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April 21, 2014

Jason’s Carroll’s “Elvis” Gunboat Team of Chad Corning, Scotty Bradford, Dave Allen,  Dave Hazard, Weston Barlow, Anthony Kotoun, John Baxter and Sam Rogers red-lined our experiences both on and off the water at A Voile de St. Barths…

Growing up in tornado prone Minnesota, there are a few safety measures that are engrained in the psyche when summer weather sirens are sounded.  If caught indoors, find a stable structure to ride out the storm like a basement, bathtub or when all else fails a doorway. While racing the 62 ft Gunboat “Elvis” at Voile de St. Barths this past week, I didn’t imagine a scenario where deploying tornado safety measures would be needed, but on a windy Day 3 danger found us, and I found the doorway.

For cruisers and racers alike, Gunboat catamarans are an appealing option. For cruisers, the modern, chic layout and design both inside and out allow the boat to hold its own in the swankiest harbors in the world.  Staterooms are comfy and roomy, there are plenty of nooks for relaxing, and as anyone who has stepped foot on Elvis knows, there is space for a sizeable party, complete with an impressive sound system synced with disco lights, and a dance inducing 16 gallon rum tank.

At 62 ft long, 30 ft wide, with all carbon fiber throughout and a full compliment of racing sails, the Elvis easily transforms into a Grand Prix Race Boat that can do 15 knots upwind, and touch high 20s when sheets are cracked. Being used to boats of this magnitude having a lead bulb underneath them, experiencing the sensation of flying a hull with nothing to stop our momentum if things went wrong, I quickly found myself on the lap of Anthony Kotoun when we lifted off for the first time.  The comfortable mix of cruising and white knuckle sailing attracts owners like Jason Carroll who are looking for more than a standard racer/cruiser.

Our practice session and the first two days were in 11-15 kt tradewinds with moderate seas that gave Voile competitors idyllic Carribean racing in and around the surrounding islands of St. Barths. Racing the Elvis at full steam took the max effort of 9 capable sailors, as we ran the gamut of our sail inventory on the winding courses.  The bow team was busy on the trampoline completing sail changes, as well as the pit/trim team managing sails, dropping and raising boards and pushing to maintain max vmg at all times. With a favorable rating on a Seacart 26, we found ourselves with two 2nds, and 2nd overall heading into the lay day.

The lay day is exciting moment for sailors. For some it provides a relaxing evening followed by a day of exploring which is often not afforded at most regattas, and for others it essentially is a hall-pass for a night on the town without a harsh wake up for boat call.  After a fun night at Baz Bar, we posted up at noon for a regatta sanctioned “lunch” at the famous Nikki Beach, gawked at the menu listing 30,000EU bottles of champagne and washed down our body surfing sessions with magnums of Rose’.  Yes, Rose’, its what they do in St. Barths, and we were in no position to question it.  If we knew what was awaiting us on the racecourse the next day, we may have opted for an herbal tea with a nerve calming element.

Sipping our coffee on the morning of day 3 from the perch of our villa we saw the Tradwinds in full effect, and it was obvious from our distant view that the Carribean Sea was at full noise.  With my experiences on Elvis being new, different and very smooth up to this point, I had veiled excitement as we headed to the racecourse; I did not know enough to be nervous.  With the wind instruments reading 25-28 and monster seas rumbling through the straight between St. Barth and St. Maarten, it was enough to drop the rig on the mighty 72 ft. Bella Mente.  Still not fully grasping the potential of the Elvis in this condition, our sails were raised and we put her on the wind.

Once sheeted on, the speed ticked up quickly, and from the comfort of Anthony’s lap, I felt our starboard hull lift for a few moments, then gently touch down.  Racing 38 ft scows that can touch 25 kts on a lake and easily capsize, or a Melges 32 in big breeze does not make me nervous.  The magnitude of racing a 62 foot Gunboat in the Carribean Sea that has the potential to capsize made me nervous, and I instantly felt the weight of this for the first time.  With a monster puff descending on us and entering it unprepared on a fat angle without sheets ready to ease, we lifted off again but this time we kept going, with the heel angle reaching 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 degrees….

It was a forgone conclusion that we were going over as the worst case scenario loomed. With some braver team members reaching for their knives and winches to cut sheets or find a last ditch effort at salvage, others braced for impact, and when we reached the point of what I thought was no return, I found the nearest place to ride out the situation which happened to be the windward cockpit door frame, finally putting my childhood tornado education to use.

