Friday, August 29, 2008

United 889 to Beijing

While America barbecued, America's Paralympic teams flew to China over Labor Day weekend and settled into their quarters on a mission brightly vivid, highly emotional, long-sought.

SKUD 18 crew Maureen McKinnon-Tucker, waiting on Friday morning to board United 889, San Francisco to Beijing, said, "I've been in tears more than once over the last 48 hours, just thinking about the opportunity and the responsibility."

Team USA first gathered in Colorado Springs for "processing," or as one-armed Sonar crew Tim Angle put it, "to receive official team gear, learn how to be a good ambassador of our country, and sign a ton of flags." He couldn't avoid the thought, "Michael Phelps slept here." The team then flew via Denver to San Francisco for an overnight stop and morning boarding to Beijing and a connection to Qingdao. Left to right on wheels, Maureen McKinnon-Tucker, Rick Doerr, Nick Scandone . . .

The signs at Counter 29, Aisle 3 of SFO's international terminal read, Counter Closed. Meaning, in effect, reserved for Team USA. When Sonar crew Tim Angle said hi but quickly excused himself, "It seems I don't have a ticket to Qingdao," this looked to me to be some hassle. But Tim (with the one hand he has left, he could hurt you) later said no to that: "With this many people and 28 bags, United has been doing a great job for us. They're a sponsor, and everything gets worked out in a hurry." That's Tim at left below, then his fellows in the Sonar, Bill Donohue and Rick Doerr . . .

And so things did get worked out, as described. The blonde figure, also at the counter above, is coach Betsy Alison, energetically working things out. Maureen added, "It's good to have a pit bull on your side . . .

"I don't think she'd mind my saying that."

Thanks to a benefactor in Boston, there were upgrades to first class. Tim: "I've never sat upstairs in a 747." Maureen: "If we arrive rested, that's an extra day on the water."

For Maureen and her skipper, Nick Scandone, time on the water holds extra importance. Scandone, a past Rolex US Sailor of the Year, has gold medal written all over him, but he is racing to the races against the progressively debilitating effects of late-stage ALS. The pair skipped all pre-regattas at Qingdao for fear of over-taxing Nick's strength. His handshake was weak, but the eyes were bright. I screwed up the focus on this, but not even my ham-fisted work can screw up the spirit, so here's the shot anyhow . . .

Maureen fretted about learning to read the currents, but Scandone said, "I just wonder if there'll be more than three knots of wind. And if there is, will it blow in the twenties the way it did for some of the Olympic races."

2.4mR rep John Ruf was grinning ear-to-ear and I don't think he ever stopped, there was so much excitement in the air. Back in Wisconsin, he's an attorney, but for a while to come now, he's all-sailor.

Dr. Rick Doerr, Sonar skipper, practices medicine from a wheelchair much as Ruf practices law from a wheelchair. Of the Paralympic Games Doerr says, "It's been a journey. We started with a humble program, and every year it got more intense and more complex, and every time we stepped it up it still made sense." Doerr, Angle, and Donohue just won the Clagett regatta in Newport, and here they are in winning form, as snapped by Amory Ross . . .

Then it was time for Team USA to head for Security, Maureen McKinnon-Tucker leaving behind family in America and a three-year-old son who apparently is winning against brain cancer but who knows, who knows, and not before Southern Californian Nick Scandone and I had our everyday-sailing-in-California bull session and I remarked that I was rushing home to put together this column (blog, if you will) then rushing back to SFO to catch a flight to LAX to catch a cab to San Pedro to meet my friends Ric and Monika to sail out to Catalina, Howland's Landing. And he said, "Wow. My wife is going to Catalina too." Well, of course.

My country. My people.

Good luck and good hunting . . .

The Paralympic Games
Qingdao, China, on the Yellow Sea
Sonar, SKUD 18, 2.4mR
September 6-17

With Love from 1982

Express 27s wrapped their nationals over the weekend on San Francisco Bay, and the beauty of that is having 19 boats on the line in a still-healthy fleet of sweet-to-sail boats.

They were born in the heyday of Santa Cruz ULDBs, these Express 27s. Terry Alsberg—he had built boats at Moore's so he knew how good work is done—commissioned a design from the late Carl Schumacher, and the result to everyone's delight went downwind like a feather in a hurricane (except for being easy to control). To everyone's surprise (excepting Alsberg and Schumacher) it went to weather like a bandit.

A small car could trailer one of these puppies, and two people could step or unstep the mast. With two fingers on the tiller the boat felt like a dinghy, and—

Wanna race to Hawaii? No reason not to.

I'm still trying to decide whether to account for the design as reverse engineering or inverse engineering, per this quote stolen from a mid-Eighties Latitude 38. The voice is Schumacher's: "We started off with the idea of building a boat the same weight as a Moore 24, but two feet longer. We eventually decided on the largest possible boat that could use a (single speed) Barient 10 for the jib winch, which turned out to be 27 feet."

Alsberg had wanted a boat where you did not see a trimmer plus tailer on the winch.

Congratulations to Nick Gibbens, in 2008 a first-time Nationals winner with hull #67, Shenanigans. By 11 points, no less. St. Francis YC laid the courses, and it was very San Francisco Bay . . .

Photo by Peter Lyons, Lyons Imaging

So's I Finally . . .

. . . got around to doing a profile of Skip Allan, which came out in the September issue of SAIL. Skip is one of my sailing heroes, and darned if he didn't go out and win the Singlehanded Transpac, not necessarily to my surprise, in the pending-months between filing and publication.

Can't beat that timing.

And darned if Skip didn't lose Wildflower on the way back to California from Hawaii on the boat's seventh racing-round-trip from the mainland (and Skip's 28th).

This is the MSC Toronto (Liberian flagged) that plucked Skip out of his predicament, details of which are yet to come. From the deck of a 27-footer, in seas evil enough to break an accomplished boat and outwit an extraordinary seaman, this behemoth (photographed in the Oakland Shipping Channel with the Golden Gate off the bow) must have looked even behemoth-er . . .

Photo by Kevin Collins as posted on

This puts my world out of joint. The MSC Toronto was due in Los Angeles Harbor on Tuesday. More to follow—Kimball