Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Olympic Experience Experienced

The 2008 Olympic Games is not an August 8-24 experience. For team members, the Olympic experience has already begun. Sure, they were sailing all the time before the US Trials, and now they're sailing all the time, but it's different now.

I checked in with Andrew Campbell—to me, he's a San Diego boy, but Andrew spent so much time at Georgetown U. that D.C. wants to claim him—and the U.S. Laser rep mused about the comparisons between sailing in college, post college, and as a member of the US Olympic Sailing Team: "I went from college, where people put me in a position to win, to a post-college situation where I had to position myself to win. I didn't have much coaching going into the Trials, and there was a whole new step-up in administration. You have to learn how to make a budget; you have to learn how to market yourself. That got easier after I won the Trials. For the first time in my Olympic campaign, I'm comfortable with the amount of money that I'm spending."

The expenses, we might note, now include intense coaching to meet new international norms. St. Mary's sailing coach
(formerly at Georgetown with Campbell, and current US Sailing coach of the year) Bill Ward is coming on board next month. "A year ago it was more important to go to regattas," Campbell says. "Now money for coaching is money well spent."

Also changing, the faces: "A year ago the racing was as hard as it gets. Now you go to a regatta and maybe there's one Swede, one Brit. The other people are staying home. The competition is thinning out, not accelerating."

John Dane's Star crew, Austin Sperry, frankly admits it was irritating ("I was a bit grumpy") to be required to fly to Chicago for a day of ambassador training. But everyone, not just sailors, had to do it, and if nothing else he came away with factoids that don't often make the rounds: "Did you know there are 6,000 living Olympians in the USA?"

And, actually, he took away a lot.

The idea of "ambassador training" was two-fold, to give our athletes a few clues regarding Chinese culture, and to help them learn how to manage themselves in uncomfortable situations by placing them in same. Sperry recounts, "Imagine being stood up in a circle, a group of 12 or 15, and there's a teacher—an actor, I guess—who tells you that your task is to whoosh power to somebody else in the circle. You can whoosh it left, right or across, and no way are you feeling anything but stupid, but everybody's in the same boat, and everybody in this circle is an Olympic athlete, and somehow, before it's all over, it becomes kind of cool."

(Dang. Now I realize that I didn't ask Andrew Campbell, a graduate of Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, how the ambassador program went for him.)

Tornado silver medalist Charlie Ogletree, returning for his fourth Olympics, has seen it all before, but he allows, "The shades of Bode Miller may have been driving the ambassador program. The USOC was a bit put out by the performance of their golden boy at the Winter Games in '06. Common sense is what most of this is about, but some people need help with that. And we're going to a very foreign country with a very different culture. And Communist."

That's Charlie far right, with skipper Johnny Lovell.

Getting granular: Austin learned that in China you never point the spout of a teapot at a table companion ("very rude"), and this early-Olympic experience also afforded him the opportunity to meet people outside of sailing. First it was the water polo team and then the friendly wrestler who finished Austin's dinner for him.

Austin! Dude! It was a setup. Of course the wrestler guy kept asking you questions about boats . . .

This phase of the Olympic experience continues for U.S. sailors, with training trips to Qingdao planned for June and July, to coincide with tides similar to those predicted for the Games. As Austin says, "To make it as much like game day as possible."

August 8, 2008. Not so far away on a path strewn with controversies over the torch run and Tibet. I had my own moment as the torch passed the marina in San Francisco . . .

On its way to Everest . . .

And eventually, like our athletes, to the opening ceremonies in Beijing in China's new national stadium. It's a fascinating structure . . .

Include the Aquatics Center and you have to awards marks for architectural exuberance and, how's this word, optimism . . .

Even without a terrible earthquake, the leaders of China would be living in interesting times (the ancient curse)—Kimball

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bombs, Rockets, and Bears, Oh My

In the wake of last week's bombing of the Real Club Marítimo del Abra in Bilbao—the new flag behind Desafio, the Spanish America's Cup team—Cheryl Lincoln checks in from London with the thought of the hour . . .

"So they were better off with a virtual club."

On the coast of France, meanwhile, in La Seyne sur Mer, French record hopefuls have launched the re-jiggered l'Hydroptere, with a plan to tow asap to Marseille for a go at 50 knots. It's hard to believe the so-called 50-knot "barrier" won't be broken soon, by this rocketship or some other . . .

It's nice to see the French having fun, ne c'est pas?

