Hydroptère just looks as if it ought to be good for 50 knots, probably with a smoldering Gauloise dangling from the helmsman's lips.

Photo by Arnaud Pilpre/Sea & Co.

Bursts of 50 knots plus? That's already happened plenty of times. It's that sustained speed over a measured, controlled 500 meters that is still out there for somebody. There's no "barrier" even though it's a seductive word. It's just plain hard to go that fast under sail. We're talking 57.5 mph, enough heat to earn a speeding ticket on many of America's highways.

Paul Larson's innovative SailRocket project out of the UK topped out in the 30's in its most recent outing. Larson is in the field right now at Walvis Bay, Namibia and updating his web site daily . . .

And the should-be promising effort from Australia, Macquarie, topped at 44.71 knots as of their last update a year ago. This is the same team that set a 46.52 knot record in 1993 with Yellow Pages Endeavour, only to have it snatched by the windsurfers on the trench. Their web site still says, "It's getting harder and harder to justify updating this page as the story is, unfortunately, pretty much the same each time we write." I repeat, that's a 2007 update. SailRocket and Macquarie represent the technogeek side of the race; the windsurfers are pure muscle and nerve, not that it doesn't take plenty of nerve to pilot one of these technogeek contraptions, and not as though there haven't been some spectacular crackups.

So 50 knots is out there. It took a while for someone to finally overtake windsurfer Finian Maynard's old mark of 48.7 knots, set in April 2005, but it's easy to imagine that 2008 will be the Year of Fifty. It's not as though this covers every one of the hopefuls.

l’Hydroptère went back into the water last month at La Trinité sur Mer, and it will be sailing soon, looking for those big winds that come roaring out of the interior of France.

At the end of the Masters of Speed event, Simian reflected, "It’s left me with mixed feelings. I was disappointed by the women’s performances; they just didn’t dare risk it. That’s a big shame because it was a great opportunity for windsurfing to grab back Sjoukje Bredenkamp’s record, and we didn’t manage to break 50 knots. Despite Antoine Albeau’s gigantic achievement I still come away feeling like it’s a job not done. With more work and more money we could have given the riders an even better water surface to work on."

Sjoukje Bredenkamp is the young South African who last year set the women's speed record with a kite at 42.35 knots . . .

On the men's side there is Alexandre Caizergues, whose mark of 47.92 knots stands as the overall speedkiting record for 500 meters (yes, it hurts to crash).

Back to the trench—

An artificial canal is a difficult thing to create and maintain, especially when it has to be in a high wind area. Pronouncing himself exhausted at the end of the Masters of Speed event, Simian put a bottom line on the experience: "It’s all down to the fine details. Albeau made his run but with quite a bit of damage to the northern canal edge after the big southeasterly storms we had in November and January. The edge wasn’t perfectly straight. That may have cost us one or two tenths of a second. But 50 knots is very close, we touched it with the tips of our fingers. A shame for us and good for the others. That’s how it is."

And when Albeau took the record, this is how it was, the fastest man in sailing, as seen through the lens of . . .

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tether or Apart

There's always a lesson in an overboard recovery. Cliff Shaw looks back at pulling two live bodies out of the water in the recent Doublehanded Farallones Race and says, "You see people in the water and you think, This is not a drill; I have to get this right."

The breeze was 25, up to 30 at times on the Unpacific Ocean, outside the Golden Gate. Shaw figures the seas at, "Six to eight feet, with an occasional twelve. I did the wrong thing on my first approach. I tried to luff up to them and misjudged and fell short."

The Golden Gate entrance looked like this, as seen through the long lens of Erik Simonson . . .

Hmm. Maybe I'm not sorry I missed the 2008 Doublehanded Farallones, but get this. Shaw wasn't even racing his Crowther 36 cat. He was shadowing the fleet for the fun of it—he's a member of sponsor Bay Area Multihull Association—and doubledog get this: he also shadowed the whole 2006 Pacific Cup, San Francisco to Hawaii. "I signed up to race," he says, "then I discovered that my insurance wouldn't cover the rig if I was racing, so I 'withdrew' and went anyway."

I like this guy.

Shaw's Rainbow was about 75 yards behind the Olson 40, Pterodactyl ("We were aimed right at their transom; I was actually trying to pass them") when Luc de Faymoreau and Disun Den Daas were ejected from the Olson. As Luc put it, "We were SNAPPED off the boat in a violent motion, what I call a pitchpole/broach."

(see last Monday's post, Suddenly Swimming)

When Pterodactyl spun out and turned erratically upwind, Shaw grabbed the binoculars. "I saw right away there was no one on the boat, so I made a sweep and there they were. Bright orange and yellow inflatables standing out very bright against cobalt blue."

In making that first, missed pass, Shaw saw quickly that the two men in the water were unable to swim: "Then I remembered what they told us in the Pacific Cup safety seminar, that people in a PFD can't swim. After that everything came straight out of the textbook. The lesson: Don't try to do any precise maneuvering. Just get that Lifesling out there. It's a great product."

