About Kimball Livingston

Kimball Livingston is a former senior editor, and now editor-at-large, for SAIL. His work also has appeared in Sailing World, Cruising World, Soundings, and more. Over three years, Kimball sailed the Centennial Transpacific, Centennial Newport-Bermuda, and 100th Chicago-Mac. His blog posts appear courtesy of his website www.KimballLivingston.com.

The Torture Rack of Glory

It’s not just a full circle, it’s a rich full circle to see John Bertrand on San Francisco Bay, returning as a coach to the waters where, as a youth, he separated himself from the pack and then went on to win back-to-back Laser world championships, the Finn Gold Cup and an Olympic silver medal. One day after his protégé, Luke Lawrence, won the Finn junior world championship—and looking toward the Finn Gold Cup racing that opened Monday on the Berkeley Circle—we sat down to talk about the art and science of coaching, his decision to return to the Laser in masters competition, what an Olympic class should be, and his love affair with a certain “torture rack” also known as a Finn class dinghy.

Here is John Bertrand in coaching mode, with Gloria Lawrence (aka Luke’s mom) filming a start of the junior worlds . . .

Photo KL

So we begin.

I’m curious about your top picks for a 96-boat fleet in the 2010 Gold Cup, but first, what makes a winner in the Finn class today?

What I’ve learned over the last year, in the Laser and Finn both, is that world championships are being won downwind. You cannot be slow off the breeze. The Berkeley Circle is a well-known track. For this regatta you’re anticipating big wind and big waves, and I don’t expect any surprises on where you need to go. You need to start well, and the top guys are going to pop out. Upwind, they’ll all be competitive, and then it opens up going downwind.

And just what is it that “opens up?”

I used to finesse my way downwind, but with the new unlimited-pumping rule [in winds above 12 knots], it’s all power-based. It’s about technique, and it’s about how strong you are, and how hard you can rock and how long you can keep it up. These guys are standing up downwind. They’ll heel the boat to windward and go by the lee, then stand on the leeward side and pump, then lean on the weather side again. You can’t physically pump the whole leg, so the guys who pump longer do better. I’ve never seen Ben Ainslie sail [the triple Olympic gold and silver medalist is not entered in the 2010 Gold Cup], but my understanding is that he can do that and not lose his technique. He must have taken it to the next level.

So who are your picks for the Gold Cup?

Ed Wright is a powerful sailor. He’s due. He came out here and won the North Americans, but there are a number of other players. Rafa [Rafael Trujillo of Madrid, Spain, ESP 100] is physically the biggest. He should be competitive.

And Trujillo is the leader after day one . . .

Rafa on Day One


Anybody else?

Ivan from Croatia [Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic, CRO 524] is another. I’ve been impressed by how well he sails; he makes very few mistakes. And Zach Railey [USA 4] has it all. Upwind speed, power, and he’s very fast downwind. I’ve seen him pass tons of boats.

I confess, honorable reader, yr humble servant neglected to ask about the defending Gold Cup champion from Denmark, Jonas Hoegh-Christense. Instead we moved on to – John, what was it like, as a back-to-back Laser world champion, to transfer to the Finn?

The Finn is a very physical boat. It puts different stresses on the body. Once I got over that shock, it was in some ways easy because we were introducing Laser techniques to a class where they weren’t in use yet. The other John Bertrand, the Australian one, along with Peter Barrett and some other North Sails guys, got together with the Harken brothers and made the Vanguard Finn, which was a huge leap forward. It was so nice coming to a new thing, not saddled with a need to solve equipment issues. And it took a long time for the Europeans to catch on. They still had wood decks and the like. I don’t know if that was pride, or what, but it wasn’t until about 1984 that everybody switched over.

For your masters sailing, you’ve chosen the Laser.

The Laser is a more enjoyable boat. The Finn is hard work. It’s a job. The last time I actually set foot in a Finn was the final race of the 1984 Olympics. I viewed it as a kind of torture rack.

It was in the Finn class that Paul Elvstrom introduced the concept of the sailor as athlete.

Frankly, that’s the reason I got into the Finn. I’m not built for it, but I was able to wear water jackets and bring my weight up by 44 pounds. I could make the weight I needed. But I always assumed that the class builds mental toughness, and it’s tactically good. On technique and equipment you need to be really good, so it addressed all the things I wanted to accomplish. And the Finn has a macho caché, even more so now. I have no illusions that I could be competitive in a Finn today. A good friend of mine who’s won the masters worlds twice dropped out of the class when they disallowed weight jackets, and he’s bigger than I am.



How does Olympic status affect the class?

You could flip that and ask, What would the Olympics be without the Finn? To me, Olympic sailing is the Finn. It embodies everything Olympian. It’s our marathon, our triathlon. Olympic competition is about the effort that goes into it. The athleticism, the competitiveness, the nationalism. The Finn is even more fitting with the class so vital and thriving and the youth side growing.

In your youth you had a powerful, longterm relationship with your coach, Bill Monte. How does that inform your work as a coach now?

It’s huge. Everything I learned I’m trying to pass on. First and foremost it’s about trust, and what I try to impart—with Luke, with the Olympians [including Anna Tunnicliffe] that I coached for 2008, was confidence. The belief that you can succeed. The next step is to give them some ways to succeed; set them on a path. Coming full circle, Bill Monte mapped out my route; I just executed the plan. We would meet once a year for eight hours and map out the whole year to come. We’d determine which regattas I was going to, and there would be a different set of objectives for each. Sometimes it had to do with results. At other times it was not about results, it was about performance, getting good starts, nailing the tactics, something.

Congratulations are in order, too. I figure you share some part of Luke Lawrence’s win in the Silver Cup, the junior Finn worlds. That’s one somebody who will never forget what he was doing on his twentieth birthday, as in placing third in the final race, which is exactly what he had to do to take the title. So what was involved in the next step, taking our no-longer-quite-a-teenager from the 15-boat junior fleet to the 96-boat 2010 Gold Cup fleet?

