May 1, 2019

A Whale of a Practice Day for SailGP

A gang of Latitude 38 staffers boarded the Red & White Fleet’s new plug-in hybrid ferry Enhydra to view the first SailGP fleet-wide practice racing yesterday afternoon. A Bay full of ebb chop and stiff, freezing cold winds, with AC-generating fog hovering off to the west, greeted us. San Francisco Bay had donned her full-on summer mantle. The Media Day onlookers could duck into Enhydra’s pretty interior, but the 30 race crew aboard six foiling 50-ft catamarans had to cope with the cold, the gusts and even… a whale!

Japan and Australia SailGP boats
Australia Team nearly capsized in the strong breeze and rough water.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Practice Race #1

Principal Race Officer Iain Murray and his team had planned for three fleet races. The first started at 12:35. The boats only made it through about one and half legs before racing suddenly stopped. The race committee had spotted a whale in the racing area. (The race course lay between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, north of the Cityfront, with a finish line off Golden Gate Yacht Club.) Murray called for a 25-minute postponement. During that time, the wind direction shifted slightly, and the RC reset the startline, moving to farther east.

While waiting for start of the second race, the F50 cats flew back and forth on the race course, and Team China came crashing down off their foils, nearly capsizing. Kiwi skipper Phil Robertson, 31, called it “the scariest moment I have ever had on a yacht. We went into a bear-away, the conditions were fairly fresh, the boat speed built, and I just didn’t get enough rake off in the moment. The boat literally leapt out of the water and nosedived. We destroyed most of the wing.”

China Sail GP pearls
China Team buries the bows, damaging their boat and ending their day on the water.
© 2019 SailGP

Team China would thus sit out the second race of the day.

Practice Race #2

On the upwind legs, the competitors tended to seek the flatter water on the Cityfront side of the course. Team Japan, with Aussie Nathan Outteridge, 33, at the helm, dominated that two-lap race, winning the start and never giving up the lead. Outteridge, you may recall, skippered Artemis Racing in the last two America’s Cups, and medaled in the 49er at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Japan and USA boats with St. Francis Yacht Club in the background.
Japan Team and USA Team sailing in Race #2.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Race #3 never made it out of the starting blocks. Because Race #2 ended after 2:10, the RC called it a day. The races take about 15 minutes.

Post-Race Meet and Greet

The newest addition to the Latitude crew, Monica Grant, nabbed an interview with her countryman, Tom Slingsby, skipper of the all-Aussie Australia Team, which won the first SailGP event in Sydney in February. “Australian conditions, but I wasn’t that comfortable out there if I’m honest,” Slingsby confessed to Monica. “The main ebb current coupled with 20 knots of wind, in any sailing boat in the world this is a handful, those conditions, and in an F50, it’s another level. San Francisco, I don’t think we can get any crazier conditions.” Slingsby, 34, served as strategist for Oracle Team USA in the 2013 America’s Cup on SF Bay. A Laser sailor, he won gold at London 2012.

After racing, the Australian skipper, Tom Slingsby, chatted with the Latitude crew.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

“In both those races today, we were in last place, and then we sailed a good second half and got two third places,” he told us. “The top two boats, GBR and Japan, were very clean and didn’t make the mistakes we did, so they deserved to beat us.”

The SailGP skippers
The skippers boarded Enhydra to meet the press. Left to right: Nathan Outteridge, JPN; Phil Robertson, CHN; Tom Slingsby, AUS; Dylan Fletcher, GBR; Billy Besson, FRA; and the big guy, Rome Kirby, USA.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Friday-Sunday at SailGP

Friday, May 3, will be the official practice day, with sailing from noon to 2:30. Weekend racing is slotted for 12:30-2 p.m. The event will conclude on Sunday afternoon with the top two teams pairing off for a match-race finale. Organizers scheduled the weekend races for slack tide, so the teams will not have to deal with the brutal ebb-whipped whitecaps they encountered on Tuesday. We’ll continue our preview of SailGP San Francisco in Friday’s ‘Lectronic Latitude. See https://sailgp.com/races/san-francisco for details.

Baja Ha-Ha Sign-Ups Start One Week from Today

The first opportunity to sign up for this fall’s Baja Ha-Ha, some of the most fun you can have with a boat, will be at noon on May 8 at the www.baja-haha.com website — exactly one week from today.

