Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I interviewed Tom Perkins while Maltese Falcon was still in build, and it was like talking to a 13-year-old boy who had just seen
—really seen—a girl for the first time.

We're talking enthusiasm. Perkins had owned big sailing yachts and found them addictive but difficult and here was this concept, the Dynarig, that promised to go them one better. The concept had been around for decades but no one had paid it off. That would require someone who thinks big, lives large, and has a sense of adventure about it.

Later, being an inventor type who developed into a creative capitalist, it was only natural for Perkins to catch the fever when he came across Graham Hawkes and his concept for "flying" submersibles (buoyant, descending on the power of inverted wings). That was a couple of years ago at the Monaco Boat Show. Perkins wrote a check for hull number one, for practical purposes funding the development. Part of the program in having Maltese Falcon on San Francisco Bay right now is to pick up Tom's new sub.

Photo by Erik Simonson

So finally I get to see a 289-foot sailing boat with three free-standing spars bearing 15 "square" sails that function as three unitary airfoils. Which is my pivot point to ask: What would get "the entire yacht club to rally around" a charity regatta?

Let's make a list:
A do-good feel-good cause that will get you all choked up if you think about it.

Since 1993 the Leukemia Cup Regatta has grown from an idea to a nationwide engine that has raised more than $23 million. The soon-to-be XOJET Leukemia Cup Regatta, October 4-5 at The San Francisco Yacht Club, has already topped half a million bucks and the event is yet to come. It's the biggest ever, and yes, what that's all about is:

1. Story: This story is already on the street, how Ian Charles pitched in to help his buddy, Bill Nolan, when Bill's young son was diagnosed. "For the 2007 regatta I committed to raising $25,000. I got a call-back asking if I had put down too many zeroes, but I hit $30,000 and it was the most satisfying thing I have ever done—my first time doing something purely for other people." Charles later agreed to chair the 2008 regatta. He says, "I was honored, but I felt awkward because I had not been touched by cancer; it wasn't in my family." Then came his own diagnosis of myeloma, last spring, at age 39. Six rounds of chemo ago.

Fast-forwarding to Charles' next quote about his fellow yacht club members: "I couldn't believe that many people cared."

2. Glamour: I mean Falcon, of course.

3. A cause: Lots of people are doing cancer this year. If you don't know somebody, just wait.

Tom Perkins doesn't have to wait. He lost his wife, Gerd, to cancer in 1994.

XOJET Leukemia Cup Regatta

What a deal. The San Francisco Yacht Club goes into its third year of running a Leukemia Cup Regatta, and a longtime member lends support, and the timing just happens to work out (well, with a little fiddling) to bring in his superstar boat as a lead attraction. The arrival last Saturday of Maltese Falcon (I missed it; I had cruised up the San Joaquin with a few hundred of my closest friends) was huge. Ian Charles says there were "more boats on the bay than I've ever seen, whether it was Opening Day in the spring or a Blue Angels performance in the fall."

Ian's form of blood cancer affects the plasma cells. He's had the best of treatment ("I was diagnosed on a Friday and started chemo on Tuesday") and has achieved something in the way of 95 percent remission. Next Tuesday, he gets a stem cell transplant, or the beginnings of one, and along the way he's had the pleasure of mystifying his caregivers by showing no side effects to treatment, he says: "No nausea, no fatigue, no skin irritations; I've been able to go on with my life." Which in his case has included three triathlons, a lot of sailing, and a lot of fund raising. He is poised to double his $100,000 goal.

"The stem cell transplant in a case like mine usually results in complete remission," Charles says. "Then the question becomes, how long does remission last?

"They can't keep going after the same cancer with the same treatments. That's why research is important. You're buying time."

Photo by Erik Simonson

More Falcon

She was built on an existing steel hull. It's the rig and the audacity that make Maltese Falcon unique. Having her on the scene, Charles says, "Raises the regatta to a different level. Tom let us auction off lunches and sailing time on the boat, and those tickets went in a hurry. He brought Rupert Murdoch to be the keynote speaker. He's letting the race committee use his motoryacht, Atlantide, on the finish line. Somehow, when the time comes for me to say 'thank you,' it's not going to be enough."

Actually, Ian, I think it just might be. You're talking about a guy whose first boat on San Francisco Bay was Pequod, a sistership to the Teak Lady pictured here. Tom Perkins has moved along from his 17-footer, but he's kept his sailing friends.

Let's close on some good news. Regatta cochair Bill Nolan's ten-year-old son, Campbell, is in remission after two years of treatment for the rare T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia that started the yacht club down this road in the first place.

And the "flying sub" is nothing but cool. Drop into and submerse yourself in the facts—Kimball