Luke is actually very capable in large fleets, and a small fleet is sometimes harder. His goal was the Silver Cup, and he accomplished that. After that comes the meeting to set objectives for each race of the Gold Cup. We can always adjust if we need to, but it’s more about performance than scoring. We’re trying to build a foundation. You have to go through the whole alphabet before you can spell. I’m sure his mast/sail combination is not what it ought to be, but it’s good enough. [Hear a three-minute audio of Bertrand on coaching here] Luke has only been in the Finn since January, so at a technical level he still needs to learn how to sail the boat. It can be exciting to think about his potential, because he wasn’t the fastest out there in the Silver Cup.

In September you’re off to the Laser masters worlds in the UK. What’s your mindset on that kind of competition? It can’t be the same as chasing an Olympic medal.

I’m a little anxious about going to the worlds and not being where I want to be—I would have liked more practice, instead I’ve been coaching—but maybe that’s what masters sailing is all about. It’s a great scene. It was one of my fears, having been so competitive as a youth, with such high expectations, that getting back into the Laser I’d feel like a failure, but it’s not like that. I’m probably as fit as when I was younger, just not as flexible. Laser sailors today are more physical, and they’re faster. I’m kind of at the same level as when I was a youth, but the standard has moved up, in masters sailing too, so the challenge is still there.

So you wouldn’t mind winning, but that’s not the reason to go.

Correct. Otherwise I would have approached it a lot differently. Next year may be another story.

The St. Francis Yacht Club is running the 2010 Gold Cup for the Finn Class. Racing will be in the East Bay, with shoreside staging out of Marina Bay, Richmond, so that weary sailors are spared a five mile beat back to the St. Francis docks. The competition runs through Saturday. Feel the burn.

Bridge to Bridge Mayhem


All Photos by Kimball Livingston

Today we undertake a study of the habits of man. In particular, we ask why two of the most popular sailing events in Northern California are totally whack. Or, to rephrase that, why should two totally whack sailing events rank at the top of anybody’s local calendar?

You could ask, why did Cadillacs have tailfins?

Or you could ask, why did those great tailfins go away?

Every winter, when average winds are at their wimpiest and average tides are at their screamingest, San Francisco Bay boats with lids turn out by the hundreds for the what-else-could-you-possibly-call-it-but Three Bridge Fiasco. Our biggest regatta of the year. Round three marks in any direction in any order and roll the dice on the puffs. And year after year the best sailors finish at the top. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

On the flip side of the calendar, every August there is the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge, a jam-up of windsurfers, kiteboarders, and 18-foot skiffs. A natural mix, actually. In each of these groups, there is no one who would rather be sailing slow. And as Howie Hamlin says, “I bet, in about a third of the B2B races, whoever won, we’ve had a windsurfer, a kiter, and a skiff in the top three. The best of each. Talk about finding the limits of sailing.”

Talk about limits. With a breeze in the high twenties, Hamlin this year—he’s a 505 world champion, the first unAussie to win the 18-foot skiff championship, and until Wednesday the defending champion here—went down in the Strait, without ever making it under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the bay. Four of thirteen skiffs finished (31 percent), twelve of thirteen Formula board sailors (92 percent; btw you rock, Marion Lepert), and seventeen of twenty-nine kites (57 percent). The winners were the Aussie skiff team of Michael Coxon, Aaron Links, and Trevor Barnabas, maintaining their lead in the International Skiff Championship that wraps up today.

Kiwi skiff skipper Graham Catley suffered a severely lacerated leg in a crash in the early seconds of the race, outside the Gate, and local skiff sailor Chad Freitas came home hurting with ribs that possibly are cracked. That from a crash of his own. The front of the fleet was away and gone, but the waters behind were so littered with victims that St. Francis Yacht Club race manager John Craig blew off abandonment signals for the struggling stagglers.

At the bottom of the course, approaching the Bay Bridge, the leading skiffs, kites, and windsurfers were all in contention, but in a repeat of 2009, that’s where the wind faded and kites began to drift out of the sky. Only Chip Wasson (local legend, international class) broke the top five, placing fourth to protect the honor of the kites. Windsurfing stalwart Steve Silvester was top boardsailor at sixth.

Past yon point, the next land is Hawaii, Japan if you miss that. Yes, the kiteboarder, the windsurfer, and the skiff are racing level. Oops, an unlevel horizon. They should hold that sucker still.

RONSTAN BRIDGE TO BRIDGE: Contestants rally-up in the Golden Gate Strait, just west of the bridge, and then make one big bull run for a finish line at the Oakland Bay Bridge, 7.5 miles downwind and g’bless the faint of heart because this is not for the faint of heart. A two-day heatwave broke in the afternoon and the fog rolled in and the breeze climbed into the twenties. Here is the post-start sequence as Graham Catley and crew close-up on a windsurfer that (I’m sorry) I can’t identify . . .



Catley and crew hail from the Auckland Sailing Club, which would seem a long way from Sydney Harbour and the origin of the 18-foot skiffs, except that here they are even farther from home, in their antipodes. Average surface-water temperature at the Golden Gate, 56 degrees . . .


Oops, I do fear the blue-decked boat in the background is our Howie Hamlin, former defending champion . . .


With his leg injuries, Catley will be sidelined from today’s sailing, if there is any . . .



Others, meanwhile, were off to the bay . . .


The fog has a beauty of its own, once you’ve had a break (see previous post).


But, much as in last year’s race, the kites stepped out, then stepped into holes near the finish line. I haven’t studied the race history closely, to know if this is a problem-type problem, but it is certain that in the last two years you could have devised a fairer race course with a different finish line, That is, by booting the bridge to bridge concept. And the bath. And the baby. Oh, forget it.

