Who was the greatest American singlehanded round-the-world sailor? Do Americans even compete in races like the Vendée Globe or the Velux 5 Oceans Race (formerly known as the BOC Challenge)? While participation in those events seems more or less limited to the French, the Kiwis and the English — and before Bay Area local Bruce Schwab hit the scene in the mid 2000s — there was an American sailing around the planet with the best of them.
Mike Plant grew up on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota, had some trouble with the law, and went on to build spec houses before he truly found his calling in offshore racing. As we reported in Sightings this month, Plant won his class in the 1986-87 BOC and competed in the first-ever Vendée Globe, where he was forced to disqualify himself after receiving assistance off New Zealand. While crossing the Atlantic on his way to the start of the 1992 Vendée, Plant’s brand-new Open 60 Coyote capsized. The boat was found upside down and missing its bulb. Plant was lost at sea — he was 42.
Coyote, a new documentary film exploring the life and times of Mike Plant, will be showing this Thursday (November 9) at the Napa Film Festival. "It’s the story of a hero and an antihero," said Thomas Simmons, the film’s director and Mike Plant’s nephew. "People gravitated toward him. He didn’t have a million friends because he was a loner in a sport where the French might say we don’t belong."
Plant said in the documentary that he had "good instruction" while growing up on boats in Minnesota. "We learned how to sail a boat, how to move a boat, how to feel a boat and how to get the most from it." Plant’s father Frank said that he especially liked sailing long hours by himself, and his mother Mary said that Mike talked about sailing around the world long before he did.
The documentary — which we’ve been lucky enough to see — begins with Plant’s entry into the ’86 BOC. After watching a film about the inaugural BOC himself, a spark was lit, and within a few years, Plant began construction on an Open 50 sloop. After doing a sea trial from Newport, RI, to the Azores, Plant’s past caught up with him. He was arrested on an old charge from his smuggling days in Europe.
Plant had gotten into his share of trouble as a kid, which led to his enrollment in Outward Bound, originally founded in Wales to teach survival skills at sea. Plant’s sense of adventure led him to a small-time career as a drug runner. "He didn’t want to be a drug smuggler, he just liked the adventure, he liked the thrill of being on the edge of getting caught," said a friend in Coyote.
Plant was eventually cleared of all charges in Portugal, and resumed his nascent solo-racing adventures. He went on to earn the respect of his competitors, which was no small feat in an exclusive sport dominated by the French. After disqualifying himself during the first Vendée, Plant received a hero’s welcome upon his return to France.
Coyote describes Plant’s struggle to find adequate funding to fully realize his career. While corporations in Europe were throwing money at French sailors, Plant was constantly underfunded and behind schedule. He was running late when he embarked on his last trip from New York City to France.
"We had an amazing opening in Newport," said Coyote director Simmons. "We sold out one screening there, and just sold out four screenings in Minneapolis. It’s obviously very personal for me, but I think there’s probably a lot of people out there who want to know about Mike."
Coyote will be playing on Thursday, November 9 at 8:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville. For more information, call (707) 944-9900.
This story has been updated, and a CORRECTION has been made. We originally said that Coyote sold out three screenings in Newport, RI. The movie opened in Newport, selling out a single screening.
Waterfront development has two sides: water and land. In a philosophical sense, the two sides and competing ideals are growth vs. access. We believe that waterfront developments need more than bike and walking paths. What good is a new housing complex if you can’t get in the water and don’t have the services available to support on-the-water activities, like sailing?
The initial artist renderings for the $2 billion, 28-acre Forest City redevelopment of Pier 70 in San Francisco show just that: A rusty anchor sits as a decoration on shore, while a bicyclist pedals waterside and droves of people sit on the grass looking longingly at the Bay. Missing are docks to launch a kayak, SUP or, heaven forbid, a small sailboat.
Granted, we haven’t done a full investigation of the developer’s website, but the rip rap being built between the people and the Bay look more like border walls than a gateway to the water.
