What Could Be Better Than A Mega-Trimaran Racing The Southern Ocean?

Over on my Sailing World blog, I take a look at the 131-foot Banque Popular’s blistering attempt on the circumnavigation record. Here’s the intro (read the full story here):

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet has arrived in Cape Town—or at least the half of the fleet that managed to stay in one piece has. In years past, this would be a time of Southern Ocean anticipation, with crews and sailing junkies preparing for the dramatic sleigh ride to New Zealand, with boats surfing down the monster, storm-driven waves rolling eastward around the bottom of the Indian Ocean. But with Volvo’s marketing interests drawing the fleet toward the Middle East, that spectacle is not to be—at least not until the fleet heads around Cape Horn.  Bummer.

But for anyone needing a Southern Ocean fix, the 131-foot trimaran Banque Populaire is currently speeding toward that legendary sailing arena. Banque Pop, which set off last week on a Jules Verne record bid, has been flying a bit under the radar on this side of the Atlantic, thanks in part to the Gallic aversion to publishing sailing websites in English. Of course, we don’t publish websites in French, so fair is fair. Besides, you don’t need words to appreciate the drama of a full-on, round-the-world, speed-sailing voyage.

Read the rest (with some cool vids) here.

In Search Of The Wetass Gene

[Cross-posted from SailingWorld.com]

“Hey, Dad, are we winning?” my 6-year-old son, Jamie, asked me quietly, his face conspiratorial and hopeful in equal measure. We were sailing a small dinghy called a Topaz in the beautiful harbor of a small fishing village in Ireland called Glandore. I looked around. We were inside boat in a leading group of three headed toward the leeward mark, so it looked pretty good. “We might be,” I answered. “But you never know what might happen in a sailboat race.” As it turned out, we managed to hang on and crossed the line first. It was his first victory, and also his first race. He was thrilled—in part because I’d told him we could capsize the boat on the way into the harbor if we won a race. I was happy, too. I want him to love sailing, and figure it can’t hurt to experience the suspense and excitement of doing well in a sailboat race.


http://www.glandoreyc.com

Of course, it’s not always possible to do well. Or sail in fair winds, or in the sun. So as much as we may try to instill a love of the water in our kids through good times on the water, you also have to hope that they simply have a Wetass gene—that no matter how wet and cold they get, or what sort of bad luck the gods of sailboat racing might try to inflict on them, something inside them makes them want to get out there for more. Parents who sail put a lot of pressure on themselves to introduce their kids to boating, trying to make each experience on the water a perfect combination of fun and excitement. But being on the water is partly about weathering the hard times and figuring stuff out for yourself, and maybe parents should simply stop worrying so much, chuck their kids in a boat whenever they can, and walk away. If there’s a Wetass gene, that’s the way to cultivate it.


Jamie at the helm

Forcing a kid into an intensive sailing program and then hovering endlessly in a Mommy boat—you know who you are!—can only turn a kid off over the long run. But beyond avoiding that obvious mistake, I’m mostly banking on something innate within my two kids (I also have a 9-year-old daughter, Natasha) to connect them with the water. If I get at least one full-fledged Wetass out of the two, I’ll be happy. But it’s a bit of a gamble, because I’m acutely aware that their Brazilian mother has infused them with genes that strongly prefer warm temperatures and sun.

Still, I’m hopeful. Both my kids are pretty adventurous, and the genetics seem to be kicking my way. My son has spent plenty of time this misty Irish vacation messing around in a kayak and jumping off the harbor wall. And the other day, when I suggested that it might be more fun to go crabbing on a day that wasn’t wet and chilly (I was also thinking how nice a pint of Guinness in a cozy pub would be—but didn’t actually mention that), he looked at me with disdain and said, “Dad, don’t be such a wimp.” If anything, the genetics might be a bit too strong in the boy. He insisted we go out dinghy racing again a few days after our victory, but halfway through a race in which we were lying perhaps fourth, he seemed a bit glum that we weren’t out front. I asked him what the matter was. “You’re not trying your hardest,” he charged. I was touched that his faith in my amateurish sailing skills led him to believe that we would always be out front if I would only try hard, but opted instead to explain that no one can win every race, and that the idea is to have fun and compete no matter where you are in the fleet. After that, with the possibility of parental sabotage cleared from his mind, he seemed to start enjoying himself again, as most kids do when let loose around water.