Back when kites first entered this event, it was all but impossible for them to get back upwind. They still can’t match windsurfers upwind, or not very often, but the developments have been tremendous. And on Wednesday, getting downwind the last few hundred meters was the big deal. You either had a puff or you didn’t. That’s Treasure Island in the background, now transferred from the Navy to the City but not in play to host America’s Cup teams . . .


By the time you make the finish, you’ve reached a bit of sunshine, and then it’s time to turn around and beat home . . .


Now, I said we would pose the question, and we did: Why would two totally whack sailing events rank at the top of anybody’s local calendar?

But if you don’t understand, I can’t possibly explain.

Above it All

The 18-foot skiff class is doing nicely in 2010, and they have sent their largest delegation ever to race an International Regatta on San Francisco Bay. Considering that most of them come all the way from Sydney, Australia, a showing of 13 boats looks good.

Naturally, they came here for the big breeze, and naturally, Northern California served up a heat wave, so for the first two days, we didn’t see the big breeze. Hot weather has been so rare in 2010 that it’s made people rather giddy to see the sun. For example, this Presidio gardener who was clowning for her cohorts . . .

Photographs by Kimball Livingston

Waiting for the breeze is about conserving energy. I have to repeat this shot of John Winning’s boat, painted to look like plank on frame . . .

If only for the contrast to the same boat, all on . . .

Like several other folks around here, I got a ride in Howie Hamlin’s flying motorcycle (with the left door removed for photography, that’s how it feels) to check out the skiff races and whatever else caught my eye. The ship is an R44 II made by Robinson. Looks like this, as shot by Erik Simonson . . .

We lifted out of North Field, Oakland over the Oakland Shipping Channel and the former Naval base . . .

Being local, I had to check out the new Bay Bridge in progress . . .

And the worksite . . .

With parts that are fetching in the abstract . . .

At Crissy Field beach, the fleet was out and the sun crowd was in . . .

And soon the race was on . . .




Almost never has a high pressure system been powerful enough to shut down the Venturi of the Golden Gate. In a heat wave on San Francisco Bay, you’re likely to have the race delayed, but you’re not likely to get skunked . . .


Pure vanity—a self portrait . . .

Between races we checked out Andrey Melnichenko’s 394-foot “A” that’s been hanging off Sausalito. I don’t see an anchor rode, so I assume she is being held on station the new way, with a combination of gps and power corrections . . .


Not being part of the Monaco-St. Barth megayacht circuit, San Francisco Bay does not have many visitors on this scale . . .


While we’re not on the subject, you have four more days to buy a raffle ticket to support the Project Kaisei research into Pacific Ocean plastic removal. The ratios are good, the tickets are $50 apiece, and the prize is a week on a 50-footer in Polynesia, flights paid for, with $2,500 spending money. It’s a good cause and a good prize. Check it out at Dream Sail Raffle.

Later, we saw the A’s tender headed for the docks of the St. Francis Yacht Club, which is running the skiff races. Our gossipy tidbit of the day, Melnichenko took a skiff ride himself a few days ago.



It was a rare day on San Francisco Bay. Even as the breeze picked up to 12 knots, there was none of the biting chill that locals know as daily reality. But there is one thing we know about a heat wave in San Francisco. It won’t last any longer than a passing wake . . .


Now it’s Wednesday, getting on, and the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race is set for 1730. Skiffs, windsurfers, and kiteboarders all in one big bull run from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge. I’ve added another layer and I’m wishing for one more. The breeze is up, the waves are up, the whitecaps are up, and it’s looking perfect for the Bridge to Bridge.

By the way, no matter what you’ve read, my spies at City Hall tell me that dropping the CEQA exemption plan was anything but a capitulation. The BMW Oracle team will be back in San Francisco next week, and we’re still talking AC-N-SF.

Kumbaya Frisco Jumbo

Semi-gratuitous image of an 18-foot skiff cranking down San Francisco Bay in the International Regatta, continuing through Thursday. Ahem, the America’s Cup boats will be faster. Photos by Kimball Livingston

In the Inbox, from David Lewis, is a copy of a letter sent Tuesday by one of my favorite environmental organizations—Save the Bay—to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The letter lays out a willingness, or better yet it says “We are enthusiastic” about building a partnership between environmental groups and the city of San Francisco, all to the end of creating an environment in which BMW Oracle Racing can commit with confidence to declaring San Francisco Bay the venue for a match in 2014. In formal terms, of course, Golden Gate Yacht Club holds the America’s Cup, but I don’t think that Commodore Marcus Young needs any convincing at all.

David Lewis is the Executive Director of Save The Bay, and the letter bears his signature.

Maybe, just maybe, this way forward will work. The Mayor’s office now says that it is abandoning an earlier plan to fast-track an infrastructure buildout by securing an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act. That will keep Gavin Newsom’s pro-environmental credentials intact as he campaigns to trade his Mayor’s seat for the Lieutenant Governor’s seat, come November.

The plan (hope, whatever) is to enlist all the major players in the environmental arena. Several more already are aboard. The concern (mine) is how to rule out every possibility of intervention from what, offshore, we would call a rogue wave.

The Golden Gate Yacht Club , on the shoreline bordering the race course of an America’s Cup in San Francisco Bay.

From the mayor’s office also comes word that the resolution supported in the California state legislature by reps Yee/Leno/Ammiano/Ma passed out of the Senate Monday evening on a 33-0 vote. The Assembly will vote before the week is out. And the bill that they are supporting was drafted by Ed Worley, who sent us a comment on yesterday’s post regarding State Senate Resolution SCR124. The subtext? Ed Worley crewed for Rod Davis on Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s Eagle Challenge for America’s Cup in Australia in 1987.

Here is the letter from David Lewis to Mayor Gavin Newsom::

As you know, Save The Bay is the oldest and largest organization working to protect and restore San Francisco Bay for people and wildlife. We are enthusiastic about the prospect that San Francisco may be selected to host the 34th America’s Cup. The world’s premier sailing race represents a special opportunity to showcase San Francisco Bay to the world, and create lasting benefits for public access to the Bay and its shoreline.