Typical Ha-Ha sailing conditions.
© 2019 Richard Spindler

The actual event begins with a grand Kick-Off Party at the West Marine Store in San Diego on November 3, and ends with the awards ceremony in Cabo San Lucas on Saturday, November 16.

The value in signing up early for the Ha-Ha is that the earlier you sign up, the higher up you are on the list for coveted dock space in Cabo San Lucas. While many sailors are happy to anchor out in the bay, others really want a slip for a day or two at the conclusion of the Ha-Ha. As such, it’s not uncommon for 50 or more boats to sign up the first day. So mark your calendar.

The Baja Ha-Ha is, of course, the world-famous annual 750-mile cruisers’ rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, with R&R stops at Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria. In the first 25 years, over 10,000 sailors have done the event, which has almost always featured downwind sailing in light to moderate conditions. The Ha-Ha is open to boats 27 feet or longer that were designed, built, and have been maintained for offshore sailing. Singlehanding is not permitted.

There’s much more to the Ha-Ha than sailing, including the Ha-Ha-style cruisers versus Mexican kids baseball game.
© 2019 Richard Spindler

There will be two significant changes in this year’s event. First, the starting date has been moved back one week from previous starts. This is for two reasons. First, it means that all the fishing tournaments in Cabo will have ended for the year, meaning there will be more slips open for Ha-Ha participants. Second, it gives a greater buffer with the end of tropical storm season, although even with the earlier starting date, no tropical storm has ever crossed the path of a Ha-Ha.

A second significant change is that we’ll be spending an extra day in spectacular Bahia Santa Maria. This means entrants can take a more leisurely approach to the second leg, and have another R&R day at what has always been the fleet’s favorite stop.

There are many excellent reasons for doing the Ha-Ha: There is safety in numbers and in the daily weather reports and roll calls; the near-sheer certainty of making dozens of new cruising friends you’ll see later in the season if not in the South Pacific; a fleet full of spare parts and knowledge about just about everything to do with sailing; a big welcome from the Mexican government; a definitive departure date; the fact that discounts on products and services can offset the entire cost of the entry fee; and much more.

The Ha-Ha is designed with families in mind. Anybody looking for a booze fest needs to find a different event.
© 2019 Richard Spindler

The Ha-Ha will be managed by Richard Spindler, the Grand Poobah, for the 26th time. He’ll be greatly assisted by 12-time Ha-Ha vet Patsy ‘La Reina del Mar’ of the Gulfstar 50 Talion, who, following the Ha-Ha, does things like continue on to the South Pacific or cruise the Pacific Northwest. Head of Security will be Doña de Mallorca Spindler, armed with a water pistol, who has done 23 Ha-Ha’s and has been the captain on 19 Baja Bashes. The Surfin’ 63 Profligate will be the mothership for the 23rd time.

What kinds of sailors have enjoyed the Ha-Ha? Very experienced sailors, including those who have circumnavigated. Relatively new sailors, who recognize that there can be greater safety in numbers. Folks with slow cruising boats, who like to take it easy and use the engine when it suits them. Folks with fast cruising boats, who enjoy getting the most out of their boats. Folks who enjoy lots of social activities. Folks who prefer the solitude of being able to anchor alone at R&R stops that are capable of accommodating 1,000 boats. Cruisers with kids. Basically, everyone who enjoys sailing.

Unsure about whether to do the Ha-Ha? The Grand Poobah suggests you get the opinion of several folks who have actually done one, as opposed to opinions of those who haven’t done any. Hope to see you at the Kick-Off Party on November 3!

The May Issue Hits the Docks, and Bathrooms

As SailGP and the latest in high-tech, ultra-fast foiling descends on the Bay this weekend, we took a pause. The future of sailing, despite some ominous challenges, is bright and exciting. To have an inaugural, international and innovative event descend on our beautiful Bay excites us to our sailorly cores. But for May issue of Latitude 38, we take a look at the past, which is also bright and exciting — and not really even in the “past.”

