May in New England. I feel pooped already. I cannot think it is just me, but there is so much sailing around Newport, that as of the middle of May I was officially wishing it to be November. Sheesh.
November across into February is Kids in Lasers crossing over into prepping for high school sailing, starting in March. Five afternoons a week of practice, instruction for the novices, most of whom have been elevated to Rookies. Our Friday Night Lights regattas, founded, what ten years ago by local coach, now morphed into mother, Kate Wilson Somers. It was started by her when coaching Rogers and sailed from Newport Yacht Club. They did not have enough boats so we’d always sail some from Sail Newport and tow them back after regatta. You know you’ve been doing this a while when you run into another coach who declares, “I sailed in the Friday Night Lights when it was at Newport YC.”
Last weekend was the qualifying regatta for the O’Day Trophy, at Bristol YC. (Thanks, BYC for the hospitality). Unfortunately, the Prout kids were not on their A game and combined with very squirrely conditions, we did not make the top four cut to progress. Classic waiting for the outcome of the middleweight bout between weak northerly and wannabe seabreeze kept us all twiddling our bailers until near 1300. Finally Jonathan Harley, Coach at Portsmouth Abbey, event chair and PRO, got us off and managed four sets of A and B Fleet races before the 1600 time-limit buzzer rang.
In the background at Bristol YC, the East Bay Sailing Foundation crew led by Rich Feeney was getting their fleet of I think Mercurys and J/22s buffed up. There was even some traffic from the BYC membership putzing on their boats.
Then there was the other regatta in town, The Ocean Race. That whooshing sound you heard was the Sail Newport Crew exhaling at the opening ceremonies. From the outside it looked like all was foiling along just fine, the only disappointment being two broken rigs from Leg 4, leaving only three boats on the docks.
On Wednesday I went out to Sail Newport for practice with the kids. It had been blowing hard the previous night and still fresh at 1200. NOAA reported it was blowing 27-30kts at Buzzards Tower, my default weather check in. Anyway, by the time I got to the boat park, I saw St. Georges and Abbey sailing out off Ida Lewis YC having a match. They had set the weather mark up on the way to the red nun east of the point off Ft. Adams, so it was pretty easy to watch these two good schools lunging and thrusting in the breezy and choppy water. That is if you were not watching the three IMOCAs out having speed runs with Pro-Am guests aboard. The drill there seemed to be to get all the guests togged out in branded slickers, sit them on the bow, and stomp on the gas. It was a sunny and warm day, probably a few hundred people watching on the grass at the fort, having cocktails and munching on food truck food, or chilling in The Ocean Race Club deck.
Malizia and 11th Hour seemed to be getting into the head game early, both sailing with biggest sails for the conditions and making lots of spray off the foils. Biotherm was playing the safe game sailing with their J15, formerly known as a storm jib. Their performance, visually and statistically was below par, but I bet the punters enjoyed themselves.
When the Prout Kids arrived, they went into one of the buildings to change. After a couple minutes I went in to set up the day. No one was dressed, or even making any VMG towards getting ready for sailing. The jib cover socks on the J/80s outside were flapping around wildly and there was a distinct hum in the rigging, and halyards banging masts. Hummm, me thinks. Another Palace Coup?
Me: “May I infer from the lack of preparation to go sailing you are not too keen on sailing today?” (Flap, flap whistle) a shuffle of feet, sudden interest in the wall, until one Rookie piped up reporting she thought it was a bit much for her today. At which point, like a Monty Python skit, everyone piped up. “Yeah windy, too strong, mumble, mumble…rhubarb, rhubarb. Silence. What they did not know was I had a Plan B.
Peter Becker, one of my Mafia mates, is connected with the Malizia team. A couple weeks ago I got a call from the boat captain, a Kiwi named Stu. Becker gave Stu my number for Newport insider info and Stu was calling to exercise that contact. Since (or even though) he is a Kiwi, we had a good yarn, promising to catch up. I had done that Monday and reminded him of my interest in getting my kids the 5 Euro tour of the boat. I reinforced this interest earlier Wednesday. Tricky I knew because the boats were out and when they returned, apart from the hospitality stuff, Stu and his crew had to check and clean the boat and put her away for the night. Hosting a mob of teenagers was just another thing to do. Fortunately, everyone I meet in connection with sailing and teenagers is always willing to push the envelope to help the kids, and Stu and the rest of the team were likewise inclined.