We believe that the best prospects for San Francisco to be selected as the host city for the America’s Cup, and to complete the physical improvements needed to support the Cup, lie in continuing the collaborative process that you and your staff have initiated with us and others this month, not in a legislated statutory exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act.

We look forward to working with you to bring the America’s Cup to San
Francisco, and to working with the agencies that have jurisdiction over the Bay and waterfront areas where facilities and improvements may be needed. Working together, we are optimistic that all parties can promptly process project plans for the Cup.

Thank you very much for your leadership.

David Lewis

LUKE LAWRENCE WINS FINN JUNIOR WORLDS

At the finish line of the Finn class Junior World Championship (the Silver Cup) I could hear the new champ, Luke Lawrence, telling his coach, past Finn Gold Cup winner John Bertrand, “I can’t believe this is happening!”


My edited version of the Finn class press release goes like this:

On his 20th birthday, Miami sailor Luke Lawrence won the 2010 Finn Junior World title. What better present!

“Winning this event was my main goal this year,” Lawrence said. “I have trained hard since spring with my coach, John Bertrand. My learning curve has been great, but it has been stressing at times. I am happy because I was able today to go out there and do the job.”

The day started under a high pressure system with uncharacteristic sun and wind from the land and an AP flag flying to postpone racing until the westerly seabreeze filled.


With the breeze coming on, warm and gentle by community standards, racing started at 1500 after one general recall. What followed was a nerve raclking race with light winds and lead changes throughout. Caleb Paine was first to the top mark, while Luke Lawrence rounded in 11th place. The run against the current provided the biggest opportunities to gain or lose. While the top five sailed the run down the middle of the course, Oliver Tweddell (AUS), Egor Terpigorev (RUS) and Luke Lawrence (USA) went close to the shore for current relief in the shallows. It worked.

Egor Terpigorev (RUS) won the last race, which counted for double points, with Oliver Tweddell (AUS) second and Luke Lawrence third, good enough to take the title, three points ahead of European Junior champion Ioannis Mitakis (GRE) and Oliver Twedelle (AUS).

Most Junior sailors will stay in San Francisco to race the Finn Gold Cup scheduled next week. “My objective is to make the top 30,” says Lawrence. “That’s where I finished in the Finn Europeans last May. But for now I will take a break and sail an 18 ft skiff.”

SPEAKING OF WHICH

When the heat wave/land breeze comes on, and you have to wait for the Golden Gate wind slot/ sea breeze to win, you might as well kick back on the bow of a super-lightweight composite skiff, painted to look like plank construction

It’s nothing like America’s Cup racing. But it’s the hottest thing on the bay, right now. Literally. And even so, every day, the breeze comes eventually.

Aussie Herman Winning is leading the skiffs going into today. The series wraps up tomorrow, but today the highlight is the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge, 7+ miles from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge, with skiffs, kiteboards, and windsurfers all mixed together.

Howie Hamlin, the first American to ever win the 18-foot skiff class championship, says, “I don’t know how many times we’ve had the top three finishers show up as one of each. I bet it’s a third of the time that we’ve had a skiff, a kite, and a windsurfer all in the top three—the best of each group.”

The race is a favorite local wacko tradition. First gun is at 1730 at the Nun buoy west of the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Defending America’s Cup in America

Could an unstadium in Los Angeles consign the America’s Cup match to Italy?

Could a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California consign the America’s Cup match to Spain?

Is it possible for everybody to pull in one direction, and go nowhere?

18ft skiffs are racing through Thursday in the Alcatraz Channel. Substitute 72-footers and you have something of the look of an America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay. Photo by Rich Roberts

These are important questions. Less important—Did a former weightlifter/actor show Russell Coutts his Conan the Barbarian sword when the CEO of BMW Oracle Racing called at 1303 10th Street, Sacramento, following what my spies tell me was a longish session in Room 200, City Hall, San Francisco?

What’s been playing out in the last week and a half since the BOR team came to town and asked the city of San Francisco to hurry up and produce a plan and a proposal and certainty by September 30 –yes, Virginia, and all your little friends, Larry Ellison really does want to schedule an America’s Cup match for San Francisco Bay, 2014—but, as I was saying, what’s been playing out is not quite Kafkaesque, and yet it does bring into focus the reasons why you’re never a fool to be pessimistic about getting things done in San Francisco.

Ultimately, however, this is about defending America’s Cup in America.

That’s why I still believe it will happen. The teams will be based at Pier 50, directly down-camera from every Giants game, and how cool is that?

We’re not talking about paving a salt marsh (hey there, Cargill), we’re talking about rehabbing concrete piers that are crumbling into the bay. Kyri McClellan, project manager for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office of economic and workforce development, calls it “a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform those piers back to public use.”

If environmental groups and neighborhood NIMBYs prevent that, and cost the region the $1.4 billion of revenue and 9,000 jobs estimated to come with an America’s Cup, they’ll have a lot to answer for. The sport of sailboat racing will lose. But the environmental groups too say they want to see the America’s Cup sailed on San Francisco Bay. Everybody says they want to pull in one direction; the issue is process. Then Pandora peered into the box and . . .

There’s big money on offer in Italy. There’s infrastructure in place in Spain (where the sailors get a tailored tax break that they really, really like). There’s noise coming out of France and Portugal. And here we are in a cash-strapped city in a cash-strapped state, starved for the benefits that a Cup would bring, poised to achieve failure while all parties agree on the goal. And that would, truly, be Kafkaesque.

So let’s not go there.

Reliable breeze, vistas, little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars, great backgrounds for 18ft skiff racing, or an America’s Cup match. Photo by Rich Roberts

The easy thing would be for Larry Ellison’s team to take the money and race in Europe. Not because he needs the money, but because the Europeans will simply make things happen. He’s not taking the easy route for any number of reasons. He lives here. He learned to sail here. He sees that cameras love San Francisco and San Francisco Bay. This is the place for a transformative America’s Cup match. And it would not be pleasant for an American to announce that he is defending America’s Cup, elsewhere.


