Thursday, August 11, 2011

Update From Cascais: America's Cup PRO John Craig

SailBlast chatted today with America’s Cup PRO John Craig just after he’d come in off the water after Day 4 in Cascais, Portugal at the inaugural AC World Series event. Unusually light conditions have been a bit of a surprise for all involved but Craig and his team are doing their best to keep the racing interesting. “We’re learning more as we keep going along but all in all the racing’s proved to be pretty exciting with the nine boats and short racing, little reaches.”

SB: How are the bottom tiered teams faring against the better teams?

Craig: They’re actually doing really well. They’re probably not as consistent yet but they’re all having flashes of brilliance and in all honesty, at any given race, somebody could take it on and I’ve been impressed. I figured some of them would be a lot further behind and they’re speed in catching up has been really good. Both Team Korea and China have had some good races. Team NZ and Oracle and Artemis definitely have more players on the ground here and are more advanced but I think the speed with which these other teams will come up is probably a lot better than I thought it would be.

SB: How are the starts working out?

Craig: It’s good - we originally figured that they would approach the line all at speed and it appears now that they’re fighting a little bit more for position and then they turn the speed on but we actually had to increase the side of the virtual boundary below the starting line because they all gone into there and go into point mode up towards the pin and the committee boat then when they get on the line they turn and let it rip. That’s been a little different to work out. But it’s so critical to what end you pick with respect to how windy you think it’s going to be and what your apparent wind is going to do because sometimes guys start at the leeward end and think, ‘ok, I can kind of live here and beat’ and there’s other times if you’re up in the top end you can get over and get a little bit of speed and bear off. So there’s definite tactics and people are picking ends. It’s not a line up and go, so that’s good.

SB: Having to adjust the boundaries - will that become necessary at each venue?

Craig: Yeah. Some venues are going to have boundary restrictions that are enforced by the land. One of the things here that we’ve had is we’ve ended up drawing boundaries on land just so that they get out the way for the sailors because it’s not something we need them to be worried about with respect to their lights and alarms etc. Yet, the graphics people look at that when they put it down on the chart and all of a sudden it looks like we’ve drawn it on the ground so they’re not thrilled about that either. We’re trying to figure all that out on the technical side but additionally each venue will dictate where we are.

SB: Is there the sense that teams are still figuring out where to position themselves and the learning curve is still pretty high?

Craig: For sure. Some teams have really good speed and are going well, others are still trying to figure the tactical side of the game out. We have skippers briefings every morning at 9 and we’re all learning from each other. It’s good, it’s not the committee against the competitors, it’s more that we’re all here together so let’s figure out what we’re trying to do.

SB: Wind conditions seem unusually light?

Craig: It was light today and we had to go outside and find some breeze. We weren’t able to tuck into the bay for a while. Historically they’ll tell you that it’s never like this but…this morning we started a race at 2pm and had huge wind shifts, couldn’t get them around the track properly so we had to abandon that race which was fine. Outside was better breeze so we went out there which was great - got some good racing in there. It wasn’t inside like sometimes you wish it would be so sometimes it’s just a balance and ensuring everyone’s fully engaged and also that you’ve got quality racing going on.

SB: Still lots of crowds and people enjoying the scene?

Craig: Yeah, it’s actually really cool. Some of the things we’ve had to - we were originally worried about the boats living on the moorings at night and teams supported that. We even had a few nights when we had teams say that they’d prefer to stay at the mooring than come out. We’ve had to go back and look at that and give teams the opportunity to pull their rigs and hulls out because it’s such a spectacle and draws so many people to be here for the launch and the retrieval of the boats with the wings. There’s a lot of interest and I think people who don’t have a clue what’s going on get a feeling that they’re at pit alley at a car racing event - they can look into the tents and see the hulls and the teams.

Photo Credit:
Pic 1: Gilles Martin-Raget
Pic 2: Emirates Team New Zealand

Monday, August 8, 2011

America's Cup Umpire Explains

Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) simply followed the rules when they continued racing after a crew member flew off the back off their AC45 during Day 1 of the America’s Cup World Series which kicked off last Saturday in Cascais, Portugal. And, they didn’t get disqualified.