Still, regardless of the strength of any kid’s Wetass gene, what we do can have an impact at the margins. I took Natasha J/22 racing when she was about four. She was having a great time as the designated yeller of “Starboard!” (she particularly enjoyed calling for starboard rights even when we were on port, much to the amusement of my local fleet) until we laid the boat on its side during a windy and chaotic spinnaker takedown. On the way into the dock she ventured to say that she would sail with me in the future, but only after she turned 13. For now, I have turned her over to the capable hands of the sailing school here in Glandore, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job of undoing whatever damage I did in the J/22, even though there hasn’t been much sun this week. And it doesn’t hurt that whenever we go out sailing in my mother’s little gaff-rigged Cornish Shrimper, I authorize all children, no matter what age, to yell “Hike, Bitches!” whenever we settle in on a new tack. They definitely love that part of sailing.

So far, this combo of having fun together when possible, plus underlying DNA, seems to be working out. It’s pissing with rain today, and Jamie asked if we could go sailing. And when I asked him whether he wanted to go racing again on Saturday, he looked at me with a grin, and said “Oh, yeah!” I think the kid just might be a Wetass.

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An American In Paris, I Mean The Mini Transat

(Originally published on SailingWorld.com)

The Mini Transat is hands-down one of the most testing, exhilarating, intense sailboat races any sailor can choose from the long list of epic sailing challenges. Solo, 4,200 miles across the Atlantic from France to Brazil, in a Spartan, designed-to-the-edge-of-safety, 21-foot boat that’s a brutal bitch to drive to weather but an absolute rocket off the wind. Being solo and masochistic, the race is of course dominated by the French. But it’s always refreshing to see Americans take a crack at the Mini Transat, and in 2003 Jonathan McKee almost upset the established order of the universe by threatening to win—before the sailing gods woke up and flicked his mast over the side as he zeroed in on the finish. What’s even more unusual is when an American woman sails up to the start line, and this year’s distaff daredevil is one Emma Creighton, from San Francisco.

www.emmacreighton.net

If Creighton makes it to the start, and then—just as importantly—makes it to the finish, she’d be the second American woman ever to complete the Mini Transat. The first was Annapolis’ own Gale Browning, who finished the race in 2001. Plenty of Annapolis sailors remember the sight of Gale sailing her tiny boat on the Chesapeake every chance she got, as she prepared for her Atlantic crossing. Despite the fact that the usual 4 knots of Chesapeake “breeze” was not ideal preparation for slamming to weather across the Bay of Biscay or surfing through the tradewinds at double-digit speeds, Gale managed the not insignificant feat of finishing, and even managed to beat another boat across the line—whereupon she promptly put her boat up for sale. “It was the toughest challenge I ever took on,” she says. “And it’s really hard whether you’re a man or a woman.”


http://www.galebrowning.com

Creighton still needs to complete her 1,000-mile qualifier, in Pocket Rocket, her 2006 Prototype Mini, and says she plans to set off this week. After sailing the double-handed division of the Pac Cup last summer, and a bunch of short-handed San Francisco Bay races, she shipped the boat to France and has lined up a series of Mini races to sharpen her skills and familiarity with the boat. She completed her first real solo race earlier this month, the 300-mile Pornichet Select, and discovered something pretty important. “I hadn’t realized just how much I would enjoy racing alone,” she says.

The Pornichet was fairly light, and Creighton will no doubt face a sterner test when she heads off on her qualifier, which will take her around the Fastnet Rock. But she’s plugging along with her plans, hoping to pull it all off and sail to Brazil. Succeeding would give her some serious cred, which she thinks will help her make her way aboard some big-boat ocean-racing teams. “It’s hard for everyone to break in on that scene, but especially hard for women in the U.S.,” she says. “I also hope to get back into the Melges 32 at some point. And the Tour de France a la Voile is very cool.”

The top sailors in the Mini class spend years honing their skills, pour lots of sponsorship money into their Mini Transat campaigns, and spend tons of time on the water. Creighton is still feeling her way into the Mini, and there are still a lot of unknowns for her. “The first leg [to Madeira] is a little scary,” she says. “And I don’t know how I will deal with being alone for three weeks.” Accordingly, she’s keeping her goals modest: “I just want to finish,” she says, but later goes on to admit that she would also love to break into the top 20 in the Proto class. That’s ambitious, but the Mini Transat is about dreaming big.

The Fun Of Frostbite Sailing

(Original post published over at Sailing World)

It's impossible not to like this...

