Sunday, February 5, 2017


It’s simply hard to beat racing in the Caribbean, and a week competing in the BVI Spring Regatta + Sailing Festival is no exception. A highlight is always the diversity of boats that participate across many classes - this year there will be some 18 classes - including boats who are in for the very first time, like the newly launched all-carbon HH66 NALA. Others, such as the J122 El Ocaso which has competed in Spring Regatta for the past 10 consecutive years, just keep coming back for more. Likewise, many crew will be racing BVI Spring Regatta for the first time, while others are event old timers, coming back again because they know just how good it all is.

NALA, the carbon rocket ship owned by Jim Vos, a dinghy sailor and long-time boat owner, is seriously fresh out of the yard in Xiamen, China. The brainchild of renown multi hull designers Morelli & Melvin, NALA’s just been unloaded in Fort Lauderdale and boat captain Collin Marshall, who lives in St John, US Virgin Islands, will be spending the next few weeks completing the commissioning work on her before heading into the Caribbean race circuit, including BVI Spring Regatta.

At 66’-long, NALA races with a turbo-charged rig and T-foil rudders that assist stability and reduce pitching in big seas. Curved daggerboards help create lift at higher boat speeds making her faster on all points of sail, Marshall explained. This all-carbon racing machine is super light and as Marshall described, is designed for racing in every condition.

“While we haven’t had a chance to really put it through her paces yet she seems do pretty well in chop. She’s going to love big breeze – being in the Caribbean is going to be fantastic once we figure out the bugs but she is really designed for both light and heavy air regattas.” Marshall expects to race with 10 crew on board who will be coming from all over the east and west coasts.  “We had quite a few Kiwis and Aussies working in China on this project so we’ll have a Kiwi or two on board - for good luck!” Marshall smiled.

Also new to BVI Spring Regatta this year is Challenger, a modified Whitbread 60 built for the ’97 Whitbread Round the World Race but which never made it further than Cape Town due to a financial situation. When Chris Stanmore-Major, owner/founder of Spartan Ocean Racing, bought the boat late 2015, she had just 6,000 miles on her, having been kept in storage for years.

“She is the lowest mileage Whitbread 60 in the world. We’ve since put 20,000 miles on her and she’s been modified for the kind of racing we do, with roller furling headsails and a change to the backstays that makes the rig a lot more secure and even to operate for the charter crews," he said.

Challenger will race Spring Regatta with a crew of 12 sailing guests all new to the boat and two Spartan crew. The team will spend a few days in Tortola pre regatta doing sail training aboard Challenger. Stanmore-Major, who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, said the boat has done well in regattas this year, chalking up first, second and third places. He’s confident that with his staff’s collective sail training background they’ll be able to put together a competitive team for Spring Regatta, although, oddly enough, it’ll be his first time racing in the BVI. “All my racing has been Asia, Europe, around the world etc. so the idea of going to this part of the Caribbean is very exciting,” Stanmore-Majors laughed.” I’ve heard a lot about it but never had the opportunity. I’m interested to see what goes on…”

Complementing the lineup of new boats and new people are event veterans, like Doug Baker, from Long Beach, California. Baker first raced the event in 2000, took a break for a number of years but has been back for the past five events. While he’s owned plenty of fast racing boats in his time, these days Baker prefers to charter. This year he will be at the helm of Runaway, an ultralight sled 70 which will be racing Spring Regatta for the first time. From Peru, Runaway was the first across the line at the 2017 Cape2Rio, and will do several Caribbean events before Baker meets her in Tortola for Spring Regatta.

Doug Baker (red cap) & crew in the BVI
"For the most part chartering works well for me, it’s cost effective, it’s a little more for each regatta but then you don’t have the maintenance of the boat beyond the expense of owning a boat," Baker said. "We try to do our research - I understand Runaway's current owner has done a lot of work on the boat and it’s in really good condition so we’re excited.”

Baker says he'll need about 15 to race Runaway and will have a mix of pro sailors and “volunteers” on board, some whom he has sailed with for 30-40 years, and others 15-20 years. Ernie Richau will navigate and Chad Hough will call tactics, both are from Southern California. Baker has done all the Caribbean events over the years, some more than four or five times.