TIME TO FORM A CIRCLE, AND ALL HOLD HANDS

BOR needs a commitment from the city before it too can commit. The team has asked to see a proposal by September 30, after first running December 30 as the storyline for a venue announcement. They are beset by anxious would-be challengers who are tugging at them from all sides, and everyone wants to move the ball. The hurry-up message, however, prompted a hurry-up plan from the mayor’s office that drew all the environmental/neighborhood issues out of the woodwork and spilled them onto the floor.

That plan suggested delivering Certainty quickly by going to the California State legislature—which closes its session on August 30—to gain an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act, aka CEQA. Pronounced seequa. This was done for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and it would cut through much, not all, of the red tape and environmental review that, otherwise, spell delay. But the proposal proved a call to arms for environmental organizations. They say they support an America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay, but not an exemption to CEQA. To them, CEQA is the holy grail.

On Friday, August 20, Kyri McClellan appeared on KQED Radio in the first Forum hour as part of a panel that included the Sierra Club’s Michael Endicott, who opposes a CEQA exemption. The topic kept coming up. That’s what’s generating most of the noise. But it’s not the only game in town. In a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, John Coté quotes Michael Cohen, head (for another six weeks) of the mayor’s economic development office: “We are pursuing a number of parallel courses.”

A CEQA exemption may or may not be where we’re headed, but the hurry up message and the CEQA flare-up have had the power to “concentrate the mind wonderfully,” so to speak. A little power play here, a counter power play there, and pretty soon you define the outlines of the situation.

Continuing with CEQA for a moment: If the city proceeds to seek an exemption, it could be a hard sell. For starters, it’s a last minute deal. And, per Save the Bay executive director David Lewis, “Even if every environmental group in town agreed, I don’t think it would happen. The exemption for the stadium has poisoned the atmosphere.”

Stadium?

Toward the close of the 2009 legislative session, California legislators hastily granted an exemption so that Los Angeles could rush to secure a bid for a new NFL team and then build a stadium in the City of Industry. So far, no team and no stadium.

“Plus,” says Lewis, “Chevron’s Richmond [California] refinery is in Sacramento trying to get an environmental exemption. That creates its own atmosphere, and for legislators outside the Bay Area, the America’s Cup is not a priority. A week ago, when I first heard that the mayor’s office was thinking about this, my own thought was, let’s find another way to give the team confidence. I’m optimistic this can be done, but my optimism doesn’t matter in the context of a compressed period of time.

DOWN CAMERA FROM AT&T PARK

“In the past,” Lewis said, “it’s been possible to say what is being exempted. In this case, they tell us they need to build finger piers and a breakwater, but they haven’t said how big those need to be.”

Which depends in part on the decision to go mono or multi, doesn’t it? And that decision also turns on the no-later-than date of September 30.

Lewis again: “We suggest creating a positive statement that people support an America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay, and we are willing to work together.”

But that would leave it a bit sporty for the Defender, with the chance that some odd impediment might pop up. Here is where we are testing the creativity of Michael Cohen and testing the creativity of the environmental groups, and g’bless.

I seem to remember tremendous difficulty surrounding the building of a new baseball park, now acknowledged as a gem.

“The devil is in the details,” says Tina Andolina, legislative director of the Planning and Conservation League, headquartered in the capital city and also opposing an exemption. “The exemption is the easiest thing in their eyes [the office of the mayor], but the legislators are once bitten, twice shy. What’s needed is certainty that construction can proceed in a timely manner. I’m rooting for California to host the America’s Cup. It’s a point of optimism that the City of San Francisco reached out to environmental groups to ask what we need, and it’s my understanding that the mayor’s people have not yet made a decision to go forward with requesting the CEQA exemption. People who care about conservation care about CEQA, and when they feel that it’s under threat, it drives them nuts—think Richmond Refinery—because every exemption chips away at the law.”

And here we are, August 2010, with Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office estimating a huge positive impact for the regional economy and everybody agreeing that America’s Cup 34, for the good of all, ought to be sailed on San Francisco Bay in 2014, and for all that we’re wringing our hands in fear that we can’t get there from here.

Fear, perhaps, is useful.

Racing toward Alcatraz in the Junior World Championship of the Olympic Finn. It was in this class that Russell Coutts—who has won more America’s Cup races than anyone else—won his Olympic Gold Medal. Junior Championship racing continues through Tuesday, followed by the Finn Gold Cup starting Thursday

SO DEFINE “CERTAINTY”

Larry Ellison built a software empire by being smart, and by being adventurous. He won the America’s Cup last February in what we might call a hostile takeover. As it began, there was absolutely no guarantee of success. The man is not risk averse, but in declaring a venue for America’s Cup 34, he is betting for all the players, not just for himself.

This is a historic moment for the America’s Cup. The Defenders propose to create a new competitive/media regime that, if successful, will become a new tradition with so much force behind it that the next winner will simply have to carry it forward, even though it is not enshrined in the Deed of Gift.

It’s time, past time, for that.

But the heart of the America’s Cup tradition is the premise that the winner wins the venue. It was an upstart Yankee schooner, remember, that won a big, silver trophy in 1851. She raced around the Isle of Wight, and our upstart schooner was sailing against the entire fleet of the Royal Yacht Squadron at a time when Britain was the empire of might. And why did Britain have an empire? Because Britannia ruled the waves. Plenty of folks back home in the former colonies had expected the Yankee schooner to suffer a humiliating defeat. Instead, the English lion was bearded in his own den.

And the owners of the Yankee schooner had the audacity to name their boat—

America.

It took 132 years for a team from another country to take away America’s Cup.

132 years.

