Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Speed

It's quite a show we've seeing over in Namibia where Rob Douglas kite-sailed to his new world speed record of 49.84 knots.

This just in from all-time American windsurfer, Mike "Gebi" Gebhardt, who is also Douglas's coach:

Rob Douglas's world record run was done on Lüderitz's second lagoon, a small bay that is effectively a tidal lagoon. The cool thing about the record was that it was done with an average wind of 30 knots and "only" gusting to 39 knots. The efficiency of the kitesurfing speed package is allowing super-fast runs in less wind than the windsurfers need.

The windurfers look to need at least a steady 45 with gusts over 50 to post world record speeds. Björn Dunkerbeck was at Lüderitz the day Rob broke the American record and it was gusting to 50 that day and he was only able to post a 45-knot run...keep in mind the run was not flat as the chop was big on that day, 6-inch in the rough spots-Gebi

Douglas and Gebhardt have a web site for their North American Speed Sailing Project at Sheesh. Talk about success. They started in April, set the American record in July, and broke the world record in September.

You will find more links and more info in my previous post, Going Like Fifty. Gebhardt's remarks here arrived as a comment to that post. Much appreciated—Kimball

Monday, September 22, 2008

Going Like Fifty

"It may well turn out that the timing of the last failure was perfect." Paul Larsen, pilot, Sailrocket

Wow. Summer is officially gone and nobody has broken 50 knots and the inching closer has been all in the muscle category. Remember when everybody thought big ole l'Hydroptere would have done the deed by now?

Instead Rob Douglas shows up in Namibia with a kite and gets the breeze and ever-so slightly ratchets up the speedsailing record to 49.84 knots. It's the first time since 1987 (Erik Beale, windsurfing, in the Trench) that an American has held the record.

Though I imagine that, while it was happening, it didn't feel anything like ever-so-slightly to Rob. If you fall at that speed it hurts plenty. And 50 knots? Close. Ridiculously close. And what of the glory teams with their complicated machines?

L'Hydroptere? Sitting in the south of France, still in commission. The latest update at reads:

"Thursday 11th September The technical team took advantage of a few days in dry dock to check the sails."

Wotrocket? The last update at reads:

"12 August Spectacular cartwheel ends Wot Rocket’s first official world speed record attempt."

Sailrocket? Hope springs eternal. I quote Paul Larsen:
"It may well turn out that the timing of the last failure was perfect. With a destroyed steering system and without the distraction of going sailing, Malcolm, George and I sat down with a clean sheet of paper to completely redesign Vestas Sailrocket's control systems."

Sailrocket is also in Namibia, the new capital of speedsailing and also the site of the Lüderitz Speed Challenge, which is where those windsurfers and kites are threatening to make hash of the 50-knot "barrier." According to the Lüderitz web site there will be no more sailing until Thursday (waiting for wind), so I guess it's safe to write as long as I'm quick about it. In a different entry, Larsen goes philosophical, "I was braced for the news that they had done 50 knots. In fact I was resigned to it. 50 knots will be just another number that comes and goes. This is one of the reasons we settled on the design of Vestal Sailrocket. It has the potential to go much faster. The MkII will be designed for a whole new era of speedsailing."


Right now it's game-on for the boards and especially for the kites. It didn't take all that long for kites to take over, now, did it?

What a comparison. L'Hydroptere still looks totally convincing. Capable. I almost want to say inevitable . . .

But here is the new man to beat, Rob Douglas . . .

Paul's Sailrocket is really very cool . . .

And so is the fastest woman on water, Sjoukje Bredenkamp. Here she is upping her own women's speedsailing record to 45.20 knots . . .

Sjoukje is probably capable of inspiring a mass migration to her homeland, South Africa . . .

And let's not short-shrift our Australian friends. The man at the center of the Wotrocket effort, Sean Langman, has a wealth of credentials that only begin with his 18-foot skiff titles. He's done it all, or I guess, not quite all . . .

For the record, Rob Douglas took the record from French windsurfer Antoine Albeau, who made 49.09 knots last March in the special-purpose "French Trench" in the south of France. That's been the main playground for speedsailing windsurfers. Douglas made his run in the "real" water of Walvis Bay, and I like that—Kimball

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not Just for Breakfast

Living in the face of adversity. It's what these people do for breakfast, all these Paralympians who choose to do rather than fade away, but none more so than Nick Scandone and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker.