“I like the Caribbean, and my crew love coming with me,” Baker said, with a big smile. “The weather is always great, 99% of the time you have good wind, lots of competition – we get more competition down there than we do back on the West Coast, the parties are great, it’s hard to beat everything that the Caribbean has to offer!”

Andrew McIrvine, from the Isle of Wight, UK, is also a Spring Regatta veteran returning to the event for the first time in some 20 years. He’s chartered the Beneteau First 40 Olympia's Tigress, and will be racing with his crew, Team Larry.

“The boat we're chartering is a sister ship of my own boat in England on which we’ve been very successful; we’ve won a lot of RORC and other European events with my usual gang on board, we wonLes Voiles de Saint-Tropez a couple of years ago and Cowes Week last year in our class. Tony Mack (Mack Fly) won class at Spring Regatta last year on the same boat.”

The last time McIrvine sailed Spring Regatta was on a Jeanneau 47 and he’d always wanted to do it again. As Admiral of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, McIrvine was involved in the launching of the Caribbean 600 which he has competed in since that race’s inception. This year he wanted to do something different, and will have a team of 12 with him.

“It’s probably too many but everyone wanted to come,” McIrvine laughed. “We’ve hired a young foredeck guy as we’re mostly getting old so that should keep the front end sorted out. I do have Tasmanians on board – not just Australians but Tasmanians - so we could be in big trouble there. We expect to be reasonably competitive if only I can only keep them off the rum!”

The weeklong BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival takes racers throughout the beautiful British Virgin Islands. Starting at Nanny Cay, the Sailing Festival is two days of warm up racing: The Nanny Cay Round Tortola Race, and the Scrub Island Invitational. Next up, the BVI Spring Regatta kicks off three solid days of some of the best racing the Caribbean has to offer.  Check out the 2017 Preliminary Schedule of Events.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Fun Day of Racing to New Destination

Team Hot Stuff
With one day of racing behind them, competitors in the 45th BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival rolled right into today’s race, the Scrub Island Invitational – a 12NM upwind ride for the CSA Cruising, Bareboat, and Multihull fleets, and a 17NM course for the CSA-Racing fleet. Conditions were again breezier than expected with 22 knots from the east and bumpy seas for the 10am start.

Located off the north east end of Tortola, Scrub Island is a new race destination for this year’s Spring Festival.

A private resort island with classic Caribbean white sand beaches and docks at the ready was a welcome sight for racegoers who, on arrival, didn’t waste any time stripping down to bathing suits and finding their way to the pool-side bar.

Said Norwood Smith, VP Marketing, Scrub Island, “This is our first-ever sailing regatta and it’s amazing to be part of the 45th legacy of this event, to be able to host all the boats here and to have Scrub Island as their destination is exciting. While we’re a private island resort, we’re thrilled to be hosting people from all over the world here today.”

SPOOKIE, the TP52 owned by Steve and Heidi Benjamin (USA), took first in CSA-Racing class, followed by Quokka – Performance Yacht Racing, the Grand Soleil 43 skippered by Christian Reynolds (GBR), and in third place, Northern Child, the Swan 51 skippered by Eric Bos (GBR).

Feeling very satisfied with a second place, Reynolds said, “We had a really good sail today. I’ve got people with varied experience onboard but everyone’s smart and enthusiastic. We won the start among some very serious racers and had a few challenging maneuvers out there – for some of the guys, they’re learning a whole new level of racing so it was great to take second.”

Renato Faria (BRA) helmed his Dufour 500 Ventaneiro 3 to another first place today, in the CSA-Cruising class, all the while claiming his boat really isn’t that fast, it’s his fabulous crew. 
Brazilian Stylin'

“It’s not so fast, it’s a cruising boat!” Faria laughed. “We had a nice sail today and were happy to win. We just tried to do our best. We got a good start and followed the coast closely all the time, it was easy racing. We’ve got really nice team work – one of our crew was trying to qualify for the Olympics in the 49’er, so we’re lucky to have him on board.”

Windward Spirit, the Jeanneau 54DS skippered by Serge Bisson (CAN) took second in the CSA-Cruising class, and Sam of Hamble, a Sigma 38 helmed by Peter Hopps (GBR), took third.

First place in the multihull division was Slow Motion, skippered by Werner Puche (GER), while the Outremer 51 Ten Directions, skippered by Glenn Davis (USA), took second. Puche and his family - wife Erena and sons Leon (11) and Robert (9), who are just learning to sail, are having a blast in the BVI.