We start the issue off with a report from Steve Fox on the America’s Schooner Cup in San Diego at the end of March, proving that wooden boats and traditional sailing are alive and well, and while rooted in history, these craft and this style of sailing are not, by any means, frozen in a bygone era. Not long after the foiling cats of the SailGP circuit whiz off the Bay, the Master Mariners fleet will have a go in their annual regatta on Memorial Day weekend, at the end of the month. Wooden boats are not antiques under glass to be admired as if in a museum, they are boats to be sailed hard on the Bay. They are like “members of the crew,” as more than one sailor told us. Wooden boats can represent generations of work within a family.

The Egelston family’s Water Witch, foreground, sails into the future.
© 2019 Martha Blanchfield

In our feature story, We Would if We Could, we ask a simple but slightly existential question, Why Wooden Boats? The answer was surprisingly simple: There’s just something about them. Attendance at wooden boat schools has actually been way up over the past several years, and interest in an organic material that’s been sustainably harvested and doesn’t require toxic chemicals seems to fit perfectly in the current zeitgeist, as there appears to be a small but steady rebellion against the infiltration of information, social media, and technology into our lives. “Working with wood, and the feeling it evokes, is becoming more important in people’s lives again,” said Rich Hilsinger, the director at the Wooden Boat School in Maine. “It touches one’s soul. And it beats working with fiberglass and all of those chemicals.”

Exemplifying the symbiosis of the old and the new is Luc McSweeney Maheu, a Bay Area native, merchant marine, and builder of traditional sailing tools. For McSweeney Maheu, it’s not about history. “It’s about heritage and lifestyle,” he told us last fall. “I don’t really go for daysails. My time on the water is functional. And I think that changes it a little bit — and for me, it’s for the best. I like having that purpose, I like having that function and
responsibility.”

Luc McSweeney Maheu is, at once, an old-school sailor who fits perfectly into the present.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

This month, Max Ebb also takes a generational look at the best boats for young people. Spoiler alert, high-tech is not always the way to go. In fact, Max and, like, Lee Helm theorize that a low-tech boat designed for . . . extreme comfort while teens sail . . . ahem . . . might be better for the long-term prospects of our sport and lifestyle. “There’s something about those deep cockpits with park-bench seating that makes me want to hop into one of those antiques and just, sail away.”

Lee Helm’s concept sketch for the perfect “youth boat.”
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Max Ebb

This month, Michelle Slade covered the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival in Sightings. Nanny Cay has made a remarkable comeback since Hurricane Irma in 2017, thanks in part to the efforts of sailors like Brett Bonthron, who are just as concerned with giving back to the community as they are with going fast and having fun. Also in Sightings, a look at the Incident Report from a tragic 2015 Dauphin Island regatta in Mobile, Alabama, where six sailors lost their lives, a look at another Cal 40 restoration, and a dispatch from Latitude “correspondent” Jack London about a Raid on the Oyster Pirates.

Nanny Cay is starting to look like its former self following the appalling devastation of Hurricane Irma in 2017.
© 2019 Alastair Abrehart

We say this every month, and we mean it every month: This is our favorite issue of Latitude 38, ever. We poured our blood, sweat and tears into every page. Seriously, though. We hope that you go down to your local chandlery, bar, yacht club, marina, etc. to pick up a fresh copy and enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making it. Said one reader, “I could not move my bowels, if it wasn’t for your magazine.” OK then. Print journalism is alive and well as long as there is digestion and bathrooms without Wi-Fi.

And don’t worry, Nation. After taking a moment to look at the “not-so-past past,” next month, we’ll foil into the future.

Why You Can Do Les Voiles de St. Barth

Yes, some of the boats in the 54-boat fleet, such as Peter Harrison’s Farr 115 Sojana and Michael Cotter’s Southern Wind 94 Windfall, are worth millions and predominantly crewed by world-class sailors.

Some of the teams spend extravagantly on crew quarters. The crew of David Witt’s 100-ft maxi Sun Hung Kai Scallywag stayed at the Manapany Hotel on the beach at Anse des Cayes, and Team Richard Mille rented out the entire Hotel Christopher on Pointe Milou for their crew.

Gray boat splashing through a wave
Racing for the watch in Les Voiles de St. Barth. The 10th edition rocked the small French island on April 13-20.
© 2019 Christophe Jouany

The prize for setting the record in the St. Barth to St. Martin and back race, which helps decide which team wins the Richard Mille RM-01 Chronograph Flyback Regatta watch, is worth $150,000. No pickle dish, that.

