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January 2, 2008

Sailing in the New Year in the Caribbean

The magic of St. Barth – one day you don’t know anybody, the next day you’re sailing to windward in 30 knots aboard a yacht like Altair, a spectacularly restored 130-ft gaff ketch designed and built by Fife in 1911.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

You know how, famously, there is no "second place" when it comes to the America’s Cup? The same is true, at least in our opinion, when it comes to the best place for a sailor to spend New Year’s. It’s St. Barth in the French West Indies, and nothing else comes close.

Why? First and foremost, the sailing conditions are superb — at least for those who revel in very strong winds and full-on tradewind seas. And the temperature of the air and beautiful blue water couldn’t be better. You take a wave and you’re refreshed, not chilled.

Maltese Falcon dominated the outer-outer anchorage at Gustavia.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Of course, the sailing and water conditions are superb up and down the Lesser Antilles in the winter. What makes St. Barth different is that it has one of the greatest concentrations of spectacular sailing yachts in the world, from nearly hundred-year-old wood classics to the most sleek and modern. And people actually sail them.

When we flew in from St. Martin on Christmas Day, and the pilot was about to land on the postage stamp-size runway, the first yacht we saw was Tom Perkins’ Belvedere-based 289-ft Maltese Falcon. With her unique and distinctive Dyna-Rig, she was impossible to miss and quite a sight. And as evening fell, the red lights atop the many 100+ foot masts were a testament to the number of  other large sailboats in the anchorages.

The last we heard, Paul ‘Microsoft’ Allen had three ‘earth warmers’, Octopus, seen here, being the largest. It’s our understanding that the little helicopter on the bow is used to fly in rock stars who play on the boat.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Alas, although Falcon is the biggest of sailboats, she was nonetheless dwarfed by the likes of Larry ‘BMW Oracle’ Ellison’s 450-ft motoryacht Rising Sun, and Paul ‘Microsoft’ Allen’s 420-ft Octopus. Worse still, for New Year’s in particular, the number of mega motoryachts — aka ‘earth warmers’ — far exceeded the number of sailing yachts.

We don’t want to rag on everyone who chartered a mega motoryacht, as some of them are new to the water and just don’t know any better. For example, one evening we spent about half an hour in conversation with a guy on a bench behind all the big motoryachts at the quai in Gustavia. At first he allowed that he’d chartered one of the boats and was only on the bench because the boat’s rolling motion at the dock had made him queasy. Much later, he allowed that he was John Frank, and had won two Super Bowl rings catching passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young as a tight end for the 49ers. Unlike most former pro ball players, Frank slimmed down, became a doctor in San Francisco, and has since become a very successful doctor in New York City. Anyway, the next day he went sailing with Donald Tofias aboard the latter’s 72-ft Wild Horses, so there is hope for him.

What makes St. Barth really special at New Year’s is that on New Year’s Eve afternoon, Tofias and the skippers of about 30 other yachts, large and small, humble and magnificent, go at each other in the highly unpublicized 22-mile Around the Island Race. And that sometimes even novices get taken along as crew. For example, this year one guy who didn’t know a bowline from a buntline got a ride aboard the 145-ft gaff-rigged Elenora 5, truly one of the great yachts in the world. Even more amazing, we were trimming the jib top aboard the equally magnificent 1911 130-ft Fife gaff schooner Altair on the last leg of the race, and looked back to see Bill Lilly, a two-time veteran of the Ha-Ha with his Newport Beach-based Lagoon 470 Moontide, driving the great yacht. What was he doing there?!

Having just the week before cruised his Lagoon 470 cat Moontide from La Paz to Nuevo Vallarta, it’s hard to understand how Newport’s Bill Lilly suddenly found himself at the helm of a 130-ft gaff schooner.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

At the end of the grueling race, it’s hard enough for everyone to drag themselves to the champagne awards ceremony, followed only a few hours later by the big New Year celebration at the dock. But most succeeded. Tom Reardon, skipper of the great 72-ft Herreshoff ketch Ticonderoga, was feeling his oats this year, so instead of just firing Big Ti‘s cannon once, he allowed pretty girl after pretty girl to shout "Fire in the hole!" then put the hammer down. There were all kinds of other fireworks, huge parties on the boats, booze and music everywhere. Better still is what there wasn’t — no bad vibes, no fights, nobody puking all over themselves.