From our estimation, and from a handful of other sailors who witnessed our starboard hull rising from the water the heel angle reached somewhere in the low 40s before it stopped, held for a few moments, and quickly descended back into favorable numbers, like 0.  As the Elvis sat for a few moments, sails totally luffing, our team stared at each other in a mix of nervous laughter, and total shock that we were still floating upright.

Seeing steady breeze in the high 20s, the Bella rig go down, and potentially our near capsize, the always fearless Carribean/French RC sent all racing boats to shore for a postponement.  With every crew-member wound like a coiled spring ready to explode at any back-pat, sound or hint of trouble, we motored to Columbie’ (a beautiful beach lined natural harbor around the corner from Gustavia). Once we got settled, the team quietly separated to different areas of the boat, reflecting on what went wrong, what could have been, and how fortunate were to have our only damage be bruised egos.

In the end, our momentary lack of respect for the boat and conditions got us close to capsizing.  Being too cavalier, pushing the boat at 100% while not being prepared with having everyone in their racing positions, with someone calling puffs full time, and the driver and trimmers ready to react to the smallest wind increase or direction change was careless, and we fully understood that.  The Gunboat is a very fast, exciting boat that can be sailed in big heavy seas, but if a team is going to push it as hard as we intended, everyone needs to be on high alert any time the sails are trimmed; you can’t race this boat in the same way that you party on it.

With a few hours at anchor to calm our nerves, thank our respective spiritual leaders and share some more nervous laughter, we headed back out at 2:30 for a start in a breeze that had died slightly.  Pushing the boat at 85%, we completed the course and slowly got our confidence back to tame Elvis in 20-25 kts.

The final day saw similar conditions, and using our experiences from the day prior, we came to the racecourse more prepared, pushed harder, and enjoyed the sailing.  Once the magnitude of the boat and the conditions were fully understood, the Elvis seemed perfectly at home in similar conditions that caused us trouble a day earlier. With satisfaction that we could push the boat hard and get it back to the harbor in once piece, we returned to our mooring in Columbie’, relaxed on the comfortable layout of Elvis, put on some reggae, clicked on the ice maker and watched the gauge on the rum tank slowly go down.

After an amazing week of Red-Lining our sailing and on-shore activities on the Elvis team, and it is very apparent St. Barths and Gunboat sailing are a stellar combo.  It might just be the perfect place for the first ever Gunboat World Championships in 2016…who’s in?

Awesome video of Elvis hitting 26 knots with our code zero here – http://vimeo.com/92445173

Melges 32 Audi European Event #2 – Porto Ercole Recap »

May 14, 2013

Melges 32 Audi European Event #2 – Porto Ercole

At the end of every event, depending on how the last leg, last race, or last day played out will have a big bearing on emotions as you leave the venue and slog back home. For our team on Celeritas, we battled hard in the middle of the fleet for 5 hard races and felt ok about our performance, only to see things fall apart on the final day and take a step backward on our upward progression. As we all head our separate directions, it will be important to recognize the positives from this past event, while taking the mistakes, unforced errors and other areas of improvement and do our best to get them corrected.

Racing in the Melges 32 European fleet is no joke.  A large amount of the fleet have tacticians who have been racing in these venues since Jr. sailing, and for those that did not grow up in ITA, they are some of the best tacticians around.  Combined with trimmers that are former Olympians, Volvo and Cup sailors, regardless if you are in the front of the fleet or in the back, you are surrounded by good boats that are tough to pass.

The first day of racing saw a light SE breeze that provided very little indicators of which side would be strong as there were no points of land that were close, and the overcast sky provided a uniform grayness over the course. Finding any sort of bias on the huge starting line was key, and it wasn’t until about 1/3 the way up the first beat that any side would start gaining.  At that stage it wasn’t about laying up under the group and waiting for your side to come back, but instead taking your lumps, getting to the favored side and at least gaining with the boats around you. After the first day with a few unforced errors in traffic on my part, we hung tough in the middle of the fleet, and stood in 13th, a mere 9 points out of 5th.