“We made a few mistakes yesterday – we were seven minutes late for the start,” Puche laughed. “But today we hit it on the dot, which makes a big difference to one’s mood! The boat is easy to handle and I’m glad the wind was just at the limit where we didn’t have to reef so we were able to stay with full sails all the way – we had a good time, with no mistakes. The boys have been helping with the timing at the starts, and they’re my look-out guys.”

Two-Bullet Bubbly for the Dutch
Taking another win today in CSA-Bareboat was Warvor, helmed by Willem Ellemeet (NLD). This group of seven friends celebrated their win with a bottle of champagne on the dock on arrival at Scrub Island.

“We had a reasonable start but tacked away early so we could sail our own race and that was a good decision. We stayed as deep as possible to the shore and that also worked. Our boat is definitely sluggish but everyone’s got the same challenge. We’re really enjoying the sailing here and the more intimate feel of the Regatta compared to others.”

Mary Jewell, the Sunsail 50 skippered by Larry Caillouet (USA), took second in CSA-Bareboat, while ACTIFORCE-Ivoire (NLD), a Moorings 51, skippered by Willem Klomp, took third place in class.

Looking out to the start of the Regatta on Friday, Warwick Dunnett (USA), skipper of the Beneteau Oceanis 50 JogFund, is grateful for the practice racing over the past two days.

“I was glad to have this time to get the boat dialed in,” Dunnett commented. “While we had a great start today, first over the line, we were experimenting with jib set and figuring out the new SailRacer app which can be distracting. A navigational error also didn’t help us but we have the boat rigged well now so are looking forward to improved racing later in the week.”

Thursday is an official lay-day but there’ll be plenty happening at Nanny Cay, host for the Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival, with the Maritime Heritage Day featuring VP Banks 3rd Annual Tortola Sloop Spring Challenge - traditional Virgin Islands sloops competing for prizes and honours - starting at 11am, and presentation of the Sloop Awards following racing. The Regatta Skipper’s Meeting is at 5:30pm. The Mt Gay Welcome party kicks off 5-7pm, with live music – the MJ Blues Band - until midnight.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Triple Jack Takes Home Nanny Cay Cup
SPOOKIE Breaks Monohull Record for Nanny Cay Challenge

The BVI Sailing Festival Round Tortola Race for the Nanny Cay Cup and Nanny Cay Challenge started promptly at 9:30 on Tuesday morning in seas a little rougher than normal due to last week’s high winds, and an easterly breeze of 18+ knots. The trimaran Triple Jack, owned by Richard Wooldridge and Steve Davis (BVI), charged off the start to an early lead in the CSA-Multihull class, making its way around the island in corrected time of 3:46:38, taking first place overall in the 2016 Nanny Cay Cup. Their elapsed time of 3:19:30 was not enough, however, to break the current multihull record for the Nanny Cay Challenge of 2:33:40 which they set on April 30, 2015, nonetheless spirits were still high on the custom-design trimaran.

Woolridge commented, “It was a beautiful day for it, the wind was perhaps a little more than forecasted, blowing a good 18 at the start and gusting 20+. We had a very fast trip down the north side with the spinnaker up, jousting with SPOOKIE and while they started after us, it was
great finishing before them. We did break our main halyard on the last beat up from West End and there was also a large cruise ship in West End which made tacking through the Narrows interesting.”

Davis said, “Having raced Triple Jack since 1998, improving our performance over the years has been a combination of racing conditions and doing a lot of work on the boat as she was built in 1979. She’s like an old MG so we do have to be a little careful!”

Penalized by an over early in the start of the CSA Racing Class was not enough to hold back TP52 SPOOKIE, owned by Steve and Heidi Benjamin (USA), from taking first in class in the Nanny Cay Cup in corrected time of 3:48:43.

Most significantly, however, SPOOKIE broke the Monohull Nanny Cay Challenge record in an elapsed time of 3:08:43, a whopping 21 minutes off the previous record of 03:29:44, set in March 2013 by Peter Corr’s Aiyana, an Alia 82. With a new record under his belt, Steve Benjamin, SPOOKIE’s skipper, was one happy guy when his boat pulled into the dock after a fantastic ride around Tortola.