Shifting hemispheres: One of the most interesting people in the sailing game is Sean Langman, an Aussie who's lived the life at the high end of canting keels and high performance, with a third-place finish once on the 18-foot skiff championships, and he has a thingamajig he calls Wotrocket that he hopes to step up to 50, then 60 knots.

But first let's appreciate the individual drummer. It was in 2005
(I think) that Langman finished his 17th Rolex Sydney Hobart, this time at the helm of cant-keeled AAPT, and told a reporter, "My feeling when I stepped off was, this isn't what the race or sailing is about for me."

In 2006 Langman was back with the restored gaff rigger, Maluka, built in 1932, for a top-ten finish. It was the smallest and oldest boat in the race . . .

Photo by Daniel Forster/Rolex

Now he's wet Wotrocket on a theory that "supercavitation" will allow the machine to operate at the interface of water and air with impunity. Eventually. He also told his sponsor, "You need to be prepared for us taking a few trips up the beach to pick up bits of broken carbon." Truth in promotion, eh? The machine is modular, as a hedge.

Wotrocket does not have a dedicated web site. I know that Langman has had his problems since launching a few weeks ago, but nothing to match the inoculation he gave his sponsor. What I do know about this deal comes from deep Down Under web sites including Rob Kothe takes a whack at explaining supercavitation in his christening story HERE. Thanks to Crosbie Lorimer for the pic at right.

Sailors have already passed 50 knots—fast enough to hurt yourself—but the official record demands a sustained average over 500 meters. The record belongs to windsurfer Antoine Albeau, who came so close in March at 49.09 knots in the specially-dug "French trench." (Thanks to windsurfer Steve Bodner for reminding me to update from Finian Maynard to Albeau; sheesh; just because I wrote about it when it happened I'm supposed to remember and all that stuff?). Like the waters off Marseille, the trench gets the wind that comes roaring out of the Rhone Valley. When the breeze is up, it's serious stuff.

High speed windsurfing is all muscle and nerve. Wotrocket and l'Hydroptere are technology shots, and a bit of nerve.

There are others, but the one that I know of that's actually in the field right now is Paul Larsen with SailRocket, working it hard at Walvis Bay, Namibia and aiming (for now) to achieve consistent control at speeds in the 40's.

It's hard work on a hard problem. Paul's latest posting, as I write this, goes:

"No joy. We were a little late onto the water due to being a man down. We should be back up to strength as of Saturday when we will gain another local team member.

Overall the boat and team gets stronger by the day as the detail work gets attended to daily. The spray deflector did work... but it wasn't perfect. We still have it with us... but I will try some side skirts on the forward planing surface next... and a new forward planing surface after that.

Let's see what tomorrow brings. Cheers, Paul Larsen"


The Saturday of Memorial Day brings out our biggest race of classics on San Francisco Bay, the annual Master Mariners Regatta. I'm glad to see three Bears in the list, Bears being an indigenous local class built to handle the bearish conditions under the wind slot of the Golden Gate. The first of these 23-footers was launched in 1931, and they've had a presence since. But that presence was slipping away.

It seems that, as with another local class, the Bird, the breed had to fall to near-extinction before people panicked and rushed to the rescue. I say, better late than never. Here's a look at the Bear, Camembert . . .

As for matters of greater moment . . .

Thanks Dad.

And thanks to all you other Veterans out there.

And thanks to our boots in the field right this minute—Kimball

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bridge Height, Smidge Height

Brave the perils of the sea? I don't have to.

Sure, I know that along the 3,000 miles of America's Intracoastal Waterway there are bridges that limit passage, forcing tall-rigged boats to sail offshore instead.

That is so five minutes ago.

Here's a boat with an 80-foot main mast approaching a bridge at Vero Beach, Florida . . .

A bridge that is only 65 feet off the water . . .

Each bag weighs 2,000 pounds, so I'm told . . .

The pics have been bouncing around and were forwarded by my friend, Jack Reichel, along with someone's editorial comment: "What a treat to watch the crew execute!"

So, what's the effect on the structure of 4,000 pounds of undistributed load? Since I don't know how the weight is attached, I can't properly frame the question, and that's just as well because, as engineers go, I'd make a better fry cook. I'm still trying to figure out how they weight goes from hanging vertical to being, shall we say, way out there. This doesn't appear to be a Photoshop job, so your enlightenment is welcomed.

Or Is That Just My Mother Talking?