After a lengthy postponement on day 2 and several Cappucinos at one of the many seaside café’s, the fleet finally got on the water around 3pm.  While the RC did great work setting race courses this weekend, they were totally absent with communication on the radio which often meant we were on high alert at any moment as to when the fleet would be leaving the dock, or when the next race would start. Once the postponement was lifted on day 2, we had just enough time to get to the starting area, pick our jib, ping the line and get to where we wanted to start.

The first race of day 2 we were called OCS with a group of boats at the pin, and despite a low teens finish (13th), it might have been our best race as a team thus far as we had a huge gap after we re-rounded, and managed to pick off some good boats, while holding off the other 4-5 boats that were OCS with us.  The final race of the day, we got off the line with the eventual winners of the race, but could not hang with them and battled for a hard fought 11th place.  There were a few unforced errors which resulted in dropped boats, but it was a decent race nonetheless.  After day 2, we dropped 1 place to 14th, but were feeling ok about our sailing up to this point, and had confidence if we could string together 3 decent races, we might be able to crack the top ten.

Then the last day happened.  3 races where nothing worked, and despite a strong effort from the team, we could not will ourselves to a decent finish. I put my hand up for largely contributing to our poor results as I was never able to get into a good rhythm with the shifts that were bending around the mountain and coming over a narrow spit of land.  We would get to a side, only to see the other side pay, and feeling like I had a slap on the hand, I would be afraid to go back to that same side, try the other, only to see where we had just been the previous beat payoff. Frustrating to say the least.  We were OCS in race 7 and caught a few boats, and the final race of the regatta was just shitty with a 20th. Shitty is the only word to describe it, and other than taking the lessons learned, I am going to put this race in the vault of memories to be forgotten, along with the Vikings loss to the Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship, amongst a few others.

Looking at how pro athletes bounce back after a bad performance, I will do my best to correct the area of weakness we had in Ercole, while holding onto the things we did well.  Having confidence, whether actual or perceived, is a major part of having success, and whether it takes listening to self help tapes ( “I can do it, I will do it!”), visualizing past race wins, or making an alter to Jobu’, I will be working hard over the next 12 days to get back to the basics and have a fighting attitude in time for the next event.

Great photos at Melges32.com.


Melges 32 Audi European Event #2 »

May 9, 2013

After a 3 week break, the Melges 32 fleet is back in action for the 2nd stop on the European circuit in Porto Ercole, Italy, a 2 hour drive north of Rome.  Between now and the Worlds in September, the fleet will only get bigger and tougher and as more teams pour in from the US, Japan and other parts of Europe.  21 boats will be lined up for this event, and with talented teams like Inga and Yasha Samurai joining the mix with the already tough group, we are going to have our hands full improving on our result from the first event.

The good news is that our team on Celeritas has made steady upward progress during our time together thus far, and if we can get off the starting line and sail clean, we should be able to put together a respectable finish.  Owner Malcolm Gefter has done a great job of making the commitment with time to get to the events early, put in 3 solid days of practice and do what it takes to ensure the team is competitive with our equipment and resources.  Our spinnaker trimmer from the first event, Dave Doucett, broke his clavicle a few weeks ago in a kite boarding accident, and filling in for him will be former Melges 32 Worlds Champ and experienced trimmer, Willem Van Waay who should be able to lend some good knowledge for our downwind speed.

The sailing in Porto Ercole is very similar to that of Gaeta with a mountain jutting into the ocean on a point of land that has a huge effect on the breeze.  With a light seabreeze that tends to fill in the afternoon, but does not get high enough to go over the mountain, our racing area is subject to winds that wrap around either side of the hill, and leaves patchy, changeable winds in the middle of the course, and stronger breeze on the edges.  Depending on where the RC sets our course, we will have to get a bearing on the effect the hill will have the breeze and how to best take advantage.

As for the town, Ercole is a major upgrade from the blue collar town of Gaeta at our previous stop.  The people are nicer, the town is quaint and much cleaner, and when we head back into the harbor after sailing, the small hills that slope into the bay are covered with colorful buildings flanked by fishing boats that provide an idyllic Med setting. Just off the dock are a line of cafe’s that provide a nice lounge for all the sailors to imbide in cappucinos prior to leaving the dock, and cold beers upon return.