“We were really trying to get inside that record for the Nanny Cay Challenge,” Benjamin explained. “Once we got into the lead after our over early start, we beat all the way to the top of the island, fetched the rocks at the top then set a fractional code zero and took off on a screaming reach which was beautiful and proceeded to get lifted on starboard as the wind went right, so we set our 4A, our bigger spinnaker. I guess we hit 21 knots, saw gusts to 23 and had a beautiful run down the back side of the island, making it in one jibe and planing a lot of the time. It was really fantastic!”

The team will certainly enjoy their Nanny Cay Challenge prize: a jeroboam of “Drappier” champagne, sponsored by Tico, a BVI distributor, dinner for 15 crew at Peg Legs restaurant at Nanny Cay, and a donation of $250 to benefit BVI youth sailing, which the team has generously matched.

In the Racing class, John Bamberger’s Canadian Farr 45 Spitfire was also over early at the start, having to return to the line along with SPOOKIE, while the remainder of the 11-strong fleet took off in a tight bunch. TP52 Team Magnitude – Conviction, skippered by Doug Baker (USA) initially took the lead before being caught by SPOOKIE and finishing second in class. Quokka-Performance Yacht Charters, the Grand Soleil 43 skippered by Christian Reynolds, took third.

Renato Faria (BRA) steered his Dufour 500 Ventaneiro 3, to an early lead and first place in the CSA Cruising Class, while Warvor, the Sunsail 44i skippered by Willem Ellemeet (NED) took first in CSA Bareboat.

Wednesday takes the fleet racing to Scrub Island, located off the north east end of Tortola, for the Scrub Island Invitational. Race start time is 10am and the exact course will depend on weather and conditions. An afternoon of relaxation and fun is planned for crews, their families 

Monday, March 28, 2016


Almost Race-Ready!
Life couldn't be more perfect for the crews of 54 boats competing in Tuesday's Nanny Cay Cup (Round Tortola Race) with the breeze forecast in the upper teens for the first race day of the 45th BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival. Registration opened at noon today under blue sunny skies, the famed BVI trades keeping the heat at bay.

The Nanny Cay Cup not only sets the scene for a week of great racing with spectacular views of Tortola throughout the 31-nautical mile race, additionally, the teams can also race for the Nanny Cay Challenge - a perpetual challenge for the fastest mono and catamaran record around the island.

Team Magnitude - Conviction
Long Beach, Calif.
For racers to set a new elapsed time as they make the circumnavigation, starting and finishing at Nanny Cay, they must beat current records: Monohull record (3hrs 29mins 44secs) set at the 2013 Sailing Festival by Peter Corr's Aiyana, an Alia 82; Multihull record (2hrs 33mins 40secs) set in 2015 by BVI's Triple Jack, the trimaran owned by Richard Wooldridge and Steve Davis.

The Challenge has fantastic awards up for grabs if a team breaks either of the current records: a jeroboam of "Drappier" champagne, sponsored by Tico, dinner for 15 crew, and a suggestion to donate $250 towards a BVI charity of choice.

Spookie, winner of the 2015 Nanny Cay Cup, a Carkeek HP40 owned by Steve and Heidi Benjamin from Norwalk, CT (USA), is back with high hopes to retain the Cup.  They are psyched to put their best effort into taking the monohull Challenge record. Racing with them is Olympic silver medalist Peter Holmberg, one of the Caribbean's best known sailors who may help them set that record. Either way, the 15-strong Spookie crew loves the sailing conditions, scenery and atmosphere at Spring Regatta, especially when it's snowing back home.

Puche family from Berlin
Possibly the youngest sailors in Tuesday's fleet are Leon (11) and Robert Puche (10), all the way from Berlin, Germany. Their dad Werner will be skippering the Leopard 48 Slow Motion, which he bought 18 months ago to keep based in Tortola so they can enjoy events like Spring Regatta. "We're really looking forward to racing here and are only disappointed in that we have to leave early as the kids have to be back in school next week," Werner said. This is the first time for the family to be at the BVI Spring Regatta.

More first timers, Renato Faria, from Brazil, will be racing his Dufour 500 Ventaneiro 3, with friends from Brazil and Germany. A harbor pilot from Rio de Janeiro, Faria is used to sailing various Olympic class boats so he's not sure how racing Ventaneiro 3 will work out. "She's really a cruiser, but we'll try to race with her - we're looking forward to the best racing in the Caribbean and will keep the boat here to cruise and race in the future."

