The fallout from the B’s* victory over Dennis on the AstroSurf off Brenton Reef in Sept 1983 – coming up to forty years ago this September – has been pinging the boundary lines of sailing ever since.
The B’s first and only defense, bringing an international roster of challenges, in 1987 leading to DC’s comeback, and the name of his book of the same regatta. DC’s, ahem, description and comments, about the Farr composite glass 12 Metre, the Kiwi’s K-boat lawsuits, and DC’s small cat. The IACC Big Boats, the Monster multihulls, court cases, wing masts, foiling and deadly cats, in 2013, a mere thirty years on. Larry’s apparent sellout to Bermuda, the Kiwis on their bikes, lending new credence to the age-old nickname for grinders, to Auckland with the 50-knot kind of monohulls, crashing and almost sinking, and now here, after half of Kiwi land seems to want to kill Dalton, we are again, though now in Spain. The hair-on-fire 75 footers, burning up their lithium batteries and trying to sell the world on the idea that the America’s Cup is a place for inspiring training the next generation by turning the America’s Cup into the Women’s and Youth 40-foot OD foilers Development program. Well, maybe.
I suppose it is the role of ol’ coots to look back at their own history and then make pontificating mutterings about how the new guys are doing it all wrong. Fortunately, I am not one of those ol’ coots, and so I am merely looking on with interest, waiting for the next exploding framus to burn a hole through the boat. What we all now know as the America’s Cup started out as and has always a bowsprit measuring contest, even when the boats went 10 knots. If Herreshoff could have worked with carbon fiber, he would have been all over it. Ironically the Herreshoff Museum, housing the AC Hall of Fame, is on Burnside Street in Bristol. Almost all the major Bristol-based boat building companies started in one of the sheds on Burnside Street. The Spirit of Herreshoff indeed.
As for the personnel, and the related topic of getting new blood into sailing, something that should be near and dear to the U.S. sailing industry, lest we all have to break down and get proper jobs, seems every new idea on the block is covered by this catch all marketing line. Fifty to 100 million dollars or Euros seems like a lot of money to get people to embrace sailing, aiming at kids who don’t yet drive interested in racing someone else’s Bugatti Veyron before they can drive themselves. I have yet to see any analysis – real data – as to the number of people who even took sailing lessons after seeing the America’s Cup, let alone became totally hooked as I think most of the WindCheck family is.
Photo courtesy of Sail Newport
Where does all this leave us? Back with the Bs…and at Sail Newport. The genesis of Sail Newport is pretty well known these days. Several of Newport’s Notables were watching or listening to the last race in September ’83 and at some point, began to wonder, “Uh oh, the Bs are gonna win this thing. Crikey, now what?”
Lo and behold a facility in a state park, in the smallest state in the Union, that introduces multiple thousands of mainly kids to sailing every summer. Not “just” sailing, but truly messing about in boats.
From my own lofty perch in the seat of a RIB, the messing about as Water Rat sighs, is full in play with, at least, my high school team. But judging by the shouts of glee and mockery, taunting, and laughter I see on the other teams on these brisk spring afternoons in Brenton Cove, it is a well-embraced dictum amongst any of the kids on site.
On the Thursday before Good Friday, the messing about factor was in full bloom in the Crusader team (The Prout School nickname). We were at the last day of practice before a week off. The end of the week is always harder because the kids are progressively more burned out by life, the life of a teenager being notoriously wearing on teenagers.
We had been having a good workout, the kids getting through my laborious drills: three sets of tacking and gybing on the whistle – Sail Newport to Goat Island and return, three times. “Half an hour of serving before we start to practice,” I tell them, suggesting there is a reason great tennis players are great.
There was one of those unintended, unforetold breaks in the action. I had a boat alongside doing a one-on-one discussion, when I looked up. One of the boats was outside the cone of silence I ask them to keep. “Stay close to me please…It burns up valuable time if I need to go and get you or wait for you to come back to the middle of the field.” I am liberal with a saying of one of the Bs, Bertrand, with the kids: What is the one resource all America’s Cup programs have in equal amount? Time, says Aero (Bertrand’s nickname for his Bachelor’s degree in aeronautical sciences. “Please let’s use our short time on the water to best advantage. STAY CLOSE PLEASE.”
The escaped 420 was crewed by two girls, juniors. One, steering, has a strong history of successful racing in Optis and Club 420s on Narragansett Bay. The other girl, the crew, she who started the “Rah, Rah!” discussion noted in my last column, is new to sailing and racing. They are slight, more or less by sailing standards, and so were a good pair in the light air of the day.