Our team house is set up on the hill amongst vineyards and olive tree orchards, and despite a great set-up, getting adjusted to the time change and solid sleep has been harder than preferred. It is not outwardly obvious there are farm animals on any of these neighboring properties, but while lying awake from midnight to 5am a chorus of cow moo’s and eh-awws from donkeys can be heard as if they are in the next room.  At anytime, one cow will get the party started and the other animals join in, and as quickly as they start, it suddenly comes to a stop.  I’m not sure what triggers the activity at such random hours, but I am looking forward to the night the donkeys are in the background of my dreams, instead of keeping me awake.

Racing starts on Friday.  Results and photos can be found at Melges 32.com, and for those who prefers Apps on their phones or tablets, the Audi Sailing Series has created an app (search Melges 32, or Audi Sailing Series) with photos, video, team photos and a bunch of other great stuff…worth a download.


Charleston Race Week 2013 – Keep It Together »

April 23, 2013

Comparing Charleston Race Week to other venues or events is a challenge.  With big breeze, strong current, and having to share waters with 200 ft container ships, you could say it is similar to Big Boat Series in San Francisco.  With lighter, shifty wind, a small venue with streetball type racing that only allows for .9 mile beats, similarities can be found inside the harbor in Newport. Being on the same course with another fleet where 70 boats are intersecting each other at high rates of speed is typical of any major regatta like Key West or Bacardi.  Put all these elements together along with warmer temps, a great town and regatta village, and the promise of a lot of races, the craziness of racing in Charleston is unlike any other venue, and the draw of Charleston Race Week has made it the biggest event in the United States.

As suspected, with current changing on a daily basis and late spring weather moving through the Southeastern part of the country, each day of racing in this year’s edition of CRW was totally different.  Day 1 brought a flood tide charging on either side of Fort Sumter along with a building SE breeze that would touch 28-30 kts by the end of the day.  Being our first event together as a full team, we were able to get out of the blocks with good speed and solid boathandling to post an opening scoreline of 1, 8, 23, 1.  Our hiccup was being OCS in race 3, and with PRO Hank Stuart basically taking enough time to have a meatball sandwich between when the starting signal sounded, and when the first boats were hailed over the radio, our bow number was called, we set the spinnaker, re-rounded the pin end and could barely read the sail numbers of the nearest boats, but fought hard for a 23rd.

With a wind direction 180 degrees opposite out of the NW, Day 2 was like a game of Chutes and Ladders where huge shifts came rumbling down the course and mixed up the fleet.  There were times where we would be in the top group, leg out to the left side, tack on what we thought was a good shift only to get headed and find ourselves pointing at the transoms of the entire fleet, then getting wound back up 40 degrees and back in the top 5.  After another 4 race day where shifts would super-cede the importance of current in one race, and the opposite working in the next, by the end of the day stress and anxiety finally gave way to ambivalence and thoughts of, “I hope this works out over here.”

After 2 days, our team on Oleander put together 8 solid races and found ourselves in 3rd place behind Heartbreaker, and a red hot Bacio team.  It has been impressive to race against Bacio the past two events as they leaped ahead of us to take the win on the final day at Bacardi, and after posting 3 consecutive bullets to end Day 2 at CRW, all they would need was one more top 10 finish to seal the deal.  The mark of a regatta winning team is not the races where a team has a great start and puts the fleet in a sleeper hold to take a win, but the races when a team can recover from a mistake after finding themselves deep, comeback and post a keeper finish.  On a few occasions, I would look back see USA-13 in the 20s, only to see them battling back to a top 5 finish, salvaging their throwout and precious points.   Bacio is solid on the starting line and on their upwinds, but their biggest gains seem to be downwind where they have a combo of great speed and positioning.

We had a few comebacks of our own this week, but the Melges 20 fleet has had the tough realization that having average finishes inside the top 5 wont get the job done and single digit finishes may not be enough.  Our squad was excited about our 3rd place finish, and looking back, there were a few instances where we could have saved some points, but overall we sailed a solid event.  Jim Wilson has done an awesome job driving the 20 in only his 4th event, and having Dan Morris step into the front without any majors was a huge key to posting a good result.

Results and Photos

More Photos and a great sequence of our downwind on Friday afternoon

Up Next –

This 3 week regatta stint is on its final leg, and it is off to Peter Island in the BVI’s for the final event in the Melges 32 Carribean Series.  Voted by Conde’ Naste as one of the top 10 places you need to see before you die,  this final event will be another memorable experience.  That sailing in the Carribean has been unreal this winter, and the only bummer is that there are not more 32s down here to take part in the action.