When most people envision a perfect sailing scenario, they think of warm breezes and T-shirt weather. I like that, too, of course (you gotta go to Cabarete, if this is your ideal). And, sure, most of the sailing world right now is coming down off their warm Key West high, feeling all smug and superior. But increasingly, I am finding that the most fun I have sailing and racing my Laser is when the skies are gray, the air temps are cold, and there’s the possibility of snow.

Yep, there’s an excellent Laser frostbiting fleet here in Washington, D.C., courtesy of the Potomac River Sailing Association. They race just south of Reagan National Airport, on the river or in a shifty, flat-water cove that’s ideal for cold-weather sailing. I started racing with them a few years ago as a way to get outside on winter Sundays and make Laser-sailing a year-round thing. There are usually 15-20 Lasers racing, the competition is good and friendly, and the fleet is really well-organized. It’s everything you want, except, in theory, the cold weather. But now I find myself seduced by the sublime pleasure of winter sailing, too.

Of course, racing in cold weather in a small boat that goes upside down easily requires a slightly different approach. The fleet has a rule of thumb that if the wind speed exceeds the air temps, you think twice about sailing. Come to think of it, that rule would be REALLY wise to follow for anyone who sails in warm climes. And cold weather does sometimes prevent racing, as it did this past weekend, when ice sheets floated across the race course. The one guy who did go out still managed to have fun, and came up with some useful frostbiting rules of thumb: 1) Don’t sail into an ice field on an ebb tide—its ugly; 2) Set the sail at the dock to something you can live with—frozen control lines don’t move; 3) If you notice the RC boat has been hauled out, you might oughta head back to the dock.

Obstruction? Not according to the PRSA frostbite fleet.

The icy winter has also forced our frostbite fleet to resolve some difficult philosophical questions via the PRSA group e-mail list, such as: what kind of ice floes should be considered obstructions under the rules of sailing? I think the answer was black ice that would stop you short, as opposed to slushy, white ice you could potentially sail through, albeit slowly.

But the truth is, while there might be a few weekends per winter that require a hefty dram of masochism paired with a hefty dram of post-race whiskey, frostbiting in Washington, D.C., rarely involves actual frost. Hats off to those fleets further north, on Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, and beyond. So, while your friends might be impressed with how tough and dedicated you are to the sport of sailing—and one of the pleasures of frostbiting is to NOT disabuse them of this view—the reality is you’re often enjoying spectacular, 50-degree days.

In any case, whatever the temperature, a dry suit combined with modern fleecy layers can keep you as warm as you like. I often find myself sweating and taking off my hat to cool down by letting the steam rise from my head. The only real cold-weather dilemma I grapple with, truth be told, is whether to sail with gloves or not, since I can never find gloves that give me the same line feel and grip as my bare hands. Last week, I sailed commando in 37 degrees, and it was fine, with my overheated core pumping lots of warm blood into my naked digits. Nor sure it would be as simple in Newport, R.I.

Continue reading “The Fun Of Frostbite Sailing”

Forget Versus and ESPN: The Future of Broadcast Sailing Is Online

(Cross-posted from The Wetass Chronicles on Sailing World)

I don’t usually pay much attention to the sailing world’s endless navel-gazing about how to make sailing more attractive to a wider audience (“What we really need is yachts that sail at 90 knots and blow up when they cross the finish line!”), or how to Save Sailing.  I don’t really give a damn about trying to appeal to disinterested, video-obsessed teens or NASCAR motorheads, particularly if it means turning the sport inside out or groveling before the Great Gods of TV. I love to sail. I know lots of other people who love to sail (including kids). So we sail. And I feel pretty confident that sailing’s essence—teamwork, the outdoors, mastering wind and weather—is appealing enough to keep a sufficient number of people coming out on the water, so I can sail with them and against them.

But I do care about my options, and the quality, when it comes to following and viewing sailing—from the America’s Cup to the Moth World Championships, say—that I myself am not lucky enough, or good enough, to be doing. And despite all the pessimism about sailing’s future that somehow manages to penetrate my cocoon of indifference, I am quite certain that we are in fact on the cusp of a Golden Age of Viewing.

It starts with abandoning the idea that sailing will ever really work on TV (at least in America). The weather is too unpredictable, and racing is simply too complex for the average viewer. Listening to television dumb it down for a mass audience often has me whimpering with pain. We are a complicated, niche sport. Get over it. The BASE jumpers don’t whine about whether they are a television sport. They just go out and make incredible videos.