Rainbow has a swim platform mounted low, and with two people standing aft - Shaw and crewmate Gregory Yankelovich - it stayed submerged, not threatening the men in the water and greatly aiding the recovery. The water outside the Golden Gate is cold year-round and definitely cold in the springtime. De Faymoreau and Den Daas were able to climb and help themselves aboard, with assistance, Shaw recalls, "But Luc came aboard saying that he couldn't grip, couldn't grip. That happens fast. I gave up two or three minutes by missing them the first time. If I'd missed a second time, and they'd gone colder, we might have had to winch them out instead of haul them over the transom."

Other lessons? "Seeing two other boats stop and stand by really helped my morale. Knowing they were there helped me calm down and focus.



Cliff Shaw tells me that he always uses a tether offshore.

In the Comments section of our Suddenly Swimming post, we find the following:

Luc said...
although the obvious lesson from this incident is to wear tethers, it is not clear that we would have survived any better had we been tethered. The reason I say this is because I do suspect this was a sneaker wave. We were not dropped off the boat, nor slid off the deck. we were on a large wave of unusual steepness, I remember saying to my buddy Disun, "hey, look at this one". He, eating an apple did not have time for any response because we were SNAPPED off the boat in a violent motion, (what I call a pitchpole/broach)which may have resulted in broken bones, back, or some other related injury, had we been wearing tethers. Disun commented that we had become complacent, the hard part of the race was over, and we were enjoying what an O-40 does best, surfing and playing in the waves on the way home.

earlier, changing sails, and later reefing the main, we also did not have tethers, but we were focused on the task, planned our moves, and succeeded. The boat had a reefed main and a #3 jib. the wind was 25 to 30 knots true, and the waves were large, but not particularly scary huge.

any of you that race and have tried wearing a harness know that getting tangled in lines and hooked on winches and other hardware is so unworkable that we usually don't wear them. Maybe that's foolish, I don't know. I did hear that a guy was dragged until he drowned wearing a harness in a previous Double Handed Farallones Race. As far as the swim was concerned, I think a wet suit and backpack with fins would have been more useful than a PFD. around here, cold is the biggest survival problem. A custom wetsuit would be the way to go, one that could float you face up, a pair of small fins, and one of those James Bond launching grappling hooks and we could have been back aboard.

Luc de Faymoreau

Mike said...
Luc can only write this because he was extremely lucky in being quickly rescued. Otherwise... seeing the boat sailing away from him, he might have wished for a tether. Better to die trying to reboard then tread water with 0 hope.

alan said...
I'd rather be on board with some broken bones than separated from an unattended boat 20 miles outside the Gate. I've done this trip several times in a variety of conditions both racing and cruising. I have jacklines for working forward and cockpit padeyes for the cockpit. Yeah, it can be challenging learning to work while tethered, but you do learn what works if you do it. I'm glad you guys were not alone out there and that you are safely back here able to tell your story.

ditto on the wetsuit/survival suit.

Ralph said...
Luc's conclusions seem to show bravery or a bit of a flippant attitude, but they are very fortunate to not have died - no?

John Siegel said...
Thank goodness Luc and his crew survived this potentially fatal situation. I don't, however, share his view toward harnesses and tethers.

In the 1999 DHF, my crew and I ended up in the water behind the island, courtesy of a sneaker wave.

My crew ended up on the mainsail. I vividly remember executing a perfect swan dive over the pushpit and entering the frothy water. It was then that the choral music and harps started playing.

As my tether jerked me back to the boat (and back to reality), I somehow managed an adrenalin-induced leap back into the cockpit.

Harnesses and tethers may not be perfect and sometimes might create bigger problems. But, I'll take my chances being attached to the boat!

ISAF Reconsiders

In response to the outcry over the decision to drop catamarans from 2012 Olympic competition, the international sailing authority has announced the following as part of its agenda for the mid-year meeting in Qingdao, China, May 8-12:

Council will also be given the opportunity to address the selection of events for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. By the close of the submission deadline for the 2008 ISAF Mid-Year Meeting, submissions had been lodged by 15 ISAF Member National Authorities and two ISAF Class Associations regarding the events for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. In accordance with ISAF Regulation 1.6(b), the Executive Committee has considered all these submissions and maintains its position from February 2008 that any submissions on the events for 2012 should be considered at the 2008 Annual Conference in November.

However, recognizing the level of concerns over the decision as per the submissions received, the Executive Committee feels it would be prudent for the ISAF Council to have the opportunity in May 2008 to affirm or otherwise its decision taken in November 2007 on the events for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Therefore, the Executive Committee has decided to put forward Urgent Submission M06-08, which invites Council to reaffirm or otherwise their decision on the events for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition made in November 2007. The Executive Committee intent in making this submission is to bring to a close the current speculation challenging the Council decision.