Our team on Volpe is in contention for the Carribean Series Title, and with perrenial top finisher Argo not partaking in this event, the overall win will be a battle between Volpe, Delta and Robertissimo.

Check out the action at Melges32.com

Put Away the Mozzarella, Bust out the Grits »

April 17, 2013

When Malcolm and I first met in 2012, I was helping to coach the Celeritas Melges 32 team (latin for acceleration) prior to Key West Race Week with a focus on improving boathandling.  During a practice session when it was blowing 20 and after recovering from a gybe turned wipeout, Malcolm who prior to 2007 had never sailed before, is a former Bio-Chem professor at Columbia, has over 100 patents to his name, has put to market several pharmaceuticals, and is a legit Rocket Scientist, shouted to me over the wind and flapping of sails, “rocket science is easy….this sailing stuff is hard!!!”

Flash to 2013, we have just completed the first Melges 32 European event as we march towards the 2013 Melges 32 Worlds at the end of the September. Our results were far from where we would have liked them this first regatta, but improvements were made in all phases, and we are able to take some positive moments and momentum into the next event only a few short weeks away.

As is the case with any new team when people are sailing together for the first time, there are adjustments to be made along with figuring out how to meld together several different approaches.  Being a scientist since he was a teenager, and dealing with absolute data and numbers to explain everything in life, Malcolm takes this same approach to sailing and if there is an instrument to measure some aspect of sailing performance, there is a good chance it is on our boat.  Contrasting that with my seat-of-the-pants style with the only instrument needed being a compass for heading, and being perturbed we have at least 100 lbs of extra weight in equipment to collect what I deem needless data, my answers of “Malcolm. I can’t explain it in technical terms, but if we don’t put the bow down and go faster, we are going to get passed,” don’t always suffice.  We managed to meet in the middle and had a good rapport going by the end of the event, but there were some good debates before, during and after racing.

After a tough 2nd day, our team regrouped and set out for 3 races on Sunday.  With a beautiful setting under blue skies and warm spring temps on the Bay of Gaeta, we put together 2 decent races, including a top 5 in the last race.  Adjustments to the rig were made that morning which helped our speed become competitive, and at times better than some of the faster teams.  The team up front grew increasingly more confident in our boathandling, and despite our worst starts, we were able to string together good first beats and hang most of the race.  We have a long way to go to put together consistent top ten finishes, but we are headed in the right direction.

Results and Photos from Melges 32 in Gaeta.

With a quick pit-stop at home to do some laundry, get a haircut and spend 24 hrs with the fam, it is back on the airport to the Lowcountry for Melges 20 racing at Charleston Race Week.  Coming off a solid winter series with Jim Wilson on Oleander, we will look to post a good result at a very challenging venue in Charleston Harbor.  With current that pours in and out from 2 rivers and the mouth of the harbor, each day of racing is totally different, and while understanding the timing of high and low tide, and the depth of the harbor can be helpful, identifying the trend and whether you are gaining or losing early on is key.

Joining our team this weekend will be Minnesota native, and current US ONE Sailing Team member Dan Morris.  As is the standard for the Melges 20 fleet, the competition is no joke with experienced owners and the best pro and amateur teams calling tacks and trimming sails.  Having the goal of going out to win the event is setting the team up for failure.  Our goal is to sail well enough to put ourselves in the top 7, and see where the chips fall from there.

Racing starts Friday, results and photos can be found here.

Audi Melges 32 Eurpean Series Event #1 – Tough Sledding »

April 13, 2013

Day 2 was tough.  Not with regards to the conditions, or because my sailing shoes that I left out to dry next to our dock box are now missing, but because of the mental toll of being in the mix in all three races, and finishing with results that have left us ahead of just 1 boat in the overall standings.  As the Russians on the boat next to us again celebrated another top day with champagne and interviews from the local media, a few of us sat on a stack of sails on the dock in a daze, thinking about what we can all do individually to improve our performance.

The effort on the squad is solid and there is no lack of determination, but to polish off our finishes we need to get better in all three areas of speed, tactics and boathandling, and figure out how to capitalize on decent starts and first beats.   With first windward mark roundings all in the top 10, we have the capabilities to hang in the middle of the pack, but as is all too common with racing in a fleet like this, any hiccup puts you to the back of the back where it is tough to recover.