Team Slovakia, on board Arthur, a Beneteau First 40, have been in town for a few days now, taking time to soak up the beaches and a few cocktails while getting to know their way around the prevailing conditions. The group of seven friends are under the tutelage of Spring Regatta veteran Chris "Jacko" Jackson, owner's rep for Arthur. "This is a great regatta for these guys," Jackson said, "Everything's in one location, it's a two-minute walk to the parties from the boat, flat water and great sailing - what more could they want?"

Bob Phillips, Regatta Chairman, has chaired the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival for 19 years so has a pretty good idea how conditions may shape up tomorrow. "We're looking at 15-20, pretty usual trade winds, maybe a little higher than normal. Of more importance is the direction - usually it's from the east which means a dead beat for the first part of the race...may not be record breaking conditions but it'll be close!"

Party's Started
The challenge is out! Start time for the CSA-Multihull class is 0930, CSA-Bareboat class at 0935; CSA-Cruising Class at 0940, and CSA-Racing class at 0945. NOR link

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Registration opens Monday at Nanny Cay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, for some 110 boats and crews in the 45th BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival. The buzz is building shore-side, with the event Village under construction and docks filling up.

Lucy Jones, owner of the Swan 51 Northern Child & the Beneteau First 40 Southern Child, is back for her 7th BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival with two new race charter crews: a group of 24 from the company Samsin has chartered Northern Child & will race 12 guests on, 12 off, throughout the week. Tony Mac & his Team McFly have chartered the First 40.

Jones says, “These boats are completely race-ready – they’re both performance boats that people know they can go race and do well here in the BVIs.”

Damien Parnhouse, the Aussie skipper aboard Northern Child says, “This is my first Spring Regatta and I’m ready for it! I love sailing and sharing that with other people in a great place – where I live – Paris -  the snow is just melting!”

Jonathan Bamberger, from Toronto, Canada, has arrived with his Farr 45 Spitfire for his first Spring Regatta. Bamberger says, “It had to be done, look around - it’s a beautiful place - and the painkillers are great!”

Bamberger bought Spitfire in England last year and transferred her to the Caribbean a few weeks ago to participate in the Caribbean 600, and now this week, the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival.

Christian Reynolds, a director of Performance Yacht Racing, is no stranger to the event, here for his 6th. One aspect of the event he welcomes is that the BVI Spring Regatta offers up some flat water racing, unlike other Caribbean racing. “The Sailing Festival is the “fun racing” and the Regatta is more serious – that mix is good, not to mention, it’s stunning here,” Reynolds says.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tribute to Tom Blackaller, Bay Area Sailing Legend

A wave from Lisa Blackaller-Williams on TOMCAT
This past weekend a special event on San Francisco Bay commemorated the anniversary of the 25-year passing of Tom Blackaller one of the Bay Area’s most celebrated sailors.

ACSailingSF, operated by Brad and Karen Webb, celebrated the occasion by taking Tom’s family for a spin on TOMCAT, a performance racing Prosail 40 catamaran which has served as a platform and inspiration for multi-hull America’s Cup sailing.

TOMCAT, the latest addition to ACSailingSF’s charter fleet, is named after Blackaller who began campaigning a Formula 40 catamaran with the same name in the ProSail Professional Sailing Series in 1988, and was leading the 1989 series at the time of his passing.

“Tom passed away 25 years ago today and incidentally it was a year ago today that the first America’s Cup in catamarans began, a spectacle on the Bay and something that Tom actually foresaw more than quarter of a century before it even happened. For us that’s very special,” Brad Webb addressed the group gathered dockside at San Francisco’s Pier 39.
Brad Webb toasts Tom Blackaller

Sailing Journalist Kimball Livingstone helms USA-76
To that point, Blackaller was once quoted, “The fastest boats are catamarans…with the pedal to the metal, flying hulls…I’d be back in the America’s Cup in a minute if it was held in big fast boats on San Francisco Bay.”

Blackaller’s family - daughter Lisa sailing with husband Teddy Williams and two of their three children - left the dock on TOMCAT while the rest of the group piled onto USA-76, San Francisco’s entry for the 31st America’s Cup in 2003 and on which Webb sailed as bowman.

