Last weekend the popular St. Maarten Heineken Regatta took place on the tropical waters of the Caribbean, and the 66-foot Gunboat catamaran pictured above tells the story. Win or lose, regattas in the Caribbean are the place to be. This boat is one of a series of high-performance cruising cats that's built in South Africa.
Meantime, on the other side of the planet, engaged in the longest race in the world, a fleet of five Volvo-branded 70-foot monohulls racing in the Volvo Ocean Race, has been battering its way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Singapore, then to Qingdao in China, and now is finally sprinting all the way across the Pacific to Cape Horn and north to its next stop in Rio de Janeiro. It's no picnic. Kind of like racing a Formula 1 race car on cobblestone streets...all the way around the world. Repairs to sails, boats and crewmen are all part of the game.
As reported earlier, gold-medalist Torben Grael is leading the race as skipper of Ericsson 4. His intention of being first home to his native Rio on this leg has been tripped up, however, by teammate Magnuss Olsson, who's racing around the world for the sixth time (!). Olsson is skipper of the older version of Grael's boat, Ericsson 3, and near the north end of New Zaland he split from the fleet, hooked into his own weather system, and has built a 280-mile lead. (Here's the map.) Ken Read's Puma, the American entry, is still in striking distance, about 50 miles behind Grael.
Once upon a time I thought it would be cool to sail the Whitbread Around the World Race. That event morphed into the Volvo Ocean Race and, to be honest, it's lost some of its appeal to me. Could be I'm getting older, but I'm not sure I was ever tough enough to endure "fire-hosing" for days on end, plus the lurching, jarring, battering, total abuse to which these sailors submit their bodies. Part of the problem is that the boats never slow down, always going between 10 and 20 knots, and sometimes 30. I say watch some of the videos on the website, then get a good night's sleep and call yourself lucky!
Ever wonder what's happened to the America's Cup, a competition last held in Valencia, Spain, in 2007, and flopping around almost ever since in the New York State Courts? Well, the short story is that the Cup has moved to the state appeals court now; the Swiss defender, Alinghi, won the last round, but many think BMW Oracle, Larry Ellison's American team, has the stronger case. When the court makes a final decision in another month or two, anything's possible.
If you have to ask why the courts are getting involved, I'm sorry, but I don't have space to get into it here. Ellison has built a trimaran the size of a baseball diamond's infield in case he has to go one-on-one with his counterpart, Ernesto Bertarelli of Switzerland. Ellison's side claims the conditions Bertarelli's squad set for a "normal," multi-country challenge event are patently unfair and contrary to the terms of the America's Cup's Deed of Gift. For a while Ellison's case looked good, but the last round went against him. Want to know more? Cory Friedman's excellent reporting on the subject can be found on Sailing Scuttlebutt; he's an attorney, but he's also a sailor and you can actually understand most of what he writes about the case. Of course, consider how much time you really want to devote to it before you dive in: Cory's written 34 reports and he's not done yet.
Another way to follow the Cup and other pro-level sailboat racing is through Pierre Orphanidis' excellent blog, Valencia Sailing, which also tracks shoreside dramas such as those between Alinghi boss, Bertarelli, and the local, regional, and national governments. Today, Pierre wrote that Las Provincias, Valencia's main newspaper, reported that the Dow Jones or the Nasdaq indexes isn't all that's fallen by half in the last 18 months amidst the current global financial crisis. It also reflects the fee Valencia will have to pay Alinghi in order to be the host city of the 33rd America's Cup in 2010. Times are tough for sponsored sailing, alright, and that's without paying for lawyers. And, of course, once Valencia makes the payment to Alinghi, if the latter loses in Court, all bets are off.
That's the sailboat racing update for this week.