The RC postponed racing until 1pm for the sea breeze to fill, and when it finally did, we were able to get off 3 races in a 9-14 kt Westerly wind.  This was further right that we had seen up to this point, and with the breeze going up and over the city of Gaeta, there was a big geographical shift in the right corner, and the boats that could get to the right first and dig in always did well.  Not understanding how big of a benefit it would be to get to the corner and having to sail through a 20 degree header to get there, we tacked short of the corner a few times and looked ok, only to have the boats that crossed behind us extend further and round ahead of us at the top mark. Sometimes it pays to just put the blinders on, forget the data you normally rely on like compass heading, and put the boat where it needs to be.

There are 2 races left and we are looking to continue to improve in all phases and hopefully we can move up the standings a few points.

More good photos and results at Melges32.com

Audi Melges 32 European Event # 1 – Day 1 »

After a delay getting off the dock due to our provisions not arriving on time and having to run across the street to ensure we had enough food and water for the day, our team headed out the race course in a nice 8-11 kt SE wind.  Up to this point in our practicing, the breeze had all been out the SW, so collecting new data on this direction was an important part of our pre-race routine.

With an eager fleet, and strong 1 kt current that was pushing towards the line, there were a few general recalls, and on the 4th attempt we were able to get off under a Z Flag start.  Unfortunately for our team, in the previous general recall which was also under Z, we were nailed for being one of the boats over would carry a 20% penalty into the race (3 pts).  I was a little suspect that we were over as our Velocitek was reading that we were 20+ meters from the line, but we were exposed on the line early and gave the RC a good look at our bow numbers for a long period of time before we dipped for the start.

As for the race, we got a clean start to leeward of the group and extended to the left side of the track.  The fleet split early and as our pack got close to the left layline, we began to get headed with pressure and were able to tack and cross the boats from the right.  With a few tacks at the top of the course and battling with the other boats from the left, we managed to get around the top mark in 3rd, and we took a 5th at the finish after losing 2 boats on the 2nd upwind, but a solid start to the regatta regardless.

With the current still ripping up the race course, which I am told is very unusual here, and a dying breeze, we were put under postponement for a good 3 hours.  It was clear the RC was determined to get another race off, and after relocating the course closer to shore, a few clouds rolled in and brought some new breeze and we were able to get off another start at 4pm.  With 2 more general recalls, the 3rd start was under a black flag.  As was the theme for our team, we were again the most advanced with the boats around us, exposed near the committee boat and very close to the line with too much time to kill.   With fear of being called over with a black flag, we pulled the plug and gybed out, took 3-4 transoms on port and started late at the boat.

With the way the fleet was pushing the line, I thought for a moment it was going to be another general and that we would be one of the few boats not called over.  But as we crossed the line late, the RC came over the radio and announced, “All clear.”  We were a bit deflated as starting in last is never a great outcome, but the team kept plugging away and we fought hard to get back in the game, caught a few shifts and round in 8th at the top mark.

At this point the breeze that had filled began to die again and it was a roll of the dice as to which side was going to pay, and being fast through the water was a priority.   We were sticky at a few points on the 2nd upwind and last downwind, and compounded with a crowded leeward gate rounding we lost a few boats and took a 13th.

Despite a tough last result, it was not a bad day as we battled hard and were in the mix in both races, and we completed our goal of improving from when we started the day.  Our items for improvement heading into day 2 are to minimize the unforced errors and to make our approaches to the starting line much later as we were consistently the most advanced boat on the starts, and working on more consistent speed up and down the course.

Day is forecast for a solid seabreeze to fill around noon which should provide for 3 solid races.

Check out some great photos from Carlo Borlenghi.



Ready for Racing – Melges 32 Audi European Series »

April 11, 2013

Traveling to a regatta in a far off destination is inherently exciting; claiming new territory on a map of waters sailed, being surrounded with a new culture, and my personal favorite, local food. But there are also general challenges when traveling abroad. Boatyards do not get anymore exotic, and with language barriers asking for acetone from the chandlery employee can turn into an exciting game of charades. There are more startling reminders of being abroad when discovering the “C” on the shower handle does not stand for “cold”, but “caliente”. And Italians are not nearly as obsessed with being connected to the Internet resulting spotty Wifi, and any Internet seekers at our team house cluster together in 4 X 4 ft area to get a signal.  If anyone is caught taking up bandwidth to peruse facebook or check sports highlights, there is a good chance their device will get chucked over the balcony into the Mediterranean.  Maybe we should take a cue from the locals… relax, have a cappuccino, and a conversation.