So, I asked the unusually quiet squad, now resolved to not sailing, “Well then, would you be interested in going down to the Race Village and checking out the boats?” Cheering and cries of “YES!!!” Surprise.
I smiled to myself and gave them the briefing. “Stay close to me, leave all yer gear here, including yer knives.” (Sailing has to be the only HS sport where coaches encourage athletes to bring knives to practice/games.) “There is a TSA inspection wanding set up to enter the village. The state police and environmental police cars and a bomb squad ATV are all parked outside with their operators clustered just inside the gates, telling their version of sea stories. We are in a public park. Please be on your best behavior,” I said, followed by, “I have never doubted you in situations like this, but I gotta say it and now you know what is expected.” They all nodded sagely. “OK, move out.”
I chuckled as we walked by the Try Sailing Desk on the Admirals Pier. The volunteer hailed the kids and asked if they want to try sailing. The kids were walking too fast. I could not loiter in so I sent a telepathic apology. We made it to the gate. I was waved through due to my WindCheck press pass. They pass edthe wanding test. First stop: find Stu.
Zigging and zagging through the container city that is the backstage to the team bases, I found the Malizia container, open but no one around. I figured Stu might be out on the team RIB, a busman’s holiday. We continued our stroll out to the north end of the fort, catching glimpses of the boats between the various vendors’ tents and booths. Andy Green and Martha Parker (I reckon) were doing the wave-by-wave commentary on the speed tests. We hove to on the western part of the grass, close by the Cable Crossing sign the cruise ships sometimes miss.
I launched into my assessment and commentary on the boats. The different hull shapes and bow shapes. Malizia looks like a tank compared to the other two, when at rest. What the foils are and why and what they do and how. The squarehead sails, the thick masts, more explanation once aboard, the crews, the speeds, the sensation of sailing at 20-plus knots, for three weeks. The retelling for them of the Jean Le Cam Yes We Can rescue of Escoffier in the last Vendée Globe. Several of them have seen the Jessica Watson movie and were blown away. I discuss the current time for a solo monohull circumnavigation, 74 days (I think) a VG or so back, BF, (before foils in fact) by crewed multi-hull, 40 days Francois Joyon, and solo multihull, 43-odd days, Francois Gabart. The kids seem truly flabbergasted by these times. And the fact you can sail around the world alone. I summarize the Vendée. The day wore on, and as if it was planned to a T, the ship carrying the mastless PRB steamed up the bay bound for Quonset to unload, to a standing ovation from the fans on the grass.
We make our way back to the docks as the boats returned, and the press pass got us through the gate guard. We started with Biotherm. I highlighted details like the kick-up rudders, the lack of metal fittings, a close-up view of the foils, the aerodynamic wing mast. “At these speeds, aero drag becomes a thing to be aware of,” I say. “There are two things that make boats go fast: enhancing aspects that improve performance, and reducing things that slow it down, like air drag.” Nodding smiles.
On to Malizia and find Stu. After a minute or two while he finished his daily chores, we went aboard. I let him give the tour – he seems to love it as much as I do. On deck, the purchase systems for the flying sails, the spreaders, the articulation tackle for moving the wing mast, the comms dome on deck in front of the mast, protected by two bits of black shock cord, the solar panels…all interesting to the kids, in varying degrees based on topic I think.
Down into the Control Room…er, cockpit. Pedestals, textile clutches, autopilot screens, computer screens, big winch drums, top deck and downstairs steering stations, even though the pilots steer the boats 99% of the time I have been told by two people. The foil controls: up and down, fore and aft, and back and forth. One of the kids is in the Civil Air Patrol and taking flying lessons. His eyes seem glued to all this stuff, behind his sunnies. A peek into the black hole of the forepeak. Utility of headlamps: “Don’t leave home without it, or a knife,” remarked Stu. The clock was ticking. If we had been sailing the parents would be gathering, waiting for their soaked charges. I took a few photos for the album.
Walking back to our base I wondered, “Where these kids will be in a few years and with their sailing?” There is a plaque in the old SN offices, recognizing the contributors to some event. A quote from William Butler Yeats reads: “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” I remember seeing the Whitbread boats during the first race in Sydney. I wonder how many of these kids will end up like me, or better, having seen these boats. May be indeed. Thanks to the entire Malizia Team, especially Stu Maclaughlan, boat captain. ■