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November 21, 2011

Oracle Double Up at AC World Series

Emirates Team New Zealand once again reached the match racing semifinals. Although their run ended there, they still lead the AC World Series overall.

© Stacy Loula

The America’s Cup World Series San Diego is in the books, and Oracle’s James Spithill proved once again why he’s got the helm of the Oracle Racing ‘A’ boat. On Saturday, Spithill and company dispatched the French entry, Yann Guichard’s Energy Team, in two straight races to take the match racing honors. Yesterday, they followed that win up with a win in the fleet racing championship.

Yann Guichard and Energy Team were on fire, reaching the match racing final.


While we’ve come to expect good results from Oracle Spithill, Emirates Team New Zealand, and Artemis, the biggest surprise came from the two French teams. With Yann Guichard replacing Loïck Peyron as skipper, Energy Team won the match racing seeding series, guaranteeing them a spot in the match racing semi-finals for the first time in the AC World Series. They made the most of the opportunity when they defeated Artemis to reach the final. Aleph, with Pierre Pennec replacing Bertrand Pace as skipper, managed to qualify for the match racing. They nearly snatched a semifinal spot when they led Artemis by a country mile during their deciding match. But fate intervened and a technical glitch — the R/C temporarily lost the virtual boundaries for the race course — caused the race to be abandoned. In the re-sail, Artemis and skipper Terry Hutchinson prevailed. Regardless, it was heartening to see the two teams from the nation with the most experience in multihulls sailing their way into the mix. 

The America’s Cup World Series team bases from the water.

© Mitch Perkins

Judging by reports from the boots on the ground, and the flurry of postings on the SF Contingent to SD to Watch AC 45‘s Facebook page, there had to have been well over 300 Bay Area Cup fans who made the trip down to check out the action and no doubt hang out with the multitude of Bay Area folks who are working for AC Race Management. The overwhelming sentiment was that the racing was fantastic to watch, and impressive enough to be compelling even when the breeze was down and it was foggy or raining. It sounded like the village was less than impressive and provided precious little access to anyone who hadn’t purchased one of the VIP packages. Thankfully, the streaming YouTube channel once again proved to be dynamite, and we lost more than a few hours watching the action.

Now the World Series goes into hibernation until next April when it travels to Naples, Italy. In the meantime, if you were down in San Diego, we’d love to get a short impression of the America’s Cup World Series experience.

Boats Break Loose in the Bay

These two sailboats were rafted together in Richardson Bay…during a storm!

© 2011 Tim Sell

Though there was some wind associated with the low pressure system that passed through the Bay Area Saturday night and yesterday, the rain seemed to dominate. Regardless, a handful of anchored-out boats ended up on the shores of Richardson Bay, as often happens when Ma Nature kicks up a fuss — even a minor one.

Another casualty of a little bit of breeze and apparently inadequate ground tackle.

© 2011 Tim Sell

Richardson Bay Regional Agency Harbor Administrator Bill Price says a total of three boats washed ashore, but two of them were rafted together. Price says one of the sailboats has already been removed and the other will be gone by tonight. "This was a simple little storm," he said, "so it was fairly easy to get them off. The powerboat is a different story." Because the boat was holed, Parker Diving has been called in for the clean up.

Puma Loses Rig

Just when we thought things in the Volvo Ocean race had settled down, news came this morning that Puma Mar Mostro Powered by Berg had dropped its rig in the middle of the South Atlantic. The lone American entry in this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, with Ken Read as skipper, was sitting in second place and sailing in only moderate conditions when the tragedy struck and their mast ended up in three pieces, much the same way that Abu Dhabi Racing Azzam‘s did at the beginning of the leg. The rigs came from two different manufacturers though — Azzam‘s was one of the first rigs to be produced by the grand prix rigging company Future Fibers and had the company’s trick new carbon standing rigging. Puma was sailing with a Hall Spar strung with Southern Spars well-proven carbon rigging. Read and the crew were evaluating their options as of this writing; the nearest land mass is the remote island of Tristan da Cunha, some 700 miles away.

Actress Dies at Catalina . . . 30 Years Ago

Natalie Wood drowned 30 years ago after drinking heavily aboard Splendour with husband Robert Wagner (left), Capt. Dennis Davern (right), and Christopher Walken (not shown).

© 2011 Stever Schapiro

If you’ve ever watched the television show 48 Hours, you know that if a murder isn’t solved within 48 hours, chances rapidly go downhill that it will be ever solved. So it came as something of a surprise last week when the the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office announced that it was going to the trouble of reopening their investigation into the death of Natalie Wood back in ’81. After all, this is nearly 30 years more than 48 hours after the actress’ body was found floating face down off Catalina.

For you younger folks, the petite, dark-eyed Wood had been quite the babe in her youth, winning Academy Award nominations three times before she was 25. Check her out in West Side Story, a true U.S. film classic. Although Wood was 43 when she died in ’81, she was still an unusually attractive woman. She was also in her second marriage to actor Robert Wagner, a classically handsome guy.