Because the America’s Cup has its own rules, of course (available on the Cup website).

Mike Martin, ACs Director of Umpiring and Rules, explained, “We have our own rules that say, ‘A yacht shall not permit any person on board to intentionally leave unless ill or injured.’ It was pretty clear it wasn’t intentional so there was no penalty assessed. If in the event of a capsize, it says, ‘A person leaving shall not be accepted on board nor replaced during a race.’ Team NZ did exactly what they were supposed to do according to the rules which is you leave the person in the water for the team rib to come pick them up.”

Martin also set the record straight on the DQ hit that Oracle Racing’s Spithill took over the weekend. Spithill was originally penalized for sailing outside the course limits - their purpose being is that in the past AC boats would sail on the same tack for 15 minutes during which time everyone leaves or changes the channel.

“We want them tacking and interfacing each other across the tack so we have relatively narrow course limits,” Martin said. “We also have course limits around the starting area so people don’t go sailing off in or near the spectator fleet then come back in.”

Jimmy sailed outside of the course limits prior between the prep signal which is at two minutes and the start and was assessed a penalty at that time. You can’t take your penalty until after starting, and according to Martin, Spithill started and didn’t take his penalty at which time he was assessed s second penalty - an umpire can do that for breaking the rule of failure to take a penalty.

“The equipment was working (contrary to what has been said), and all video shows the indicator light on - you’ll have to ask him what went on,” Martin said.

The speed trial, which ETNZ won, was reported by spectators and online viewers to be difficult to figure out, perhaps due to the commentary. According to Martin it was set up like a regular speed trial with a start line and approximately 500 meters away a finish like. Boats had a one minute time slot and they’re supposed to start in the first 30 seconds of that time slot and come full speed across the start.

“I think everyone’s kind of scratching their head on the time trial and figuring it out,” Martin said. “It’s funny because I watched the TV feed of it and it all looks like it’s highly organized but it was tough to figure out and tough for the sailors to figure it out where the course was and there were spectator boats on the course but we got it all straightened out in the nick of time. “

The speed trial will continue to be an element of the World Series events, Martin confirmed. “I think everyone enjoyed it, it was good to watch. It was kind of cool, even though the conditions weren’t ideal - it was the lightest wind of the day.”

Other than that, Martin’s pleased with the way things are going. “So, so far so good. The first day was a little bit of a bummer because it was light air and rainy and of course today, the lay day, is perfect…blowing 25 and sunny…will probably be the same tomorrow (another lay day).

In the week up to it there were plenty of little problems we were working through and we were concerned. We had some software crashes during a race but everyone’s been working super hard here to get everything going. It was GO day on Saturday and everything came together.”

Photo credit: Emirates Team New Zealand


This summer the Columbia Gorge (Oregon) has played host to a number of high profile sailing events (ICSA Collegiate Nationals, 2011 US Sailing Singlehanded Championship to name a few) and this past weekend, hosted the Zhik Skiff Regatta - the 49er and 29erXX US National Championships. It’s fast becoming reputed as the best place to sail a skiff in the US, says 29erXX class president, Kristen Lane. Especially if you like big wind.

Lane does.

SailBlast chatted to Lane this morning as she was headed north to Cork, Canada for an Olympic class regatta. Lane and tactician Charlie McKee easily prevailed in this past weekend’s 29erXX National Championship, taking nine of eleven races. Lane explains how they won, and why she likes, excuse me - LOVES - the 29erXX:

The bottom line is that it was a very windy event and we spent a lot of time practicing our boat handling in the big air - staying in the wind was a big reason we were able to get ahead and stay ahead. The Gorge is unrelenting in that little mistakes cost you big. It was surprisingly shift and Charlie did an amazing job of keeping us going in the right lane all the time. He had the confidence to sail where it was the windiest and we knew we had solid boat handling - we knew we could tack and gybe anywhere we wanted to.

Racing the XX is totally different to the standard rig 29er. This was the first US National Championship and it was the class’s opportunity to prove that the boat is able to handle really big winds and a variety of crew weight.