First it was Artemis Transat leader Sébastien Josse hitting something with BT and turning for home. That opened the lead of the singlehanded transatlantic race to Vincent Riou and PRB, and then Riou hit something and was sufficiently concerned for the keel that he politely requested rescue. Riou left PRB on Tuesday afternoon to join Loïck Peyron on Gitana Eighty, and Peyron is now the leader and is he worried that things happen in threes?

Dunno. But here's what his people are putting out:

At the 1800 UT position report, Gitana Eighty had a 29 mile lead over Armel Le Cléac’h. Now, along with time lost in the rescue
—which will be redressed following evaluation by the jury—Loïck Peyron will have to get used to a new configuration.

The reluctant stowaway, Vincent Riou, will not be able to help his host under any circumstances, either in his manœuvres or in his choice of course. During the remaining 830 miles (three days more at sea), the skipper of Gitana Eighty will have to consider himself as being alone aboard. Peyron says, “It's the first time I’ve ended up in such a situation: sailing double-handed in a single-handed race. It’s disconcerting as I was into a precise rhythm, making decisions automatically and with a set routine. Now I have to regain focus to tackle the next stage, which promises to be fairly complicated. However, the essential thing was to recover Vincent.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

Jungle Drums of España

No question, the hottest action of the moment is in the Med, where a lot of America's Cup sailors who might otherwise be out of a job are plying their trade in a true grand prix fleet, the TP52.

Can you say, eight new boats in a fleet of 19? The King of Spain dropped in on Friday to sail Bribon, but it's Mean Machine and Peter de Ridder who seem to be all dialed in for the Audi MedCup opener at Alicante, Spain.

German photographer Heike Schwab, down from Munich to shoot, has taken the words right out of my mouth.

Four pictures, four thousand words, right?

Photo © Heike Schwab

Photo © Heike Schwab

Photo © Heike Schwab

Photo © Heike Schwab

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Welcome to the Family, Iran

Most of the sailors in America hate US Sailing, and they don't know why.

Write that on the blackboard a hundred times and see me after class. Or don't.

'Tis the merry month of May and we don't need another journalist pundifying on. We need the reincarnation of Franz Kafka. To hold up a mirror.

It's not as though the world of sailing suddenly woke up transformed into an insect and then proceeded in the manner of Kafka's traveling salesman—lying in bed testing his new-found, wiggly legs and ruminating on how hard he has it relative to other traveling salesmen. (The Metamorphosis)

It's not as though we are on trial and no one will tell us why. (The Trial)

We are on trial before ourselves, indicted for delivering neither a comprehensible America's Cup nor a comprehensible Olympic mission. It's an international problem, however, not an American problem.

It seems we cannot agree to stand on this leg, or those wiggly many. Is Olympic sailing obligated to represent every corner of the sport, or is it an opportunity to shape and promote high-end sailing? If the former, then we are failing. If the latter, why isn't anybody in the driver's seat? How did we, as a sport, get to this point, with both our international governing body (ISAF) and our American governing body (US Sailing) addicted to funding through the Olympic Games, which doesn't hate us, but does not need us.

I suspect the answer is "easily." Witness people resisting the suggestion that more skippers be required to pay dues to US Sailing. People are confused, and I don't think that's clarity rising on the horizon.

Last November the U.S. delegation clearly explained why it did not vote to support the multihull as an Olympic category for 2012, even though as individuals they like multihulls just fine. The moves and the pressure points, however, were so Machiavellian as to be incomprehensible to the average joe who just likes sailing and wants to do the right thing for the good of all.

I wasn't expecting any other outcome from the ISAF re-vote on 2012 equipment—the voting in Qingdao over the weekend left everything as-is, dropping the multihull as a category—and I have no vehemence to express on behalf of this faction or that. Is it absurd to not include multihulls in an Olympic lineup? Of course. Is it absurd to be making the choice in the way that we do? There's the thing.

I don't see a beaten path toward a higher level of dialogue. Perhaps, dare I say it, toward inspiration. Olympic participation is a powerful force that shapes sailboat racing in a way that is too important, and has too much potential, to be left to politics. Very often the "debate" about putting our best foot forward (out of how many wiggly little legs and feet, Franz?) is reduced to personal attacks, and we saw a lot of those in the wake of the decision last fall that dropped the multihull. Had the US Sailing delegation voted the other way, "for the future of the sport," the attacks would have come from a different quarter, but they would have flown just as thick and fast. Sometimes it takes a thick skin to be a volunteer.