Wood and Wagner were married to each other twice.

© Stever Schapiro

On the weekend of November 27-28, Wagner and Wood, along with actor Christopher Walken, Wood’s co-star in Brainstorm, went to the Isthmus at Catalina. They went aboard the Wagners’ motoryacht Splendour, along with Dennis Davern, the boat’s longtime captain.

Built of wood — which is sort of ironic — the 55-ft Splendour is currently berthed in Honolulu’s Kewalo Basin. She looks to be in good condition but, as is typical for boats of that era, looks shockingly plain and lacking in even basic luxuries. A big sportfishing boat with an enclosed flybridge, Splendour is a bit of an unusual design in that there’s a salo in the center of the boat, then there’s an the aft cabin that Wood and Wagner stayed in, and then there is a traditional big aft cockpit to fish from. In other words, everybody in the front half of the boat either has to go around the side of the house or through the master cabin to get to the big aft cockpit.

Not unusual for a weekend at the Isthmus, there was lots of drinking ashore and on Splendour — drinking like people drank in the ’70s and ’80s, when ‘three martini lunches’ were common. There was reportedly tension among the three actors, too. Wood apparently got so mad that she spent the first night ashore at what’s been described as "a hotel." We presume this means Banning House, the only hotel-like place at Two Harbors.

The next day there was more drinking, and Walken and Wood had lunch ashore while Wagner and Capt. Davern stayed on the boat. After drinking with dinner that night, there was even more drinking on Splendour. Some time after midnight, Wagner smashed a bottle of wine on a salon table, and apparently accused Walken of wanting to bonk his wife. At that point Walken went to his cabin up forward, and curiously, wouldn’t learn of Wood’s death until the following morning. Wagner and Wood returned to their cabin aft, and Capt. Davern says he stayed in the salon and turned the music up so he wouldn’t hear Wagner and Wood argue.

Could Wood have stepped out onto the swim step to retie a banging dinghy and simply fallen in? It’s likely we’ll never know.


At some point Wood disappeared. There is speculation that she fell over in a drunken stupor, was pushed over, slipped when retying the dinghy to keep it from banging against the hull, and what have you. It seems clear that she wasn’t dragged out of her cabin unwillingly because she was wearing a coat. Wagner and Capt. Davern have conflicting memories of what their responses were to Wood having disappeared, something not surprising when you’re talking about individuals who had been admittedly smashed.

As often happens in Hollywood, a new witness has suddenly turned up, in this case an self-described "earwitness." Marilyn Wayne says she was a guest on a boat 90-ft away from Splendour, and for 15 minutes heard someone holler that she was drowning and needed help. She claims Harbor Patrol didn’t answer her calls, and that the police promised to respond but didn’t. She says that she heard a man’s voice say, "Hold on, we’re coming to get you," and thought the situation had been resolved.

Duane Rasure, the L.A. County Sheriff detective who originally investigated the case, says he believed Wagner was innocent, and still believes it. "If I have ever had the slightest inkling there was a murder, something suspicious," says Rasure, "I would have worked it. I did not cover for anybody and I wouldn’t cover for anybody. I don’t care about their celebrity status. They were people."

In an recent autobiography, Wagner wrote that he blames himself — indirectly — for Wood’s death. Through a spokesperson, he adds that he supports any further investigation — and by the way, would be happy to send you a free CD answering any questions you might have about reverse mortgages he now flogs.

As for Capt. Dennis Davern, he now says that Wagner was responsible, although perhaps not directly, for Wood’s death because he didn’t start an aggressive enough search. If that was true, it raises the question of what stopped Davern, presumably the most experienced and competent seaman on the boat, from taking the situation into his own hands. Davern admits that he’d consumed a lot of Scotch and wine in the hours prior to Wood’s disappearance and, despite doing nothing to try to find Wood, has a clear memory of everything that happened. Yeah, sure.
In a striking Hollywood coincidence, Capt. Davern has a book out about Wood’s death. Retired dectective Duane Rasure says that Capt. Davern is not only not telling the whole truth, he’s just trying to make money out of Wood’s death. In another shocking Hollywood coincidence, Vanity Fair magazine is about to publish a big 30th anniversary story about Wood’s death.

In announcing the fact that they were reopening the investigation, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office was careful to note that Wagner, now 81, seemingly the only person who could be a suspect, was not a suspect. As a result, everyone seems confused why the Sheriff’s Office was going to the trouble. One prominent theory is that they are using a celebrity death to take the public and press’s mind off the bad publicity they’ve been getting lately on a number of fronts. In any event, they seem about a quarter of a million hours too late to solve this crime.

As for us, we think alcohol abuse was the cause of Wood’s death, and Walken, Wagner, Wood and Davern all had a hand in it. Please drink responsibly, folks, particularly when operating a motor vehicle or on a boat.

Who says you have to be old and gray – or have a $500,000 yacht – to go cruising?
If this weekend’s less-than-stellar Bay Area forecast already has you thinking twice about taking your boat out, just take a look at what Puget Sound sailors were actually eager to experience last weekend.