We had been doing ovals, hot dogs, a bottom mark rounding, three tacks, top mark rounding, three gybes, bottom mark rounding, repeat. We had passed about the sixtieth evolution and the six boats had spread out as happens. “This drill is not a race,” I say in the hope someone will pay attention. Red flags and bulls indeed.
Anyway, I finished doing whatever it was I was doing that had me distracted and I saw the girls off one hundred yards away, away from the oval track they were supposed to be sailing on. They were at no hazard, the day being mild and they are smart and collectively skilled. But you could see by their body language that they were close to toast. The driver was standing up in the boat, but with shoulders slightly slumped…like a Finn sailor waiting to take off his weight jacket. The crew was sitting on the CB trunk, facing outboard, not straddling the trunk as is normal. I muttered to myself, “C’mon girls, get back here please.”
The remaining five boats were still doing their laps. I had my phone going, capturing the action for post-event review. I put clips on the sports app we use. I am glad I had the camera rolling because the next thing that happened is really priceless. They broke out in song – not just singing to themselves but full on screaming at the top of their lungs – and dancing, jumping up and down in the boat (all the while sailing) and letting it all rip like some fancy-schmancy pop stars on stage. They both wore their hair in ponytails and the ends were flapping up and down like Ginger Baker fully in the zone. I mean really, what ARE you going to do? I just cracked up laughing at this scene.
The clip is 32 seconds. They are sailing from outside the cone of silence, reaching across to the “Bottom Mark,” which is me. I was secured to a mooring holding forth on mark rounds when that was actually happening. It is such an out of the blue episode the other kids abandoned their 80th lap and stopped to watch. On one of the other boats, the kid steering was straddling the weather tank with one foot in the water, chillin’ and watching. The girls reached below him, still jammin’ it.
They got a few boatlengths ahead of him and the spring broke and they just stopped, breaking up into laughter. I gotta say it took me a few minutes to compose myself, so out of the box was it. I’ve seen a lot of stuff in my sailing but that was a first. Now tell me that ain’t messing about in boats and having fun. Anyone ever seen such a breakout at Soccer, Lacrosse, Swimming or Football practice?
And it is not just these two. They have been with me for three years. This year, after having graduated eight seniors in ‘twenty-two, I found myself with eight new sailors: seven freshies and a senior.
Six of the eight are girls, all freshies. One is skilled, a few have had sailing exposure in some form or another and the rest are flat out cold turkey, new to sailing. So, I am starting with a fresh blank sheet of paper with these new kids. As I review the video clips, most of the kids are at least smiling, often they are laughing, even when the going is rough. They are resilient, too.
We had our first team race match against Portsmouth High School, one of the other four schools who sail at Sail Newport. The others are Rogers, The Newport School and Middletown. As a sidebar, that is its own hoot because some number of the kids know each other anyway, so there is always some kind of chops busting going on. We beat PHS in the A game and so we agreed to put up a B match to get the new kids some tiller time.
I had one of the new girls sailing with a reasonably skilled driver. Said new girl seems to me to be keen, interested, is always asking questions and so presents to me as someone interested in getting better, learning the game. But as sometime happens, this pair capsized at one point. I have them wear drysuits since amongst other details the water in the Cove is, or was at the time, 40 degrees. They managed to prevent the boat from turtling, a feat in itself. I was on the dock riding herd on the spare kids. One of the on-the-water coaches took off to stand by. I looked at the situation, grabbed two of my kids and beat feet to the boat. By the time we arrived, the boat was upright and the kids were in the boat.
The freshie crew was pretty upset at herself, taking on way too much responsibility for the capsize. I asked if she wanted to get out and she immediately assented. Then the driver wanted out too – these kids are 15 it must be remembered. So, I put in the replacement pair I brought and took the wet ones back to the beach and told them to get changed and dry. The long and the short of it, when sailing was all done, the boats packed up and the debriefing over, I pulled them both aside, separately and asked how they were. They had both calmed down by then and were OK. For the crew, I had a little, “It’s OK, this happens. It is not your fault” talk. “Remember, you’ve been sailing for about seven hours so far, and taking on crewin’ a team race event in this breeze was a big bite,” and so on. They both left for home smiling. I wrote to the mother of the crew later that evening. All good…a bit of self-frustration. But as I told the sailor, it is all part of the game.
Bondy and Ben (Bob Miller) Lexcen are both at the big regatta in the sky now. But I bet Bertrand would appreciate what the hole their work in 1983 dug in and around Newport and sailing has been filled in with. ■
* The Bs: Bondy, Bertrand and Ben/Bob