For example, the team that finished second place was a kiwi team - Alex and Molly - they only weighed about 260 pounds total. That’s the remarkable difference of weight range between them and us (we were in just over 310 pounds) and still be competitive in really windy conditions.

We also sailed an entire practice week over and above this past week - all of us did - at the Gorge and nobody experienced a major breakdown other than preventative maintenance. It was remarkable and a great test event for the boat. It’s quite exciting to see the XX be viewed not only as a potential Olympic class for two women but also as an adult co-ed dinghy - high performance, durable, and very moderately priced.

One thing to note that I was the only person at the regatta sailing a Melges 29erXX. Melges is now building the boat in North America and I have the first production boat and I’ve been sailing it since about May. It’s fantastic. Most boats are competitive but the construction and rigidity of the Melges boat was I think key to our success in those conditions - the stiffness of your boat is a big factor in how well it performs.

I was first led to the 29erXX because I wanted to be a better Melges 24 sailor but what I didn’t expect to happen was to become completely engrossed and addicted to the small boat, high performance format. The rewards for all my other sailing has been unimaginable. I feel like the experience on the 29erXX have not only made me a little better as a Melges 24 sailor but a lot better. Discovering a place like the Gorge and making it a point to go there every summer to get tossed around and beaten up in the big wind (LOL!) has been extremely rewarding. The Gorge is the best place in America to sail skiffs and I know the class wants to go back. I'm looking forward to that!

One of Lane's Melges 24 crew mates, Johnny Goldsberry, won the 49er Nationals this past weekend which she was totally psyched about, "It's such a big accomplishment for Johnny. He's been working for so many years and loves the sport and is super generous with his time toward other competitors."

Commenting on the light number of entries in both fleets this past weekend, Lane said she suspected it was because it was a tough year to rally because of the Olympic activity, not to mention some people are afraid of racing in the Gorge...

Thursday, August 4, 2011



With 25 knots registering on the committee boat the Laser Slalom 2011 fleet hit the water for the wildest ride on the Bay, the St Francis Yacht Club’s Heavy Weather Slalom event, presented by Laser Performance and Maclaren. Racing began about 1pm in a flood tide and white caps. Not quite perfect but good enough, noted Don Trask, event founder.

Of the final four, Peter Shope and Ben Richardson (both USA) went head to head, with Shope prevailing and taking the overall first place trophy after four exhausting races. “I don’t know where that came from,’ said an elated Shope. “I tried to stay in the moment and not to look forward too much. I made sure that the vang was in the right position for the run at the beginning of each reach because I didn’t have time to deal with it going into the reach. That really helped me.”

Scott Ferguson (USA) took third prevailing against Mike Matan (GBR). This year's top three in the competition are incidentally all from Laser District 7.

This regatta is all about the spills and Ferguson took first prize for a phenomenal crash in his last race that catapulted him some two boat lengths off his stern. “I needed to jibe, I got a huge puff and was just not going to make the gybe. I got pretty zapped especially after I crashed in the third race. Making the gybe is the difference between staying in the race - or not! It was a lot of fun.”

The talent-stacked fleet included international competitors from 18 years to 70-something, with anything from 40 years Laser sailing experience to six years. An elimination ladder saw yesterday’s winners advance and for those who lost two races, it was game over. With no room for error, spectacular - and frequent - crashes throughout the fleet made for tense moments on and off the course.

LaserPerformance Ambassador and Team Maclaren skipper Anna Tunnicliffe made it through to the final six. She said she was a little nervous going into the event as it’s been a while since she’s sailed a Laser (she’s been busy campaigning the Elliot 6m for the 2012 Olympics). “The upwinds were hard because I’m a good 30 pounds lighter than the others racing but I liked the downwind.”

The Laser Slalom proves wrong beyond doubt anyone who argues that sailing’s not a sport because it’s not a workout. Watching competitors’ rapid fire maneuvering and hiking in the bigger breeze today demonstrated just how intense the job is in the Slalom to make it around the course unscathed (even the top guys - and gals - capsized). Racers cited gym workouts and aerobic exercise as a key part of their training for the event, and on the water, competitive drill sessions. “I usually finish my race training with a 20 tack/20 gybe drill,” Ferguson said.