When a boat named Australia II finally became the first foreign winner, in 1983, there were plenty of Australians saying, “It’s Australia’s Cup now.” But that was just talk. The name did not change, because the prize itself is nothing unless it is the America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in sports. The Aussies did, however, take an unofficial national holiday.

An American team carrying the colors of an American club simply has to defend America’s Cup in America.

The last time I checked, the Golden Gate Yacht Club fit that description.

A YEAR FROM NOW

If rumor holds true that BOR hopes to stage a pre-event on San Francisco Bay along about a year from now, we know they’ll be doing it without finished infrastructure at Piers 30/32 and 50, but the sooner we start, the better. On KQED’s Forum, McClellan pointed out that Piers 30/32 went through a full environmental review early in this decade when they were being considered as a cruise ship terminal.

Endicott, speaking for the Sierra Club and arguing that seeking a CEQA exemption is “the wrong tack,” countered: “This is a very different project from a cruise terminal. It is a local land use decision, and it should have the voice of local people.”

McClellan: “The proposed use is much less intensive than a cruise ship terminal.”

Endicott: “There are leases involved. This has ramifications for the next 75 years.”

McClellan: “We have never suggested that any future development on the waterfront would be exempted from CEQA. This remains a fluid situation, and we remain committed to working with the Sierra Club.”

NOTE: The above is extremely edited in an attempt to expose the core of the conversation and does not at all reflect how it felt or sounded at the time. I’m taking a risk, but I think I got it right. This might also prove an opportune moment to repeat myself: A little power play here, a counter power play there, and pretty soon you define the outlines of the situation.

The city, McClellan said, “is bringing every resource to bear. When was the last time the board of supervisors had an 11-0 vote?” [Referring to an 11-0 vote on a resolution in support of AC-N-SF.]

“In September,” McClellan said, “we need to bring a full program before the board. If we were allowed to enter into binding agreements, that would provide certainty. Without that, the supervisors can only make an endorsement. It’s a theme that came up in our last meeting with the team.”

So there is the welter, and your speculation is as good as mine as to which of Michael Cohen’s “parallel courses” might work out, or will the team allow some wiggle room on that September 30 date, and will the creativity of the environmental groups measure up to their professed enthusiasm.

“I’ve been a sailor on San Francisco Bay since 1979,” Endicott said. “It would be a great thing to have the America’s Cup here.”

Footnote to the post that won’t end: Michael Cohen, director of the mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, resigned on Friday, one day after completing a deal to transfer Treasure Island from the US Navy to the city of San Francisco. Cohen has had the lead in the city’s negotiations for an America’s Cup deal, and his known talents were one of the factors in favor of success. He has said that he will stay in the saddle until the end of September.

Still here? Go outside and play. Oh yeah, Conan’s sword . . .

Finn Junior Worlds and, Yeehaw

Now I know how they say “yeehaw” in Brazil. It’s

YEEEHAAW!

Here is Brazil’s reigning Finn Junior World Champion, Jorge Zarif, port-tacking the fleet in Thursday’s practice race for the 2010 championship . . .


I could hear him across the water—YEEHAAW—as the shutter clicked.

Nobody bothered to finish the practice race, but the deal goes serious today, Friday, with two races on San Francisco Bay. This is also the venue for the Finn Gold Cup that kicks off next week.

It was fascinating to observe John Bertrand in his role of coaching American Luke Lawrence. I remember Bertrand winning the Laser Slalom at (I think) age 16 on these waters and then going on to define the Laser Generation. That was the 1970s, and San Francisco Bay had 400 percent more Lasers per capita than any other sailing capital (thanks, Don), The young man would go on to win multiple Laser world titles and then become the second American to win the Finn Gold Cup, after Henry Sprague.


An Olympic silver medal was also involved, but right now John Bertrand is pouring his all into Luke Lawrence, who took Jorge Zarif’s transom and then checked back, as you see in the photo below. The bay –one sixth of all that water goes out and in twice a day—was ebbing against the seabreeze. Dig the seastate, and this was a random wave, not the big one . . .


The Gold Cup will be huge. The Silver Cup, for juniors, has only 15 entries, and yet it has 10 countries represented, and four continents. More at finngoldcup.com. Another practice start—


Warrior’s Wish Makes Port

The phone rang at 0511 and what followed was a truncated conversation with a strong-sounding Ronnie Simpson who was “inside the Gate” and—he’s now ashore—safe, after his borrowed 30-footer dropped its keel 800 miles off the coast on the return from the Singlehanded Transpac.

Warrior’s Wish was returning from Hawaii to San Francisco Bay, a distance of 2,300 miles, when the keel sheared off, leaving the boat at risk of capsize, hour to hour and moment to moment.

I followed those last 800 miles on tenterhooks, along with a lot of other people, though our “tenterhooks” were nothing compared to life aboard. Ronnie and crewmate Ed McCoy spent their time in the cockpit, life raft and ditch bag at the ready. In a case of ill fortune, it was a rare good fortune that the seas left them a mild window for their unstable craft, all the way to the coast.

Ronnie was headed to Richmond, in the East Bay—a distance from the entrance to the bay—and his phone kept cutting out, so we never had a coherent conversation. He did say that, on the final approach, “The seas were on the beam, so it was difficult for the boat, but they were swells, not wind waves.”

I believe I understood that he had an escort of not one but four boats for the passage through the strait.

And there was a moment when he put the phone down because of a wake from commercial traffic, and then the phone went dead—not for the first time—but I was confident even then that all would be well with Warrior’s Wish. Before the race, Ronnie told me, when I asked what’s it like to go in two years from nonsailor-never-even-thought-about-it to, as he says, “working in the sailing sector; playing in the sailing sector, living in the sailing sector—

“I own less, and I make less than I ever have.

“And I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

I hope that’s still true. It’s been a ride and a half.

Guardian Angels Apply Here

Ronnie Simpson and Ed McCoy have crossed the 200 mile mark in their tip-toe journey home to San Francisco Bay after losing the keel from the 30-foot sloop, Warrior’s Wish.