We’re not suggesting there was any favoritism, but an inordinate number of young ladies in short dresses got to fire Ticonderoga’s cannon.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

And what better way for a sailor to ring in the early hours of the New Year than with Jimmy Buffett putting in a surprise appearance at 2 a.m. with the house band at Bez Bar? Now in his early 60s and looking particularly happy and healthy, Jimmy played rock ‘n roll classics with gusto, and the 100 or so people there joyously sang along. Our favorite was his classic ‘Autour de Rocher’, about the little hotel he used to have an interest in on St. Barth. "It was a very strange place," he told the crowd, "as it only had three rooms but had a bar as big as an aircraft carrier."

Although no longer a kid, Jimmy Buffett nonetheless played with childlike enthusiasm.

latitude/Doña de Mallorca
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We don’t know how it would be possible, but we hope your New Year’s was as enjoyable as ours.

AC Action in October?

With the recent court ruling establishing BMW Oracle as the Challenger of Record for the next America’s Cup, Oracle sent off 2007 with a promise of a Deed of Gift challenge for October, 2008. Now it’s up to an anticipated court order to compel Alinghi — who are appealing the New York court’s November decision — to meet Oracle within the ten month time frame provided for in the Deed.

“We had hoped to negotiate a conventional regatta under the Deed’s mutual consent provisions," said BMW Oracle CEO Russell Coutts. "But the Defender has made it clear to us and the America’s Cup community that they will not negotiate. We are now fully committed to a multihull event in 2008."

The challenge will mean that, like 1988’s "coma off Point Loma," AC 33 will be settled between the two in a best of three series. Only this time, instead of a yawner between two grossly mismatched boats, we expect to see a full-tilt, edge-of-your-seat, yelling-at-the-sports-bar television event — which we’re hoping will catalyze ISAF to keep multihulls in the Olympics past 2008. But that’s another story.

Rosebud Wins Rolex Sydney Hobart

With the last of the 79 entries having finished or dropped out of the 605-mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Roger Sturgeon’s new Farr STP65 Rosebud was declared the corrected time winner.  As such, he joins Ted Turner, who won the event in ’72 with American Eagle, and Jim Kilroy, who won it with Kialoa III in ’77, as the only Americans to have won this most prestigious middle distance ocean race.

Former NorCal sailor Roger Sturgeon won overall honors at the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

© ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

Although Sturgeon now calls Lauderdale home, he’s been a lifelong Northern Californian who has raced a series of Rosebuds, starting at 27 feet, in local waters. A self-described "computer scientist before the term was even coined" also made all his money in Northern California. Northern Californians Jack Halterman and Malcom Park are two key members of the Rosebud crew.

Sturgeon’s STP65 Rosebud, seen here rounding Cape Raoul, won on corrected time.

© ROLEX/Daniel Forster

A really nice guy with a trademark bushy white beard, Sturgeon was ecstatic with his victory, which is just the beginning of what will be a world tour with Rosebud, the first of the STP65s. Sturgeon enjoyed great international success with his TP52 of the same name, but has told Latitude he’s much happier with the more stable and powerful 65.

Stay in the Bay till Sunday

Even though the weather has been warmer the last couple days, don’t forget we’re still in the grip of winter. The National Weather Service has issued a hazardous seas advisory for the next few days and the Coast Guard is urging mariners to stay put. The forecast calls for gale-force winds tonight and tomorrow, rising to as high as 45 knots with 24-ft seas on Friday and Saturday. If your weekend sailing plans included a trip outside the Gate, we’d highly recommend an impromptu jaunt to Angel Island or Clipper Cove instead.

Joyon Keeps Bombing Along

French sailing dynamo, Francis Joyon, just keeps cracking off the miles on his quest for the fastest singlehanded circumnavigation world record. As of this morning, Joyon and his 97-ft trimaran IDEC were 40 days into their assault on Ellen MacArthur’s record and some 3,400 miles ahead of where MacArthur was on her 40th day.

Joyon has recuperated after an exhausting rounding of Cape Horn.

© V.Curutchet / DPPI / Idec

After experiencing terrible conditions during his rounding of Cape Horn, Joyon was able to recuperate over the last couple days — which will help him thread the needle of two weather systems bearing down on him.

Former Northern California computer whiz — Vallejo, Berkeley, the Peninsula —  Roger Sturgeon and his nearly new and first-ever STP 65 Rosebud have put in an impressive performance, having finished fourth and being the corrected time leader in the 605-mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
The last several days have seen brilliant French singlehander Francis Joyon and his 97-ft trimaran IDEC face the worst conditions to date in his quest for the singlehanded around the world record.
. . . individuals can fund — or partially fund — America’s Cup campaigns that cost $150 million, and still have enough left to own 450-ft giga motoryachts?