Closing Out the Year in a Big Boat Way
January 3 - St. Barth, FWI
The 147-ft Visione and the 65-ft Mischievous
We come to St. Barth in the French West Indies at the end of each year to get our big boat fix. This year we just about overdosed, as we've never seen so many actively-used big boats in one place at one time. We don't know if anybody did an official count, but somebody said there were more than 250 boats between 75 and 452 feet. As we mentioned in the last 'Lectronic, these included the world's largest privately-owned sailing yacht, Jim 'Netscape' Clark's 292-ft clipper ship Athena, and the world's largest privately-owned motoryacht, Larry 'Oracle' Ellison's spanking new 452-ft Rising Sun.
As is usually the case, most of these yachts were motoryachts that just sat at anchor, allowing the owners and guests to do whatever it is people do on mega motoryachts. However, 29 of the sailboats - 14 of them over 75-ft - closed out the year by doing the 22-mile around the island 'nothing serious' race/parade on New Year's Eve. Conditions were challenging - particularly for the entries as small as 21 feet - as there was a steady 20-knot breeze and 4 to 8-ft seas. Plus, the shallow water and adverse current made it difficult to round the windward tip of the island. And in the back of everyone's mind was the fact that after the champagne awards party at 5 p.m., they'd have to haul their weary butts off to bed for a nap if they were going to welcome in the New Year at midnight and carry on until dawn.
Sailing to weather
Not having a boat of our own, we went to the skipper's meeting the night before looking for a ride. As many of the big boats were short crew for racing, we got plenty of offers. We accepted the first offer, which was made by Phil Wade, helmsman of Timoneer. Weren't we and the six other pick-up crew lucky, as Timoneer turned out to be a four-year-old Ed Dubois-designed 150-ft ketch impeccably built by Vitters in Holland. She was the definition of yacht. Since the conditions were never right for setting a kite, there was never anything for we pick-up crew to do but watch the regular crew control everything with push-button hydraulics and enjoy the owners' hospitality.
The pick-up crew enjoying sandwiches and scenery aboard Timoneer
The most unusual thing about the ride was indeed the owners, who were a very sweet couple, but rather frail. The skipper is 85. When we expressed surprise to one of the eight regular crew that such a couple would still enjoy slamming to weather in the trades, we were told that it was nothing. "They have a water-ballasted 75-footer in the Northeast that they sail three times a week in the summer." We were very impressed.
Timoneer in the trades
The Around the Island Parade - they don't call it a race because of some wacky French laws - has a rabbit start, meaning the slower boats take their handicap at the beginning. So it was that four of the slowest boats started at 10 a.m., while Hasso Plattner's big bad 147-ft R/P Visione, the fastest cruising boat in the world, wouldn't start start the 22-mile course until noon. The prestart maneuvering took place in the outer part of the outer anchorage where the biggest of the motoryachts were anchored. With Rob Wade at the helm of Timoneer, we made several jibes within close proximity of Paul 'Microsoft' Allen's 420-ft Octopus, Roman 'Siberian billionaire' Abramovich's 350-ft Le Grand Bleu, and Larry Ellison's 452-ft Rising Sun. We felt the glare of the many deckhand-bodyguards anytime we got close to any of these boats, but thankfully no missiles were fired in our direction.
The leg up the leeward side of the island was also interesting, as it required the fleet to weave their way through tightly-clumped bunches of mega motoryachts. The crews of these yachts didn't mind so much when the 20 to 30 footers in the fleet wove through, but their eyes bugged out when the skippers of the bigger racing yachts shaved their transoms or barely cleared their bows. After all, the biggest of the sailing yachts displaced 450 tons, and would have made a bit of a dent in someone's motoryacht and New Year's holiday.
As Timoneer was second largest boat in the fleet, only three boats started behind us. As we progressed up the first leg, one of them was really moving on us, and had everyone wondering, 'Who the hell is that?' It was none other than Jim Clark's 'other boat', the 156-ft sloop Hyperion. We'd seen her sailing in light conditions on San Francisco Bay about four years ago, and she looked like, well, just a big boat plodding along. But charging to weather in the lively Caribbean trades she was a sight to behold! If anybody thinks these mega sailing yachts are inefficient wallowing pigs, they couldn't be more mistaken.
The 156-ft Hyperion looking great
A few minutes later, Hyperion tacked first, taking our stern by no more than 25 feet. When you're sailing such big boats in such conditions, it was a pretty close shave - and very cool.
Hyperion takes Timoneer's transom.
A short time after that, Clark and Hyperion reeled in the 150-ft Andromeda, a Perini Navi owned by Tom 'technology and venture capitalism' Perkins until nine months ago. A year from now, Perkins is slated to launch a three-masted sailing vessel that, depending on how you measure a yacht's length, might be considered even longer than Clark's clipper ship Athena.
The 450-ton Andromeda
After rounding the most windward part of the course, the surf-slapped rocks known as the Grenadiers, the fleet set off on a beam reach to Ile Forsche, the leeward mark.