Scandone is beating the odds just to be alive to sail the Paralympic Games at Qingdao, much less leading the SKUD 18 class after three days of racing. Then again, the Games have been a goal worth fighting for, all the way through the progressively-debilitating stages of ALS. Airplane drivers talk about this sort of cool determination as, "flying it all the way to the scene of the crash."

Maureen? Most sailors already know the story of the February regatta at Miami, where she got the word that her three-year-old, Trent, had brain cancer.

The reaction of horror is easy to imagine.

So let us speak instead of Ms. McKinnon-Tucker's decision that this thing that was tearing her heart apart would not blow her life apart. She would continue to train and sail. She would continue to work full time from her wheelchair. She would make sure that healthy little Dana received parental attention along with critically-ill Trent. She would explain, "Dan & I feel it’s important to show the kids that life goes on in the face of adversity. Giving up the Paralympics would be conceding a battle to cancer that it has no business winning."

Trent now has been through a course of chemo and a course of radiation. So far, so good, though the side effects can be greater on a little kid than on an adult. Maureen already knew plenty about that. Her full-time work is at Piers Park Sailing Center, Boston Harbor, an adaptive-sailing facility. "We started it a year ago," she says. "We've had one thousand percent growth."

Piers Park is for adults and kids, but adaptive sailing is especially valuable for the young, McKinnon-Tucker says, "Kids with disabilities have very few opportunities for recreation and almost no opportunity to compete on a level playing field. These kids get turned away from every other sport, but they don't get turned away from sailing."

Then, with a little grin (she's been in a wheelchair since falling off a seawall in the 1990s) she adds, "Sailing is something most of us do sitting down, right?"

Ah, but that conversation took place a while ago, before she left for China. Now, in a fleet of 11 SKUD 18s [Editor's Note: This is updated on Thursday] Nick and Maureen are in the lead, and 2.4mR sailor John Ruff also leads his class.

SKUD 18s sail a trapezoid course, which was developed for the 1996 Olympic Games at Savannah. Paralympic coach Betsy Alison explains, "Trapezoids are used in China only for the SKUD 18 class. The Sonars and 2.4mRs sail Windward-Leeward courses.

"The Trapezoid is used to separate two fleets in the same race area so that one does not interfere with the other. SKUDs and 2.4mRs race on the same course. SKUDs start first, sail a windward beat followed by a reach, an outer leeward, windward, leeward course, then a short port reach to the finish. While they race the outer loop, the 2.4's sail a W-L course on the inner loop."

Wednesday was a layday. On Thursday the breeze was drifter-light off Qingdao (just say 青島啤酒廠, same as the beer, and did they punt a marketing opportunity or what?) at the same facility that hosted the Olympic Games last month. One race per class was completed. The standings:

SKUD-18: 11 boats
1. Nick Scandone (Newport Beach, Calif., USA) and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker (Marblehead, Mass., USA), 2, 1, 1, 1, (3), 2; 7
2. Daniel Fitzgibbon and Rachael Cox, AUSTRALIA, (4), 2, 2, 2, 2, 4; 12
3. John Scott McRoberts and Stacie Louttit, CANADA, (3), 3, 3, 3, 1, 3; 13

2.4 mR: 16 boats
1. John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wis., USA), 2, 6, 1, (9), 1, 7; 17
2. Paul Tingley, CANADA, 1, 1, 5, 2, (9), 9; 18
3. Thierry Schmiter, NETHERLANDS, 5, 3, 2, (10), 7, 1; 18

Sonar: 14 boats
1. Bruno Jourdren, Herve Larhant and Nicolas Vimont-Vicary, FRANCE, 4, 1, 1, 2, (7), 1; 9
2. Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Graeme Martin, AUSTRALIA, (8), 4, 2, 3, 3, 3; 15
3. Jens Kroker, Robert Prem, Siegmund Mainka, GERMANY, 5, (6), 3, 1, 4, (11); 19
8. Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J., USA), Tim Angle (Marblehead, Mass., USA) and Bill Donohue (Brick, N.J., USA), 1, 9, 10, 6, (11), 10; 36

Thursday, September 4, 2008

ड्राइविंग होम इन अ रेंटल

Driving home in a rental is not what I pictured for Skip Allan when he set off on the Singlehanded Transpac, much less when he won the thing going away. And when I first saw a note that Skip had abandoned his beloved Wildflower on the return from Hawaii, I wondered if it was just a sick joke. Unfortunately, no.

(The joke is the headline for this post, which software translates into some mysterious Eastern-looking script no matter what I write. Never happened before; probably will never happen again, and right now I just want to get on with writing. Shrug and go. Skip Allan abandoning his boat pitches me into a jabberwocky world anyhow.)