Instead, embrace the internet. It started with On The Water Anarchy, trying to bring live racing action to the rest of the cubicle-bound sailing world, with humor and candor. But now you’ve also got Sail.Tv and SailGroove. Virtual Eye adds yet another interesting dimension.

In March it all came together for me with the Louis Vuitton Trophy’s Auckland series. The matches were broadcast live online, so if you were someone who absolutely had to watch while it was happening, you could get up at 5 in the morning and sit with a laptop and a cup of coffee. And if you didn’t care when you watched the match, or if the wind was not cooperating, you could go back later and watch the WHOLE DAMN THING ON REPLAY. Let me emphasize: The entire race. When you wanted. On your laptop.

This is why the internet and sailing are so perfectly matched. TV cannot abide delay or schedule changes. The internet and its audience couldn’t care less. The only people who end up sitting around are the sailors.

Then there was the commentary, which came from some utopian parallel dimension. Martin Tasker and Peter Lester had an audience that knows the game and knows the rules (who else would watch sailing online?). They called the races without spending a single second explaining what an assymetrical is, or the difference between port and starboard. They invited world-class sailors into the booth with them to add even more detail and understanding. They had camera feeds from the boats, which conveyed the incredible intensity of close match racing. And they had access to onboard microphones, which let the viewer occasionally drop onboard for an intense tactical discussion. I put away the gun that I usually keep nearby, in case I have to put myself out of my misery when watching sailing on cable.

In fact, I never watched so much sailing, so happily, in my life, and I was pulled deep into the regatta. I don’t know what it took to broadcast the event online that way (apparently whatever it was did not come together for the recent regatta at La Maddalena; no full replays, only highlights (and live broadcasting for the final rounds). Arrgh!). But LV Auckland is what I want (can’t find the full replays, but this highlight vid will give you a taste of what is possible). A few more cameras onboard, maybe. A few more microphones on the afterguard, perhaps, to catch all the tactical nuance and salty language. But I have seen the future of broadcast sailing. It is online, and it is beautiful.

So, umm, Russell? Larry? Are you listening? Send the ESPN and Versus suits packing. Don’t try to reinvent sailing for TV. You’ll ruin it. Instead, reinvent it for a wired, live-streaming world and give us the America’s Cup up close and online. That’s all I ask. Sailors everywhere will thank you. As for the rest of the world: Who cares?

Here’s what it the future looks like to me:

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Wind And Beauty Racing Off Marseilles

Yesterday the MedCup fleet raced a spectacular 36-mile coastal course, in winds that pumped up to 26 knots. I was at the back of the Team Origin boat, and had a great view of Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy and the rest of the team working their new TP52 around the course. We had two breakdowns, which the crew jumped on quickly, so there was plenty of fast and furious action. Here are some of the views:

Here’s another downwind. You can see all the crews crowded into the stern, trying to keep the bows from submarining:

At the bottom of the run, our spinnaker halyard broke:

But despite all the chaos it was hard not to notice how profoundly beautiful the coast is here off Marseilles:

Today the wind is forecast to pump it up again, and we’ll be back to round-the-buoys racing…

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MedCup Action On Video

Yesterday I caught a ride with Luna Rossa/Prada for Day 1 of the racing at the MedCup.

Torben Grael was calling tactics, Lorenzo Bressani was driving, and Matteo Plazzi was navigating. The racing is as tight as it gets, and any mistake, or bad luck with a shift, makes a big difference on the leaderboard. At the first windward mark we came in on port tack, and the lack of half a boatlength cost us two boats.

You can watch video replays of the racing here, but I shot some sequences which give a slightly tighter view of what this sort of racing, even in light wind, is like:

Here’s the Race 3 start, where Luna Rossa is the right-most boat (unfortunately the left was the place to be AND we sailed the race with a shrub wrapped around the keel).

At the second windward mark rounding in the second race, Emirates Team New Zealand was right on our stern, but ran into this little problem (they got a replacement up so fast they did not lose a single place).

And here is the start of Race 1, proving even Ben Ainslie (on Team Origin) sometimes has to bail.

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The Inside Scoop From A Member Of Abby’s Team

The Abby Sunderland forum over at Sailing Anarchy is a great place to follow what’s happening. One of the participants is SMSScott, who is involved with Abby’s circumnavigation. He recently posted this information:

Between about 3:00 pm PDT and 5:00 pm PDT we had many very short broken calls from iridium phone from inside boat.