And that’s what Laser sailors love about it. Said Tunnicliffe, “I really like the physical aspect of the boat and how you have to work really hard to make the boat do what you want to do it. I had to consider every move I had to make and I had a great time.”

That’s the end of the Laser Slalom for 2011. When it’ll next take place, no-one really knows. It worked out well to hold the event at St FYC this year because it slotted in between the Laser Youth and Master World Championships. Ideally it’s the perfect event to hold on a weekend to encourage greater spectatorship and most definitely when at a time when a howling breeze is guaranteed. Maybe it can become a stand-alone event going forward - there’s certainly no shortage of enthusiasm:

Said Ryan Nelson (USA), “It was a blast, I can’t wait to do it again, I was just so bummed to go over when I did.”

* John Bertrand was the winner of the first Laser Slalom event held in 1974.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

As Promised: Day 1 Laser Slalom 2011 Brings Spills A-Plenty

Day 1 of the Laser Slalom 2011 threw contenders a relatively easy time, starting in a breeze in the high teens, a flood tide and flat water - conditions that prevailed for the first part of racing. But by late afternoon the usual San Francisco breeze was back hitting the low to mid-20s.

While over half the fleet crashed at least once, a handful made the trek around the course look like a walk in the park, including two-time Laser World Masters Champion Scott Ferguson (USA) who ripped through in just five minutes, executing smooth maneuvers that earned him two wins, easily putting him in the winners bracket where he’ll go up against Anna Tunnicliffe, Olympic gold medalist, tomorrow, who also won the one race she sailed today (she also had a bye). Tunnicliffe is the hot contender to win this event.

“It was good, I got around the course smoothly, it wasn't as difficult as I thought out there. I got the lighter air, it was fun, I could have done with more breeze though," Ferguson said.

Tunnicliffe, Laser Performance Ambassador and Team Maclaren skipper, blew spectators away with her flawless action and boat handling skills as she really demonstrated just what a work out these boats are. “I had to, I was behind,” she laughed.

No-one agrees more that the big breeze is what the event’s all about than the event’s founding fathers, Don Trask and Bill Kreysler (who also hold the distinction of being responsible for the successful construction of 11,000 Lasers in ten years, 30 Star boats and 300 J24s during their career in the business)

Trask cites the perfect conditions for the event as an ebb tide where the waves are really big and the wind is blowing hard. “The old guys are saying they hope it blows like hell because they know there’s no way these guys are going to get down the course! We were fairly good sailors back then but I’m sure these guys are way better than we were. You can’t reef these boats but you can sail them in any condition so I hope we give them a real ride for their money this event,” Trask said.

Trask’s inspiration for the event was a no-brainer. “I was watching some ski slalom races and thought, “that could be fun”, particularly in a breeze and particularly if we kept it really short.”

The rest is history. Even Warren Miller of skiing fame filmed the windiest event Trask recalls. “It was blowing a good solid 25, maybe 30. We were reefing then - we were using the beach up here west of the club and we’d come in and wrap the sail around - there was no way you could get downwind with the big sails! It was good times and the best of the best were here that time - Bertrand, Silvestri, Keefe, Van Dyne to name a few.”

Trask noted that while the Laser hasn’t changed in design or weight, a few mechanical changes such as the outhaul and boom vang have been improved greatly providing more options.

“Techniques have changed a bit and being in shape is a really important factor with a Laser,” Trask said. “Technique going downwind is the really critical part of sailing Lasers and they’ve perfected a new technique of getting downwind which has made it a whole new game. These sailors blow the old school right out of the water downwind. We would pull everything down as tight as we possibly could and that’s how we’d sail. Now they adjust all that downwind.”

Results at

Pic 1. Anna & St FYC PRO Robbie Dean wait for wind

Pic 2. Event founding fathers Don Trask & Bill Krysler

Pic 3. Crashes a-plenty