There's been a lot of talk about the loss of Wildflower, a boat that was closing in on 100,000 miles after two cruising circuits of the Pacific, a cruise of Alaska, seven races to Hawaii for the boat, and 28 for her builder/skipper. A typical comment, from "Don" on Warrior's Wish, " If Skip chose to step off of Wildflower it had to be real bad. She was part of him."

"My consort and magic carpet," he called her. Now, thirty-four years after he built his 27-footer, and thirty years after he first raced it in a solo Transpac, one of the legendary sailors of the California coast is suddenly boatless.

On Thursday morning at SAIL West, the phone rang. It was Skip calling from a rental car on Route 101, "in a state of heartbreak." He was driving north from LA, on his way home to Capitola. The container ship MSC Toronto that had plucked him off Wildflower some 350 miles west of California had been en route to the Port of Los Angeles, and that is where Skip stepped ashore.

We agreed to talk again later, when we had something better than a cell phone connection. "There's going to be a lot to catch up on," he said. "My Skype mic went down with the boat."

In his account, a few observations stand out. Gale conditions lasted for days, through a series of evolutions.

On day three: "At noon, it looked like the gale was lessening. I left the safety of the cabin, and with two safety harnesses affixed to the windward rail, began to hand steer eastward on a reach with the #4. It was mogul sailing at its best."

On night three: "Breaking crests would poop the boat about every five minutes, filling the cockpit and surging against the companionway hatch boards. Even though I had gone to lengths to insure fire-hose integrity of the hatch, I found the slamming power of the breaking crests would cause water to forcefully spray around the edges of the hatchboards, into the cabin."

In the wee hours before dawn: "There was no doubt that if the tiller pilot was lost, we would round up and be at the mercy of these breaking waves, some of which I estimated at 25-35 feet, bigger than anything I had seen since the '79 Fastnet storm on Imp. The anxiety and stress of the night, and the 70-degree knockdowns that would launch me across the cabin, created serious doubts that we could continue this for another night, much less the three or four days the conditions were expected to continue."

Going into day four, with no improvement in the offing, Skip began to lay the groundwork of an escape plan, working with "my longtime sailing friend, ham radio contact, router, navigator and weather man, Joe Buck of Redondo Beach. I explained that I'd had a difficult night and wasn't sure I could safely continue. Joe's info had the highest wind and wave overhead on my current drift southward continuing for at least another three days, with continuing gale force winds and 18- to 22-foot significant wave height. I asked Joe for help in some difficult decision making."

That difficult decision process involved communicating with the Coast Guard and assessing the options while "Joe helped me to understand that if the boat were lost, I would likely be lost also. But if I left Wildflower in advance, only the boat would be lost. I spent the next hour sitting on the cabin sole on my life raft, debating.

"At 1200, like a gopher popping out of its hole, I slid the hatch open to get a clear Satphone signal and called SAR. Lt. Saxon already knew my details and position and only asked, 'What are you requesting?' I replied, 'I am asking for assistance to be removed from my boat.' "


Despite some reports elsewhere, Skip says he never put out a PAN call. He was beyond the range of Coast Guard helicopters, and the MSC Toronto, one of the largest container ships in the world—too big for the Panama Canal—was the closest vessel to him.

Consistent with reports elsewhere, Skip did indeed scuttle his boat: "Lt. Saxon said that if I left my boat, she would be considered derelict and a hazard to navigation. I assured her I would not leave my boat floating or derelict."


The MSC Toronto triggered Wildflower's Automatic Identification System at a range of 30 miles, closing at 23.4 knots.

The ship's radar did not read Wildflower until it had closed to 2.5 miles.

And what to take?

"With no idea how the transfer would be made I decided on my documents, wallet and passport, laptop, camera, cellphone and satphone, logbook, EPIRB and a change of clothes and shoes. And in a moment of whimsy I decided to try and offload the two Singlehanded Transpac trophies, as they had a 30-year historical value to our Race.

(Much of the above comes from a very long SSS Forum posting written by Skip Allan, and there is a special irony for both of us, because my profile of Skip and Wildflower appears in the current issue of SAIL. This development is not a followup I could have imagined. And there is the now-standout quote in the print story about flying a storm trysail only once, "but I didn't really need it." To read the full posting go to SF Bay SSS Forum.
Skip closes his account:)

Treasure each day
Skip 9/3/08