Abby had been Knocked Down several times in 60 Kts winds earlier in the day. Last Knock Down stripped radar from gimbaled mount on mast. There was slight amount of water in boat. No other damage was noted running backs were intact. A full damage survey had not been done yet outside.

There are no other details of any of the particulars from Abby, like i said they were very very short broken and dropped calls.

She felt she was in good shape after these incidents. The main reason for the call was engine would not start. We got engine started and it was working OK. B&G wind instruments atop mast were still in working order she had 35 Kts wind and was sailing with jenny only. Basically she felt all was OK.

Iridium dropped another call and we expected a quick call back as she had been doing for several hours. 30 minutes to 1 hour passed with no contact.

Then USCG called with first EPIRB deployment this was a manual EPIRB from inside cabin. Short time later Personal EPIRB was also activated. There is also a Class 1 automatic deployment EPIRB in cockpit that has not activated.Both EPIRB’s were tracking with each other as best as could be determined at this early stage. Just about the time of EPIRB activation it would have been getting dark.

She does have a life raft and survival suite.

Her last water temperature report June 5 was 54 degrees F and cabin was 60 degree F…since then just yesterday (i think) she has reported verbally a cabin temp of 65 degree F

Search and Rescue has been handed over to the French.

French navy vessel 2 1/2 days away has been diverted to EPIRB position. Fishing vessel 40 hours away has also been diverted to EPIRB location.
Initial EPIRB location was 557 NM NNE of PORT-AUX-FRANCIAS.

That is the extent of what we know.

This is the most full and complete info you will get from anywhere I was on the phone calls with her. If you hear anything else but this it is either not true or it is new info.

The good news I take from this is that the automatic EPIRB has not been activated. That likely means Wild Eyes is still afloat, and as long as Abby is still aboard that gives hope. Stay tuned.

Update: Similar account from Abby’s family on her blog. I’m starting to hope that after getting creamed she just decided she’d had enough and punched the two manual EPIRBs, calling to be taken off the boat. If so, she will be found, and should be safe.

Here’s another video of Abby, describing her plans:

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Is Abby Sunderland Lost At Sea?

I sure hope not, but this report is not good news:

Abby Sunderland, 16, who is attempting to become the youngest sailor ever to circumnavigate the globe, was feared lost at sea today after her crew lost contact with her boat….Casher told ABC News that he last spoke with the 16-year-old sailor around 6 a.m. PDT after she had been knocked down twice during the night because of strong winds.

One of those knock-downs, Casher said, ripped the radar off the boat. She had been speaking with Casher on a satellite telephone earlier because of engine problems and was in the process of fixing those problems when she told Casher she’d call right back.

She has not been heard from since, except for the distress signals.

Abby is approximately 500 miles north of the Antarctic Islands on her bid to become the youngest to circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat, solo.

People have a way of disappearing at sea, only to turn up eventually. But the Indian Ocean is a cold, remote place. Abby’s last blog post said she was preparing for some nasty weather:

The last few days have pretty busy out here. I’ve been in some rough weather for awhile with winds steady at 40-45 knots with higher gusts. With that front passing, the conditions were lighter today. It was a nice day today with some lighter winds which gave me a chance to patch everything up. Wild Eyes was great through everything but after a day with over 50 knots at times, I had quite a bit of work to do…

The wind is beginning to pick up. It is back up to 20 knots and I am expecting that by midnight tonight I could have 35-50 knots with gusts to 60 so I am off to sleep before it really picks up.

So the waiting begins. Keep your fingers crossed for Abby, and you can stay in touch with what is happening via her blog and her website.

Update: Blogger Pete Thomas is reporting that both Abby’s EPIRBs went off, and one is either attached to her life raft or survival suit. Sure hope it is the former, if she is in the water. he also spoke with Laurence Sunderland, who had been on the phone with Abby earlier to see how she was coping in the rough conditions. “Everything seemed to be under control,” Laurence Sunderland told Thomas. “But then our call dropped and a hour later the Coast Guard called.”

Here’s Abby, talking about the trip. Her father’s comments, starting at 2:23, are painful to hear.

Race To The Gulf: Sailors Will Sail

Despite the BP catastrophe, sailors turned out for the Race To The Coast this past weekend which took the fleet from Lake Pontchartrain to Gulfport. A friend of mine raced on a J30 and made this video. The fleet raced past lots of oil booms and barges, but at least saw some (healthy) dolphins. Looks like nice breeze and a great time.

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