It’s not as though either of them has had a “night’s sleep” since, living in the cockpit with life raft and ditch bag at the ready.

The pair are delivering the boat back to the mainland from Hawaii following Simpson’s Singlehanded Transpac race and, come Wednesday morning, I suspect they will have no trouble finding guardian angels eager to escort them through the hazards of the Golden Gate Strait, per Ronnie’s note below:

“One more night down and hopefully only two more nights to go. The nights freak me out a bit more than the days. Things are still more or less OK aboard Warrior’s Wish. We’ve had to bleed the motor several times. We checked all of our work regarding fuel filter swap, previous bleeding, etc. Everything seems tight, but due to constant vibration (or something) it seems there is a very small air leak. Motor sounds very starved and loses power for a few minutes. Definitely seems like a fuel issue. The starvation/power loss either works itself out naturally in five minutes, as it did once yesterday, or requires bleeding, which we’ve done three times in the past two days. The motor generally stays running throughout the entire ordeal. She’s purring right along right now and we’re making 5.5 knots with the jib up. Definitely looking forward to getting back to San Francisco. I think we both want showers, Thai curry chicken, and beer.

“Our ETA is becoming more defined. Looking at Wednesday morning’s flood tide. Slack is at 0349; max flood is 0706, and slack is 1011. Fortunately, the ebb tide after that is a mild one, so we have some leeway (no pun intended). We would like to have a boat on the scene to meet us and escort us in if that is possible. With the gnarly currents at the Golden Gate, if the motor craps out, we’re done. Either into the South Tower or a lee shore. Too much leeward drift with no keel. I think we can do it ourselves; I just want a powerboat as backup in case we need a tow. Please contact RJ (silver911r@gmail.com) if you know of someone who can help with this. I would prefer to not have Coast Guard on the scene as I don’t feel it’s an emergency.”

This is Warrior’s Wish doing what it could do when it still had a keel. If you are new to the Ronnie Simpson story, understand that he has had more drama in his young life than most people experience in a long life. Enlisted in the Marines at 18, blown up in a firefight outside Fallujah at 19, medically retired at 20, off to sail around the world, lost his boat at sea, finished the circumnavigation on a bicycle and entered the 2010 Singlehanded Transpac to call attention to the work of Hope for the Warriors, a nonprofit aimed at getting wounded veterans back into the stream of life.

I love this guy, but he does seem like a bit of a lightning rod . . .

Suddenly Lighter

You met Ronnie Simpson in this space as a young, former Marine, medically retired following a shoot-up outside Fallujah, prepping for the Singlehanded Transpac. He had a good race—finished second—but Ronnie lost the keel off his 30-foot Warrior’s Wish 800 miles short of completing his return trip to San Francisco Bay. The word now is, “Wish us luck.”

As of Friday, Simpson and crewman Ed McCoy have kept the boat upright and continued to make miles toward the coast—life raft and ditch bag at the ready–since losing the keel on Wednesday night.
It’s dicey. Steering is hampered by the lack of a keel, and the boat was never meant for long distance motoring. Before the incident, Simpson had said, “The little one-lung Yanmar only makes four knots at cruising rpm, and I really don’t like motoring at all.” That was when sailing, even in light air, was still an attractive option. Suddenly, light air is good news that probably won’t last.

Simpson and McCoy have a contact schedule with the Coast Guard, and the Horizon Hawk, a 728-foot container ship owned by Horizon Freight Lines (“our newest unofficial sponsor”) rallied up with them to make a gift of diesel fuel. “They dropped a bunch of drums of diesel fuel into the water with little orange markers on them,” Simpson writes. “Like some bad carnival game, Ed and I drove around in our wounded boat, picking them up with a boat hook. I had to jump in to retrieve a few. A line from one of the drums got wrapped around the prop, but Ed cut it clear.”

Horizon Hawk was outbound from Oakland. Here is the ship at the Port of Oakland on an earlier visit, photographed by Alan D. Cochran of MarineTraffic.com . . .

At least part of the time, Simpson reports, they are able to carry a small jib, “just trying to keep the heavy side down. Oh never mind, that saying doesn’t apply to us anymore.”

The special irony in this tale is that Ronnie Simpson lost his own boat in the Pacific on his first attempt to go voyaging, and finished his circumnavigation on a bicycle. Warrior’s Wish is a loaner, generously offered so that Simpson could fulfill his desire to race in the name of the wounded veterans support foundation, Hope for the Warriors. The backstory, RPGs and the Big Ocean, is right here, and Ronnie’s own posts live here.

A PERKINS DAY AT THE RACES

Past champion Chris Perkins won Race 7 of the International Knarr Championship today on San Francisco Bay, but with one Saturday race to go, his kid brother Jon, a two-time IKC champion, is looking good to make it three. Jon climbed from a bad start to second place and has a seven-point lead over two skippers tied for second, Chris Perkins and Denmark’s Soren Pehrsson.

A Lifestyle, Not a Boat

Soren Pehrsson had to restart around the end after nosing over the line early in Race Four of the 2010 IKC, but the past champion climbed from the tank to 5th

Our topic today is a peculiar phenomenon, rather like a wildflower that grows only at the mid-altitudes of the southeastern slopes of steep hills in chalky soil in some exotic region yonder. It’s also an example of how good a sailing class can be.

I’ll try to explain the Knarr by telling you that it’s not about buying a boat, it’s about buying into a way of life. Not because the boats are fast. They’re not. Much less comfortable. Or even because they’re pretty, which they are. No, they are loved.

If this fleet could bottle and sell the secret sauce that binds and inspires its people, every fleet everywhere would pony up to buy some. We’re talking loyalty.

The Knarr—I hear most of you asking, Knarr? Knarr? WTF? The 42nd International Knarr Championship continues tomorrow on San Francisco Bay—is actively raced in only three places: Norway, Denmark and San Francisco Bay. But when I say actively, the accent is on active. Some high-level, professional-level talents race these boats, but not to improve their careers. More than one hotdog has dropped in, expecting to make a killing, and discovered that it just is not easy.