Our team on USA-208 has had 3 solid days of sailing to get ready for the 1st Audi Melges 32 European Sailing Series Event, and while we are far from peaking and being at top performance, we have improved each day and judging by the practice races, when we put it all together and don’t have any majors, we have the capabilities to hang with the top group.  Whether we can execute on race day will be a different matter, but we are feeling ok heading into Day 1.  I have had to make a few adjustments in my head from calling tactics on a Melges 20 compared to a Melges 32, mainly being the amount of moving parts it takes to do a maneuver. I need to balance my urgency to put the boat in a certain place, with the amount of time and distance needed for the team up front to execute a clean tack, gybe or mark rounding.

A big difference between sailing in the US and in Europe is the level of exposure and public interest that sailing carries.  For this event, an empty parking lot has turned into a full regatta village complete with a competitor’s lounge including an exercise room (I prefer to sip espresso outside of the exercise room), a café and bar, several vendor tents, a booth with a live broadcasting radio show, and at least a dozen brand new Audi(s) on full display.

On Thursday afternoon, there was a sponsor supported parade and practice race where each team was required to take out a member of the local sports academy to help draw the local media.  Our team was presented with 6’6”, 220 lb Stefano, who was a member of the Basketball team at the sports academy.  Stefano was nice, but we were a bit disappointed when we found out he couldn’t even dunk. Our disappointment was compounded when our neighbors on the Russian boat were set up with a 110 lb female gymnast.

The sailing in Gatea is awesome. Medieval Gaeta extends into the ocean on top of a 200 ft cliff, and in the distance is the archipelago of the Pontine Islands that were at one time home to prisoners of Pontius Pilate.  With our racing area just in the lee of the cliff, there will be some exciting racing and plenty of lead changes. The forecast is for warm spring temps which should result in a decent 8-11 kt sea breeze.

Check out the Melges32.com website for updated results and photos.

Melges 32 lined up and ready for action in Gaeta.

Melges 32 lined up and ready for action in Gaeta.

Empty chairs at 6:30 for the start of the Skippers Meeting which started a normal 30 mins late.

Empty chairs at 6:30 for the start of the Skippers Meeting which started a normal 30 mins late.


A view of the race village as dusk with the 32s behind, and one of the new Audi(s) on display.

2013 Audi Melges 32 Sailing Series Event #1 – Gaeta, Italy »

April 9, 2013

My departure from MSP to Rome marks the start of a 3 week regatta stint that will span Gaeta (Italy), Charleston, and Peter Island in the BVI’s.  Jenny and Lily dropped me at the airport and as I competed for Lily’s affection with her Cinderella coloring book, we said our good-byes.  Being away from the family and home is hard, but the tough feelings provide motivation to put in the extra effort and make the time away worth it, and hopefully come home with 3 solid results.

I settled into my seat for the long travel to Rome via Amsterdam, and surveyed the oncoming passengers guessing at who would be my seat-mate for the 8hr first leg.  It seems on any international flight there are certain staple passengers; the grungy backpacker who has not showered in 10 days, and is venturing off to his 3 continent in 2 weeks. Or the retired couple adorning their fanny packs, passport carriers dangling from their necks, and a level of excitement that will be settled by any sort of sleep aid.  And of course, the Chinese tour group all sporting their dust masks hoping not to catch and transmit the next global pandemic.  Finally, I spot my seatmate as she sets her down her belongings and gets settled…a petite woman in her 60’s smelling of potpurri. Perfect.  Just as long as she keeps her boney elbow on her side of the armrest, things are shaping up nicely.

Waiting for me in Rome will be Malcolm Gefter and a few of the other team members on USA-208.  Malcolm has shipped his Melges 32 to Europe for the summer and the plan is to campaign all of the European events (sans Palma), and ramp up for the Worlds at the end of September.  With enthusiasm and energy to learn and compete hard not matched by many Melges 32 owners, Malcolm is dedicated to improving on their results from previous seasons. We will have a lot of work to do this first event to get our new team sorted, communicating and performing well in the areas of speed, tactics, and boathandling, but with a young, gritty squad, we should be able to make some headway.

