As the current steward of the Spencer 65 Ragtime, Newport Beach’s Chris Welsh added another remarkable passage to the chapter he’s helping to write in the iconic yacht’s history. With an elapsed time of 2d, 10h and 38m, the seemingly timeless, teak-fringed black missile took IRC 2 honors in the 2008 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. Ragtime was granted two hours of redress for going to the assistance of the stricken Farr 53 Georgia, which had suffered rudder damage and was taking on water, before another vessel rescued her crew.
The Boxing Day race start for the 628-mile, middle-distance classic was greeted with a strong northeasterly that gave the fleet a tremendous jump out of Sydney and down the New South Wales Coast. Although the breeze eventually moderated, the conditions were still excellent for a skinny boat like ‘Rags‘ and when she crossed the finish line on Tasmania’s Derwent River as the 18th boat to finish, she claimed the division win as well as 11th overall in the IRC fleet. She was also the first non-Australian and first wooden boat to finish, behind a bevy of recently-built carbon fiber speedsters. On handicap, ‘Rags‘ even beat the line honors winner and runner-up, Wild Oats XI and Skandia, which sailed nearly the enitre course within sight of each other until the former broke away for her record fourth-straight line-honors win under skipper Mark Richards.
Repeat winner Bob Steel and his former TP 52 Quest took overall handicap honors by just under 30 minutes over Alan Whiteley’s Cougar II. Steel, who’s in his 60s, hails from Sydney and in addition to the campaigns he’s mounted in IOR 50s, is famous for having thrown his old watch into Hobart’s Sullivan’s Cove upon receiving his Rolex for his 2002 win in a previous Quest. He’d since been on a five-year hiatus from the race, yet still managed to round up five members of his crew from the 2002.
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Race has a great website which has even more great stories from the race, profiles of competitors, and photos. The official prize-giving ceremony will be held New Year’s Day.
What could be nuttier than getting up early on the first day of the new year to make five bridges open with a simple blast of a horn? How about chili before noon? How about boating where there is no water? You can get that nutty in the annual Around the Island event hosted by the Yacht Clubs of Alameda Island.
A few years back Island YC leaders recognized the wisdom of going through those bridges well-fortified with breakfast and eye-openers. Last year, the feat was recognized with a formal award: The Certificate of Circumnavigation, awarded to all skippers and crew who affirmed completion of the task.
This year’s mid-afternoon high tide almost suggests a counterclockwise circumnavigation — unheard of! The usual fare is chili, ramos fizzes and bloody marys at Aeolian YC, hearty burgers and dogs with full football at Ballena Bay, and chowder at Encinal. Intrepid islanders know how to pour a mean mimosa and hot toddy.
Want to get in on the festivites? Check any Alameda yacht club’s website or email for details.
We hope you had a great Christmas. We did. That’s because Santa gave us the only present we wanted — enough of his frequent flyer miles to get free rides on aluminum tubes to St. Barth in the French West Indies.
There’s a lot to be said for continually cruising to new destinations. Yet it would be foolish to ignore the pleasures of repeat visits to the same place. We stumbled upon St. Barth in ’85 while hunting for the Ocean 71 ketch that would become our Big O. While sea trialing the boat off the eight-square mile island, we fell in with a bad crowd, and as a result have been returning for New Year’s ever since.
When we return to St. Barth each year, it’s a lot like returning to one’s senior year in high school after summer vacation. You meet scores of old friends and catch up on recent adventures, you make lots of new friends, and everyone shares great expectations for the coming year. The big differences between returning to St. Barth and returning to high school is that the island is in the tropics, the returning sailors have had much greater adventures to tell about, the quality of alcohol is much higher, and the women don’t see the point in wearing a top on the beach.
While St. Barth is not a huge sailing base like Antigua or St. Martin, it’s unusually clean, safe and French. So this is where the folks on the bigger and more glamorous boats tend to come to have fun from Christmas until about the end of March. Once April 1 rolls around, most of the big boats — and sailors — head for Antigua for the Classic Yacht Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week (April 16-21 and April 26-May 2, respectively). After that, it’s back to the Med, the Northeast or the Panama Canal. So it’s actually a pretty short season in St. Barth. For those thinking about doing a charter here from a base in St. Martin, don’t be mistaken, the sailing weather is actually much better here in April, May and June than it is in the dead of winter.
Indeed, the strong winds and big seas are the two things that are so different between the Caribbean and Mexico in the winter. In Mexico, you’ll get many nights — and even days — when it’s perfectly still. Here in the Caribbean, it’s been blowing very hard for the last week, with seas to 15 feet. And there is no real difference between the wind speed during the day and night, it just blows and blows and blows and blows. In the Caribbean, 15 knots passes for calm conditions.
While you don’t get a lot of West Coast sailors bringing their boats to St. Barth, you still get a few. Ira Epstein of Bolinas is still based here with his classic Clark 65 Lone Fox, and always ready to fill your charter needs. While Ira may be on the wrong side of 60, we’re proud to report that he’s recently been seen dancing on tables in nightclubs at 4 a.m.
And last night at Baz Bar, we bumped into Damien and Deborah McCullough of the Newport Beach-based Celestial 50 Ticket to Ride. These vets of the ’05 Baja Ha-Ha are currently moored in what’s jokingly called ‘The Trailer Park’ of Gustavia Harbor, where people would almost kill to get a mooring. What has the couple been doing since the ’05 Ha-Ha? In just a few words, they did the west coast of Central America, the east coast of Central America, and made their way across the Caribbean to St. Barth — and have had a blast the entire time. Look for many more details in an upcoming interview in Latitude.
Has the weakened economy had an effect on sailing in the Caribbean? While the bareboat charter industry seems to be doing well, the high end charters and large private yacht arena is struggling. It stands to reason, as most of the big money guys were from the Northeast, and that’s the area where people have gotten clobbered the most, in some cases because of their own negligence or greed. As a result, price reductions are not uncommon. And it’s spread to land. Last year, a single peach was for sale on the island for $92. This year, you can get six peaches for $100. Are we talking deflation or what? Of course, if you want to live parsimoniously, there’s no better way than to be on a boat. Our Leopard 45 catamaran ‘ti Profligate should be here about the 7th. We can’t wait!
The point of this piece is not to say that we’re here and you’re not, but that you can do this also. Maybe not this year, but given the price of boats, maybe sooner than you think. And then you get to join in the fun of living like Doña de Mallorca, who in her next life plans to be a rock star. After Jimmy Buffett played a short set after closing at little Baz Bar the other night, de Mallorca got everyone to sing Happy Birthday in his honor.
If you’ve suddenly found yourself with a few leisure moments with nothing better to do than daydream about sailing, we’ve got good news. Not only will the January edition of Latitude 38 be on the street tomorrow, December 30, but the brand new 2009 Northern California Sailing Calendar and YRA Master Schedule is also hot off the press, and will be distributed to many Northern California distribution points (see our site for a list).
In this month’s mag you’ll find all the latest local and international sailing news, up-to-the-minute cruiser reports, profiles on Season Champs, voyaging tales from a nine-year circumnavigation and more.
And, as always, our Sailing Calendar is chock full of event dates and useful Bay sailing info such as race buoy chartlets, tide info, women’s circuit dates, kids’ sailing opportunities, Beer Can series schedules — you name it. Plus, everything you’d ever want to know about the YRA (Yacht Racing Association). So get yours while it’s hot!