In related news, Save Alameda’s Working Waterfront (SAWW) is inviting supporters to the Alameda City Council meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, November 7 at 7 p.m. SAWW will be making a brief presentation during the Non-Agenda Public Speaking portion of the meeting (at about 7:15). Council Chambers are on the third floor of City Hall at the corner of Oak and Santa Clara.
The world of offshore yacht racing just got a shot in the arm over the weekend with four major events getting underway, all in Europe.
"Golden Boy" François Gabart — arguably the most prolific offshore sailor of our generation — began his much-anticipated first attempt at setting a new solo round-the-world record. Departing the team’s homeport of Port la Forêt, France, Gabart and his 100-ft trimaran Macif crossed the startline spanning the English Channel on Saturday and quickly accelerated to speeds up to 35+ knots, putting up huge numbers in his attempt to break Thomas Coville’s impressive record of just 49 days, 3 hours and 4 minutes. Right out of the box, Gabart has put up daily runs of 678 and 714 miles. Currently sailing at close to 30 knots of boatspeed off the coast of western Africa, Gabart is approaching the Cape Verde Islands with a lead of more than 200 miles over his invisible rival Coville, who set the current record onboard Sodebo Ultim’ less than a year ago — a record that took Coville four attempts.
Departing Lisbon, Portugal, on Sunday afternoon, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet saw "fresh to frightening" downwind conditions on their first night out — the same fast conditions that Gabart and his shore team chose for their record attempt — and are currently sending it past the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa at more than 20 knots of boatspeed. The fleet is now just over a day into their second of 11 offshore legs, with this leg taking the teams 7,000 miles from Lisbon to Cape Town, South Africa. The American/Danish entry Vestas 11th Hour Racing, skippered by Rhode Island’s Charlie Enright, claimed a somewhat surprising yet hugely impressive victory in the first leg from Alicante, Spain, to Lisbon. Conditions look good for the Volvo fleet and Gabart to enjoy relatively quick progress in steady northeast trades, at least to the equator.
One of the most famous offshore races on earth, the Transat Jacques Vabre, also got underway on Sunday in Le Havre on the northern coast of France. The doublehanded race will take teams out of the English Channel and finish more than 5,000 miles later in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Four classes are taking part, with a trio of ‘Ultime’ maxi-trimarans, 13 IMOCA 60s, six Multi-50 trimarans and 15 Class 40s. Most eyes are focused on the battle at the front of the Ultime fleet, where Seb Josse and Thomas Rouxel onboard Maxi Edmond de Rothschild — aka Gitana 17 — is making her ocean-racing debut, the first transoceanic attempt by any racing yacht that was designed from the ground up to be fully foiling (click here for video). Edmond de Rothschild currently leads over Thomas Coville and co-skipper Jean-Luc Nélias on Sodebo Ultim’.
On Thursday the Mini Transat started its second leg from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, headed for a finish in Martinique in the Caribbean. Pre-race favorite and Leg 1 winner Ian Lipinski on #865 Griffon.fr is out in front and in control of the race as the fleet has rounded the Cape Verde Islands and can now begin crossing the Atlantic.
It seems like Halloween was just last week and yet retail stores are already playing Christmas music. As our culture gears up for the holiday season, we’re collecting a list of holiday boat parades for our December issue Calendar. Is your California yacht club, marina or organization hosting a lighted boat parade or other nautical holiday event for the public to enjoy? Send us the details by this Friday, November 10, to be included in the December Calendar.
These events made it into the November Calendar:
- Dec. 2 — Lighted Yacht Parade, Oakland-Alameda Estuary, 5:30 p.m. Theme: A Winter Wonderland. Co-hosted by Encinal and Oakland Yacht Clubs. Entry fee, $30; entry deadline: Dec. 1.
- Dec. 2 — Lighted Boat Parade, Santa Cruz, hosted by SCYC.
- Dec. 9 — 30th Annual Lighted Boat Parade & Fireworks, Sausalito, 6 p.m.
- Dec. 9 — Lighted Boat Parade, Benicia, hosted by Benicia YC.
- Dec. 15 — Decorated Boat Parade, San Francisco Cityfront, 6 p.m., hosted by St. Francis YC.