Sumurun at Ile Forsche
Given the apparent wind speed and direction, and the lack of full crews, only one boat tried to carry a chute - and it promptly ripped. Nonetheless, the boats were flying - and none faster than Plattner's Visione. But the at leeward tip of Forsche, the 147-ft needle was squeezing between the year-old 135-ft Victoria of Strathern and the rocky shore. The owner of Victoria didn't care for this at all, and for a few seconds, it looked as though he was going to either ram Visione or force her into the rocks, It could have been the world's first $50 million sailing yacht collision, but in the end there was just yelling and arm-waving.
Victoria of Strathern and Visione
The course record for the around the island parade had been 2 hours, 1 minute, set about four years ago by Extra Beat, the 118-ft 'daysailer' then owned by one of the McCaw brothers. That record is no more, as Visione crossed the finish line in a mere one hour and 32 minutes to crush the record. Having seen Visione sailing several times now, we can't help but wonder if she's not every bit as fast as Mari-Cha. Hyperion, which finished in 1 hour 50 minutes, also beat the course record. As for the sweet couple who own Timoneer, their marvelous ketch only missed the record by three minutes.
The bow of Visione
Overall honors in the parade went to Chris van Trampe's 64-ft ketch Lone Fox; Star Light, a Swan 46 won the small boat division; and Clark's Hyperion corrected out in the big boat division. After the event, word went around that Clark had invited all the crews of the racing boats to stop by Athena just before midnight. From the looks of things, many of them did. There's a crow's nest that goes something like 120 feet up the tallest of Athena's three masts, and people were going up and down like it was a ride in an amusement park. When money is no object - after deciding to build Athena, Clark donated $150 million to Stanford - that's the way you can do things.
Megayacht racing is far from our favorite kind of sailing, but we have to admit, it's a pleasant way to close out any year.
Classic yachting aboard Sumurun
Pros and Cons of the Caribbean
January 3 - Gustavia, St. Barth
What you see here is the view of Gustavia, St. Barth, as we flew in on December 26. It's the only real town on the little island. Almost all the boats in St. Barth are in the outer anchor, within a half mile of what you see here.
Gustavia as seen from the plane
Having been in Mexico just a few weeks before, some contrasts jumped out at us. For one, as you can see from the photo, the Caribbean water is so clear. Although this shot doesn't really show it because it was taken through an airplane window, the Gustavia anchorage water is the most bright and vivid blue we've ever seen. And, there are turtles all around. When we were in Banderas Bay, Mexico, there were also turtles, but the water was - as it is almost everywhere in Mexico but the Sea of Cortez - murky.
What this photo can't show you is the difference
in prices between St. Barth and Mexico. And let us tell you,
it's extreme! Très extreme! The only halfway inexpensive
food you can buy is a burger at Cheeseburger in Paradise, which
goes for about $6 with fries. Right across the street at the
bar of Oblivion, the same thing is $11, which is more in line
with the rest of the island. If you go out to lunch or dinner
in a restaurant, you're going to have your breath taken away.
Unlike Mexico, you're not going to be able to enjoy a great dinner
for $5 a person.
Before anyone gets too angry at the restaurants and shops, it's not like they are making out. They are having to really struggle, as with weak dollars, Americans are eating on their boats or villas most of the time, and not buying as much in the shops.
If you're cruising on a budget, now, more than ever, is the time for Mexico rather than the French Islands of the Caribbean.
Boaters Pull Victims from Water off Thai Island
December 29 - Carlsbad
This story was sent to us by Chris Cunningham of the s/v HumTum of Oceanside.
A pair of Californians said they did not think twice about risking their lives to rescue some 50 tsunami victims who were floating off the island of Phukhet in Thailand. Julie and Casey Sobolewski of Carlsbad were sailing with a friend when the tsunami struck the day after Christmas.
"The waves just came across a sandbar they were heading to, and hit the boats," said Julie Sobolewski in an interview with NBC's Today. The boats "came apart, and all the people in the boats were floating in the water, screaming for help."
The couple, along with their friend John Hinkey, started pulling people into their sailboat. Casey jumped in a dinghy and went out to rescue more people. He said he went for the children first, then went to a large rock where five others were stranded.
"Most of the older people were pointing toward children holding onto debris and buckets," said Casey. "They were about 100 yards, 200 yards from the area, so I made the children my first priority.
Julie said most of the victims were quiet and "in shock" once they were aboard the boat. She was disappointed that a couple of other sailboats nearby did not jump in to help. She thought the hulls of nearby ferry boats might've been too deep to enter the shallow waters.
For the complete story, see: www.nbc4.tv/news/4032192/detail.html.
December 31 - San Francisco
Last Monday's 'Lectronic Latitude coverage of cruisers' experiences during the tsunamis was quoted by Friday's San Francisco Chronicle. If you missed their story in the paper, you can read it online at www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/12/31/MNGPTAJJG51.DTL