One of the crew, Pierre Casiraghi, is a member of Monaco’s ruling family, making the event appear to be even more exclusive.

But that’s skewed perception. Let’s look at reality.

You don’t need the world’s greatest and most expensive yacht to win and get Voiles respect. The Jeanneau 3200 Credit Mutuel had five bullets in six races in Class 5. The Antigua-based J/122 Liquid won five out of six races in Class 4. The Melges 32 Lazy Dog from Puerto Rico took six bullets in Class 3. No, you don’t need the most expensive boat, but you do need to be really good in Caribbean conditions.

In an even more extreme case of a modest boat doing surprisingly well, take Steve Schmidt’s Hotel California, Too. Steve, who had never raced before, left Silicon Valley in the early ’90s with a short-rigged custom cruising version of a Santa Cruz 70. He was modestly competitive this year despite enormous handicaps: having an ancient boat; having well-worn Dacron sails, having pick-up crew each day, most of whom spoke a language he didn’t understand; and having the only boat in the 55-boat fleet to not have a spinnaker. Steve nonetheless managed to take a second, two thirds and three fourths in a competitive class.

However the West Coast’s greatest claim to glory was Greg Slyngstad’s unusual-looking Bieker 53 cat Fujin. Guided by crew boss Jonathan McKee, the light-gray cat took five firsts and a second. It hasn’t been instant success for Slyngstad and Fujin, as she wasn’t particularly fast in her first Voiles several years ago, got dismasted once, and flipped in 35 knots on a black night in last year’s Caribbean 600.

But this has been Fujin’s year. She set an all-time around-Tortola elapsed-time record, kicked butt in the Caribbean 600, and kicked butt again in Les Voiles. Boat-for-boat she left three larger Gunboats and two larger M&M cats in her wake. And looked very smooth doing it.

As for assuming some owners must be snobby, Peter Harrison of Sojana is happy to talk to anyone, particularly about how he introduced the Internet to England by buying equipment from Cisco when the now-great company had but 12 employees. And Casiraghi, godfather of this year’s event, is about as laid-back a hard-core sailor as you can find. He’s a vet of Giovanni Soldini’s MOD70 Maserati, GC32 foiling cats, and the Transat Jacques Vabre. You want to talk to him, just say hello. Almost everybody gathers at the quayside bar each day to mingle with others, be they racers or residents of the island. The Voiles is all about mixing the racers with the locals, and it works.

Sojana aerial
Peter Harrison’s ketch-rigged Sojana.
© 2019 Michael Gramm

The bottom line is that there is absolutely no reason for you and a couple of West Coast mates not to charter a modest boat and do what we consider to be the most fun racing in the world. If that’s still out of your league, you could just get your butt to St. Barth and hop onto a boat. We got Thor Temme of the Hawaii-based Aikane 56 Manu Kai and Jessie and Christian, of the Lagoon 62 Sea Wings Two cat run by ex-Two Harbors patrolman Scott Ciotti, on a 60-footer. Jimmy and Jeanette Drake raced on the 60-ft Code 2 Arara, as did I. Doña de Mallorca Spindler raced on both Arara and Schmidt’s Santa Cruz 70.

Just show up is the name of the game. And quadruple that if you’re a healthy single woman.

You can never tell about sailing conditions, even in the Caribbean. But the conditions for this year’s Voiles were spectacular, with 16 to 22 knots the whole time. Warm air and warm, blue water, baby! The courses were scenic as could be, and featured lots of dangerous rocks as rounding marks. No boring sausages here. The sailing was perfect.

fleets round a rocky island
Rounding a rocky shore.
© 2019 Christophe Jouany

As for socializing opportunities, there were two bands almost every night on the quay where the boats tied up, a special crew night on Shell Beach that raged until 3 in the morning, and the always-wild beach party — dive for champagne — at Nikki Beach. If you don’t make 50 new friends doing a Voiles, you’re a hermit.

When it comes to serious yacht racing combined with serious partying on the cleanest, safest and most beautiful island in the Caribbean, nothing compares with Les Voiles. Nothing.

Hope to see you at next year’s Voiles.  See https://lesvoilesdestbarthrichardmille.com.

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