You gotta love this paragraph published at ISAF to explain the vote in Qingdao:

The first step in the proposal, to “reaffirm their decision on the 2012 Olympic Events made in November 2007” was not carried. Council then proceeded to the next two proposals in the submission, to vote on whether the selected events for either the men’s or women’s events should be changed. Standing by their decision of November 2007, the Council gave a clear message to support the events as already approved, with neither proposal securing the two-thirds majority required to change.

Hmm. With none of those proposals carrying, it sounds to me like a conflicted group. The "clear message" to me is not that, and this paragraph quickly follows in the report published by ISAF:

Speaking after the Council decision, Olympic athlete and President of the International Tornado Association, Carolijn BROUWER (NED) commented, “The multihull sailors had lost some faith in ISAFs direction on the Olympic events, but after today’s decision where more than 50% of the Council did not reaffirm the November decision, it feels a little bit like an apology. There is a glimmer of hope. Listening to the debate, we are confident the multihull event will be back on the Olympic programme in the future and the multihull community will work with ISAF to achieve that objective.”

Which, as voices of reconciliation go, is fine. But again it sounds like one more competing special interest, not a vision of what the Olympic Sailing Games could be. Kafka said of his own life, "I have hardly anything in common with myself."

Say it ain't so, and welcome to the family . . .

The latest member of the ISAF family was welcomed with the approval of Iran as an ISAF Full Member, bringing the total number of ISAF member nations to 126.

The America's Cup? The next absurd turn in mismanaged PR is, I believe, playing out live on Scuttlebutt—Kimball

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Voice of a Sailor

Two sentences into the first piece I ever read by Margie Smith I knew I loved her writing. With just a few stories in SAIL, Margie made her case as a woman who kicked over the traces of one life
—a news career in front of the TV cameras—in favor of something that's going to have to define itself, so let's get out there and make something happen.

The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, "I learn by going where I have to go."

SAIL readers first met this lady while she was waiting tables and learning to sail in the BVI. Very soon she was off through the Caribbean, writing about the classics regatta at Antigua, crossing the Atlantic, exploring the Med, recrossing the Atlantic and then dashing off to replenish the kitty with a spot of work back home in Philadelphia. Which is where she was diagnosed.

Things are different now. Margie Smith's blog, Cancer is Hilarious, is no romp in the park. But she's the same writer, and yes, she can find the hilarious note in almost anything. Her reflections upon taking off when she did—and sailing a few miles and meeting a few people and having a few laughs—get served up on a seething platter of hope and fear and love of life and dire honesty and wrenching humor that not every one of you, my readers, will want to take the time to emotionally digest. For me, it's been a good investment. I've learned the term, Infusion Room, and as a cancer/chemo civilian I would not otherwise have known that wigs are marketed with names like, "the Raquel Welch."

I'm not going to represent her most personal voice here. It simply is too personal. That belongs to Margie.

But I believe she will forgive me if I excerpt a passage as to why she is glad, so glad, that she went sailing when she did. These are the thoughts of someone who got out there and did something she had dreamed of doing in the thick of life, and she's going to get back out there. Or not. What I've been reading is a life or death struggle, happening live.

I'll shut up now.

This is Margie:

It's exhausting being upbeat. But dwelling on the negative is even more work. People die from cancer, yes. They also die from heart attacks, drunk drivers and freak accidents. When people asked if I was afraid of drowning at sea while sailing across the Atlantic, I told them the odds were greater of dying in a traffic accident on the Schuylkill. To this day, I worry about meeting my demise on that expressway (maybe while driving into Center City for chemo). If nothing else, the Zen-meets-fun philosophy I’ve honed during a couple years of island life and unstructured travel has taught me not to waste precious time fretting about things I can’t change.

In the end, the questions about how you die become a lesson in how to live which, barring suicide, is the only part we have any control over anyway.

Exactly one year ago, I was in Antigua, racing in a classic boat regatta with my friend, Captain Kidd. He had been debating whether to keep sailing on toward the Pacific or do the practical thing and head home to Cape Cod, get a real job and sock away some money. One night, he announced he had decided to sail the Pacific. He said, “If I only had a year to live, that’s what I would do. That seems like a good enough reason to do it now.”

Once I was on a plane with my St. John friend, Fun Kim. We had just spent two weeks in Venice. Prior to that, I had made my first trans-Atlantic crossing, sailed around the Mediterranean with a crew from Malta and traveled solo through central Italy. Fun Kim had been sailing the Aegean and cavorting around Istanbul. Before all that, we were both living and working in the Virgin Islands. We were on our way to Palma de Mallorca to look for yachting jobs.