A spectacular late summer day on the Bay, a
Blackaller-Williams family: Lisa, Teddy, Allie & Max
warm breeze built to a steady 15 knots by 1pm, about the time the two boats rounded the Blackaller buoy located just north of the St Francis Yacht Club, on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Dockside later, Lisa commented, “Dad was a personality and a lot of fun. I love meeting people who knew him and to hear stories I still haven’t heard. The sailing world is a little less colorful without him - I don’t know how he would have ever done if he had to be “media-trained” as he didn’t hold back! My husband and my kids never met him so sailing today so was fantastic. To do that on honor of dad was so thrilling – he would have reveled in how thrilling AC34 was.”

Lisa described how her dad had become burned out after the 1987 Louis Vuitton Cup, when he was managing the syndicate USA (US-61), raising money and skippering the boat.

“He really had stopped sailing after that. It wasn’t until this Prosail series came along – these catamarans – that got him re-energized about sailing as he just loved fast things. I do wonder what role he would have played in the new AC as he would not have liked the politics of the whole thing and I am sure he would have had unvarnished things to say about it all…”

Paul Kaplan & daughter Sarah Kaplan
Paul Kaplan, co-owner of KKMI (Keefe Kaplan Maritime Inc.) and guest on board USA-76 first met Blackaller through racing, then the two became further acquainted as colleagues within the maritime industry.

“Tom sailed with us on our Quarter Ton yacht and we learned a great deal from him,” Kaplan recalled. “With regard to what Tom would have thought of AC 34, I’m sure that he would have been absolutely delighted to see the Cup finally held on the Bay. No doubt he would have had a few choice observations about what was wrong with the event and his observations most likely have been correct. In terms of the choice of AC 72’s catamarans becoming the yachts for the event, I can almost hear Tom say, “Well what the heck took you so “expletive” long to figure this out?"

USA-76 - Photo: ACSailingSF
Visit ACSailingSF for more info on catching a ride onUSA-76 or TOMCAT.

Editor’s Note: KKMI was responsible for making the necessary modifications so that USA 76 could obtain a USCG Certificate of Inspection allowing the yacht to take passengers for hire. The most significant changes included installing watertight bulkheads, an inboard diesel engine, modifications to the keel and the necessary safety equipment such as railings around the cockpit.

Because ‘Tom Cat’ carries fewer passengers, the USCG requirements are not as stringent. The work KKMI did included to get her charter-ready included painting the hulls above and below the waterline and assisting with the commissioning of the yacht.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Sir Ben Ainsle
Photo by Ellen Hoke/
At the 8th Annual Leukemia Cup Dinner hosted by The San Francisco Yacht Club, sailor, commentator and author Gary Jobson asked guest speaker Sir Ben Ainslie whether he’d like to round out his Olympic medals and recent America’s Cup victory with a Round the World win.

“No, not really!" said Ainslie, quite candidly, agreeing with Jobson that a hot shower at the end of the day is a good thing. He did add however that his Dad competed in the first-ever Whitbread race...and had also dealt with the difficulties of cancer.

“The reason we’re here tonight is I think everyone knows someone - friend/family member - who’s been involved with cancer or suffered from cancer. It’s obviously a very difficult disease to go through. My father actually suffers from prostate cancer so I know first-hand what a lot of people here have gone through. It’s a very difficult thing to have to deal with and so I think it’s amazing that you’re all here tonight and raising these funds.”

Gary J: Oracle Team USA was a little bit behind the 8-ball there, digging deeper, and there was a change. And you were the change, coming on board. How did it feel coming on a third of the way through the regatta and feeling like you had some pressure on your shoulders?

Ben A: We were obviously in a pretty difficult situation as a team. We were in dire straits and I think all of you here as sailors would know what the sport is like. There’s a lot of different components to it. So, yeah, we weren’t going particularly well, our speed wasn’t that good particularly on the upwind legs, I think the idea was to bring in a fresh face and a different perspective.

My goal was to try to be Mr. Positive even though things were looking about as bad as they could be to try and get some enthusiasm going. And of course this America’s Cup, it was always going to be a development race with a new class of boat with the AC72 multihulls, foiling and everything that goes with that. There was always a chance that we could develop faster than the other team and build some confidence from that. Ultimately that’s what happened. It was definitely a team effort - the designers, the boat builders, the sailors all coming together to make some..actually some quite small changes. There’s been a lot of talk about Herbies? I don’t even know what a Herbie is but maybe someone else here knows. But it didn’t have anything to do with us winning the America’s Cup, it was about small changes and looking at technique on the boat with the sailors and the designers and ultimately winning some races and getting some confidence.