The irony, and the beauty, is that if you get to the top of the Knarr fleet, the world couldn’t care less.

But, if you sail Knarrs (in the Oslofjorden they pronounce the “K”) you are family, and it is just possible that in these times, family has value that trumps celebrity. The International Knarr Championship rotates among the three Knarr homes. You qualify out of your local fleet, and when you arrive at the regatta you are a guest at your own party, hosted, housed and feted. When the IKC comes to your town, you return the favor. Boats are provided out of the local fleet, by draw. The rule applies to locals, too, and nobody gets to sail a boat they own. It is quite the way to make friends in faraway harbors and really experience a place.

But why is it so successful? I’ve been watching this fleet for decades, and participating on occasion, and I don’t know the answer to that any more than I could tell you why one production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is pure magic and another falls flat. As ever, it’s about the people. Longtime competitor Knud Wibroe tells me, “The Knarr is a lifestyle that involves the whole family. There’s a support group who don’t own boats, but they participate ashore. We have a wealth of volunteers. On that measure, we are the envy of all the classes on San Francisco Bay.”

Re-entering San Francisco Marina, we discover a sight to warm the heart on a cold, foggy day: A dredge at work on the sand bar

Nobody ever leaves this fleet. Somebody might sell a boat and not buy another. They might sail in other fleets, but they’ll always be back as crew. They’ll show for the parties. They’re not “gone.” I guess the message is, yes, such things are possible.

Along with developing one single, solitary but vigorous U.S. fleet (there are a few Knarrs scattered around the U.S.), the leaders in the class over time moved to allow boats to be made of fiberglass, with the weight and weight distribution spec’d to keep performance characteristics the same. It worked. Choose wood or glass to suit your preference, but not because one or the other will make you a winner.

At the St. Francis Yacht Club dock after a day of racing


The Knarr—the word comes from a Norse term for ocean-voyaging craft—was born in occupied Norway. As once recounted by Shimon-Craig van Collie, the story begins with two young men wanting a boat larger than the popular 25-foot Folkboat but not as dedicated-racy as a Six-Meter or Dragon:

Their search led them to Erling Kristofersen, a designer who had a knack for inexpensive but fast boats. He drew up plans for a 30-footer. Among Kristofersen’s innovative techniques was building the boat upside down on a last, as a cobbler would make a shoe . . . known originally as a “Last Boat” it was later renamed Knarr after a Viking cargo boat.

The prototype was built in a little shack in the woods. Native pine was readily available, but oak and mahogany had to be scavenged or hauled across the border from neutral Sweden. When the occupying authorities got wind of the project, they declared that the boat’s construction could continue only if they got use of the boat upon completion.

After launching and sailing the prototype in the summer of 1944, the owners declared it to be “unseaworthy” and in need of changes. Another boat was started in the winter of 1944/45. Curiously, by the time the builders had satisfied themselves that the boat was safe, the occupation had ended.

Jon Perkins rallies up for a start


San Francisco native Jon Perkins, already a two-time IKC champion, has won two of four races sailed so far and carries an eight-point lead into Thursday’s two races. In second and third are two more past champions of the class, Soren Pehrsson of Denmark with sixteen points and Jon’s brother, Chris Perkins, with eighteen points. It’s another thirteen points to fourth place, so there you have your separation.

Racing continues through Saturday. Updates at St. Francis YC.

NEW ENTRY FOR VELUX 5 OCEANS

A note from the organizers—

Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski has moved one step closer to his goal of becoming the first Polish person to race solo around the world after getting his hands on an Eco 60 yacht for the Velux 5 Oceans. Gutek, one of Poland’s best known and most experienced sailors, has spent several months carefully choosing the right boat to take him 30,000 nautical miles around the world in The Ultimate Solo Challenge.

Gutek has settled on Globe, formerly Bagages Superior, one of the most proven Eco 60s on the market. The yacht is a former Vendée Globe winner – in 1991 French solo sailing legend and VELUX 5 OCEANS veteran Alain Gautier steered her to glory. Four years later she returned to the Vendée Globe with Eric Dumont, just missing out on a podium place to finish fourth. Globe is also a veteran of three Transat Jacques Vabre races. In 2000 Globe was rebuilt and five years later she was given a complete overhaul, putting her back at the front line of modern racing yachts.

The next step in Gutek’s voyage to the start of the race in La Rochelle, France, on October 17 is to set sail on a qualifying passage. Having taken delivery of the yacht earlier this week, Gutek and his Polish Ocean Racing team are now preparing Globe for her first offshore voyage under his command.

Gutek, 36, said: “I am very pleased to be able to sail Globe around the world in the VELUX 5 OCEANS. The search for the right boat for me has been a long one but it was worthwhile as now I have a great boat that I know will perform and I can trust in her. I am looking forward to getting to know the boat better when I take her on the qualifying passage later this month. After that we will carry our final preparations before sailing to La Rochelle to prepare for the start of the VELUX 5 OCEANS.”

No stranger to ocean racing, Gutek was a watch captain onboard WARTA-POLPHARMA in The Race, the non-stop race around the world for multihulls. In 2005 he skippered the ORMA 60 Bonduelle in the Nokia Oops Cup. He also attempted to break the monohull record for a non-stop circumnavigation onboard the Volvo 60 Bank BPH (formerly ASSA ABLOY), but damage forced the crew to Cape Town after 9,500 miles.

The VELUX 5 OCEANS, run by Clipper Ventures PLC, is the longest running solo round the world race, and has 28 years of rich heritage as the BOC Challenge and then the Around Alone. This edition features five ocean sprints over nine months. After heading from La Rochelle to Cape Town, the race will then take in Wellington in New Zealand, Salvador in Brazil and Charleston in the US before returning back across the Atlantic to France.