Security was tight as there had been a bomb scare in London. We decided to fly anyway and, while sitting there waiting for take-off, agreed that if the plane went down, well, we couldn't complain too much about how things turned out. We had done more in the previous few years than many people do in a lifetime. And we had both called our mothers to tell them we loved them.

That plane conversation happened in 2006, a full year before the summer in Spain when we saw the running of the bulls in Pamplona, sailed to the America’s Cup, and discovered the vending machine on a dock in Valencia that dispenses that coldest Heinekens on the planet for only one euro. Clearly there is more life to be lived.

I do, however, like to think I contemplated What If? three years ago when I first quit my city job and moved to paradise in search of more. There were reasons the timing was right—I was healthy, my parents were healthy, I had money in the bank and no major responsibilities—but the final motivator was, What if? What if a year (or three) from now, something happens and I’m no longer in a position to do it?

I thank God every day I did not fail to seize the moment. Having that regret would truly be haunting.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Looking for a Valiant 40? Come to Lake Texoma, my friend.

The Valiant 40 was among the most influential race boats of its day, albeit born as the first of a new breed, the "performance cruiser." Bob Perry's plastic classic double-ender achieved a legendary status on both sides of the aisle.

As a racer, short-handed long-distance was the Valiant specialty. To this day the boat is a sleeper, as she sits in the water. "The boat" meaning all 200 built plus the new crop of Valiant 42s that share the same hull but add a bowsprit.

The first Valiant 40 was launched in 1973, with all the man-against-the-sea visual cues to compete for hearts and minds against true believers in crabcrusher technology—tiny ports, a canoe stern, a trunk cabin that a Tahiti Ketch could love. Only out of the water did the alter ego emerge, the fin keel and skeg-hung rudder hinting at surprising numbers, including sail area/displacement and displacement/length ratios not far from those of a Cal 40. Those numbers in 2008 are not at all radical, but you can be pretty sure that if you're ever unlucky enough to crush a crab, you'll squash that sucker with the bow, not the stern.

What set me off on this was a recent foray into sailing grounds that a lot of my friends have missed. It's called, North Texas.

The game began on Lake Texoma, which hosted the first of three weekends—three lakes in three weeks—of the latest Leukemia Cup circuit. The last of the three lakes is up this weekend, and that would be Lewisville Lake in Oak Point, Texas (think Dallas; Dallas is big enough to absorb most of the galaxy).

So, returning to our original theme: Bet most of you didn't know that Valiants, originally built in the Pacific Northwest and still identified with that region, have long been built on the Texas-Oklahoma border on one of the most popular sailing lakes you've probably never experienced. Sailing is big here, but football is religion . . .

And don't take the name on that billboard, "Munson Stadium," lightly.

Back in the 1900s, when phylloxera was decimating the vineyards of France, it was one T.V. Munson of Denison, Texas who identified a resistant rootstock in American vines and shipped the rootstock cuttings that, for practical purposes, rescued the European wine industry. Munson was awarded the Chevalier du Merite Agricole, and "Munson" to this day remains a big name in North Texas. Even the mailboxes look fast . . .

Valiant has been here for a couple of decades. Rich Warstell was a major Valiant dealer before he bought the company and at first tried to keep the production line where it was born.

Eventually Rich realized that his specialty line wanted a place where he could create an artisan community of semicustom boatbuilders.

A place where the price points would work.

A place where longhorns are not crowded out of the neighborhood, just for looking scary . . .

A place called Gordonville, Texas, where sailing north will take you across the border into Oklahoma in a lot less than an hour.

Yes, there are Valiants that ply the waters of Lake Texoma, a flood-control reservoir formed by damming the Red River (there are more Catalinas and Beneteaus than Valiants, to be honest). This is the big boat lake in a region that is mostly about sailing trailerables. Older Valiants return for factory refitting alongside boats under construction . . .

So let's just look around.

The man responsible for bringing Valiant to Texas, Rich Warstell, also has a background in aviation. If you really want to get him talking, that's the subject. What's behind the door . . . ?

A vintage Bonanza with original paint and upholstery . . .

And a "baby Beaver" built from a kit, right here . . .

If you've ever spent a sleepless night wondering what Cedar Mills Resort, Gordonville, Texas, looks like on a rainy day in the springtime, wonder no more. I realize this isn't much of a sales tool, but if you ever get the chance to sail here, don't pass it up. This is a big world.