Gary Jobson & Ben Ainslie
Photo: Ellen Hoke/
Gary J: Speaking of confidence, I was in England last summer when you got your 4th gold medal. You had dug yourself a little hole earlier in the regatta in Weymouth that you had to dig out of. In the end you had an unbelievable race when you came through and got the point that you needed and won a gold medal. The fact that you were able to do that last year, did that give you some confidence that you could pull it off again this year and at this level in the America’s Cup

Ben A: They are totally different challenges. I’ve been in a lot of difficult spots in my career as I know you have and a lot of great sailors have. Ultimately if you’re going to put yourself in those positions you’re going to end up in a tough spot from time to time. I think in this particular instance with this America’s Cup, it was really a credit to the team. There was no finger pointing, there were no heated arguments, we were clearly at a disadvantage earlier in the event and clearly behind speed-wise but we just kept to the task and I guess that’s really got to be credit to the management with guys like Russell Coutts, Grant Simmer and Larry Ellison to keep sticking with the team and keep trying to develop increased performance of the boat. It’s very easy when things are going wrong to start pointing the finger and even give up early on. I think it was impressive that the team stuck with it.

Gary J: It was fascinating to listen to you and Tom Slingsby talk - I think it’s a really good lesson for all sailors particularly young people that communication makes a difference. Did you plan that out, because in a Finn you don’t get to talk much to anybody?

Ben A: It was an amazing experiment because when they first put me on the boat it was really like putting three helmsmen together on the back of the boat. Jimmy and I had never really sailed together and I’d never sailed with Tommy either. It was a bit of a gamble for sure. I have to give a lot of credit to John Kostecki who did a fantastic job of tactician up until that point and it wasn’t that John had necessarily done anything wrong, it was that there just needed to be some kind of change to up the atmosphere on the boat because things were not looking good. John was just amazing. They’d made the change, he’d already left for home and I called him and said, “Look John, I’m sorry about this,” and he said, “It’s fine, I want the team to do well, I’ll come in tomorrow morning and we’ll go through all the software etc.” I hadn’t even seen the navigational software up until that point because I’d been steering the other boat. To have that kind of support, I think was just a measure as to the kind of team it was and especially John despite the disappointment of not being on the boat and racing.

Gary J: You’ve got to know how he is to race against, and of course you together had this unbelievable turn-a-round? Is Jimmy Spithill fearless?

Ben A: I’d say so. We all saw what he was like in the press conferences, right? You guys all had a good crack at him and he came through that pretty unscathed. He’s a machine, emotionless.

Gary J: What sort of psychology was going on there at those press conferences?

Ben A: Unless there were some big changes I didn’t know about, I think he was pulling everyone’s leg. He was impressive, I think you’re right, he was certainly able to keep the Kiwis guessing about what was going on. You hear all the stories about us flying boat builders in from all around the world which was complete nonsense. I think it worked.

Gary J: The pressure was on, you started to go fast and you were making good calls. What was in your mind day after day - it stretched on for a week? What was the attitude on the boat?

Ben A: I guess in the end it was potentially a little bit of karma. As you pointed out earlier we went into the event minus two points for something that involved a different class of boat, something that was not the America’s Cup and something that was a complete balls-up. It was a complete lack of communication and a real honest mistake. We obviously got punished very hard for that and it was right that the team was made an example but at the same time it was a very harsh penalty. Maybe that was things just getting evened out a bit. But I certainly felt for the Kiwis. I sailed for the team for the 2007 Cup and know the guys really well - Dean, Ray and the rest of the guys. They’re all brilliant guys, great sailors and it was tough for them to have to go through that. I think the hardest part for those guys was that they had a whole nation waiting in the wings to bring the America’s Cup home. The more out team got better and faster it must have been tough to deal with.

Gary J: When the Kiwis almost capsized, what were you thinking at the time?

Ben A: That was a real game changer. For most of us on the boat that was the first race where we actually started being competitive upwind and we actually caught them up on that upwind leg. For whatever reason they had a bad tack, whether they were rushed or had a mechanical issue, that’s really what put them in that difficult position. But certainly for us, that situation there gave us the belief that we could match them upwind and if we sailed well we could beat them and for our whole team that was a massive boost.

Gary J: The Olympic Games in Weymouth, I was there and you were in the news like crazy - you were one of the superstars of Great Britain. How did you react to that pressure during the Games?

Ben A: I guess I didn’t deal with it very well in the beginning because for the first six races I was beaten by the Danish sailor who sailed incredibly well and I was really - think I need to go to a sports psychologist and work that out. It was a tough situation, there was a huge expectation on all of the home athletes to perform. I think the hardest thing is with past Olympics when you go away to compete, you’re away from home and all the distractions - you get on with it. When you’re at home, all of a sudden you have to deal with the expectations of sponsors, family, friends - there were people I’d never met before who claimed they were related to me in some way - that’s hard!  

Gary J: There’s a question that’s been gnawing at me for about a month now...who are you going to sail for in the next America’s Cup?

Ben A: That’s an easy question - I thought you were going to ask me something difficult. There’s a lot going on as you know - it’s an interesting period. We need to find out what happens with the next event what Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison decide they want to do. I think we’ll be happy being back here in San Francisco. It’s an awesome venue with great hosts. It’s no secret we’d like to have a British team involved in the Cup. Having said that, as we all know, it’s a big boys game. You can’t go into it without the right level of funds - you have to have the team with the wherewithal to win otherwise there’s no point. You’re wasting everyone’s time. We’re going to decide in the next couple of weeks if we can get that together so things are moving along quite quickly and hopefully that can be the case.

Gary J: Is it scary coming into the leeward mark at 45 knots?

Ben A: It is a bit dodgy at times, yeah. The funny thing was we had a lot of software and I had a tablet in the life jacket to help with navigation and as you all know everyone around the world got into the sailing. I was getting messages from around the world from everyone saying, “Finally I can understand what sailing is about, it’s amazing.” Also, I was getting messages from friends and family at home saying, “This is ridiculous, we’re trying to get our kids to sleep and the racing’s on at 10-11pm and the kids wont go to bed.” I had a message from my nephew who is 8 years old. He said, “Uncle Ben, the racing’s really fantastic but I don’t understand why you keep opening your life jacket and you’re looking for sweets.”

Gary J: I understand very early on that both John Kostecki and Jimmy fell overboard. Did you ever fall overboard?

Ben A: I very nearly fell overboard in training when I was steering the boat. The forces on the boat are amazing. We had designers who went out on the boat and they hadn’t been on the boat much before. If they were in the wrong spot and not holding onto anything when we were turning upwind, they’d literally go flying off the boat. So we did lose quite a few people off the boat. It’s easily done and we had some scary moments and I can say they were scary as we obviously know what happened to the Artemis team and to Andrew Simpson who was one of my best mates in the world. The America’s Cup was great but I think the way that the America’s Cup and the sailing community dealt with that was fantastic.

Gary J: Tell us a little bit about Larry Ellison from your perspective?

Ben A: The times I’ve known Larry Ellison he’s been very charming, very approachable, very knowledgeable about sailing. I think he’s clearly a very busy man. We saw him as a team perhaps three or four times during the whole 12 months I was with the team. I know he kept in regular contact with Russell Coutts and was clearly up on what was going on with the team, certainly he was out there everyday supporting the team - on the phone a lot to Russell during the races - he’s on it, he knows what’s going on. Certainly towards the end of the event he gave up his whole business week at Oracle World which must be one of Larry’s biggest weeks of the year work-wise, he gave it all up to support us which was fantastic. Certainly this whole thing that we’ve seen with the America’s Cup - yes, there’s been a lot of criticism, yes, none of us knew where this would really end up but we were fortunate that the event ended up the success that it was but we shouldn’t forget that it was really Larry Ellison and Russell Coutt’s vision to make it happen. The TV production in particular was stunning.

Gary J: I think you should sail for Great Britain and come challenge here. You could be the enemies but it could be exciting and the British have had such a long unsuccessful history in the America’s Cup that you could be the guy to turn it around!

Gary Jobson, John Walters (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society President/CEO,
 Sir Ben Ainslie, & SFYC Leukemia Cup Chair Tom Perkins. Photo Ellen Hoke/