As for my role on the boat, when Charlie Enright called me on a snowy Minnesota day in December to check on my availability for the summer, I was excited about the opportunity and let him know I would be able to make it work.  Being several months out, we did not discuss too many details, and I assumed I would be trimming jib and spinnaker which has been my role on every 32 I have sailed on since 2005. When we spoke a few weeks later, I asked Charlie:

“Oh, and by the way, who is calling tactics?”

“You are.”


“Sorry, I’m in a coffee shop and can’t hear well.  Who did you say is calling tacks?”

“You. You are the tactician.”

With this new information in hand, my initial surprise gave way to excitement about the new role on the 32 and the challenges it presents. Having had the opportunity to sail with a lot of great tacticians over the past few years and learning from them will hopefully prove valuable, and at the very least, I will do my best to remember the fundamentals of putting the boat in places to let our speed go to work, get off the starting line cleanly and stay on the lifted tack…its just that easy.

With a few solid days of practice scheduled with Coach Ed Adams, the plan is to get our body clocks on track, and make sure we are tuned up and ready to start racing on Friday.  There will be 16 boats on the line, all high caliber and hopefully we can put some teams on notice.  We will have to wait on enjoying some fine Italian pizza and wine until we make weigh-in on Weds.

Check out Melges32.com for an updated crew list.

#ItsNeverLikeThis »

March 27, 2013

A common refrain from regatta organizers and sailors when venues experience conditions outside of what has been advertised is, “It’s never like this!”  This phrase could be heard the first few days at the St. Thomas Rolex Regatta where sailors were hoping for consistent 15-18 Easterly Trade Winds, but were instead tested with a fading gradient wind that staved off the reliable trades making for light, shifty and toasty sailing.  While the Caribbean is beautiful and the sailing unparalleled, when the wind shuts off it gets sweltering, and pounding fluids and reapplying sunscreen before and after every race is more than just a cautionary recommendation.

With several other fleets racing, the Melges 32’s were given our own racecourse on the Pillsbury Sound nestled between St. Thomas and St. John which provided a lot of current, ferry traffic and changing conditions. The current was a huge part of the equation and often made for a one-way track both upwind and downwind putting a premium on finding the favored end of the starting line.  With starts that either had us quickly behind the fleet, or poked with the group around us, we had a mixed bag of results through the first two days.

The final day, the RC moved our course to the south side of St. Thomas hoping for steadier wind which we found in the 11-15 kt range.  Starting aggressively, we got off the line cleanly, got our bow out, and had 2 solid races and climbed the leaderboard.  Having a decent last day and stringing together good races was a nice feeling that we have not had on Volpe for the last few regattas and we are hopeful to carry this momentum into the final Caribbean event in April.

When the final finishing gun sounded Volpe finished 4th overall, and our teammates on Delta took overall honors after a well-sailed series. More impressive was after suffering a 2 mid-fleet finishes on the final day and tied with Argo headed into the last race, the team on Delta pulled it together, got the win and a nice Rolex for Dalton. After years of hard-work, crew changes, and results not reflective of effort, it was great to see Delta get the win.

The morning following the raucous awards ceremony at the St. Thomas Yacht Club, Peanut (boat captain-shore crew) and I were the lone rangers finishing the pack up of both the DV Sailing 32s in preparation for the Peter Island event in April.  This involved towing the 32’s to Tortola, and hauling out at Tortola Yacht Services in Road Town which has firmly planted itself in the top 3 most ridiculously hot places I have ever been (#Chaffage).  Starting at 7am, we were able to get our work done before the temps got too unbearable, and had a few spare hours on Tuesday afternoon to check out Tortola.

Peanut was not feeling my Bourdain-vibe of getting in a taxi and exploring for 3-4 hours, so I ventured alone, found a taxi driver named Crabbe who dropped me in Cane Garden Bay, a white-sand, crescent-moon beach with a smattering of shack restaurants and bars mixed with palm trees.  Strolling among a few pockets of beach goers and being envious of the cruising sailboats at anchor filled with families and friends reveling in paradise, I ended up at the far end of the beach at the Callwood Bar (part of the Callwood Rum Distillery).  Climbing up the rickety staircase leading from the water, I surveyed the empty scene inside and was summoned with a warm welcome from the dread-locked silhouette of McAdoo, the lone employee who was viewing the action on the Bay with a pair of binoculars from a shaded corner of the deck.

I pulled up a chair and over the next few hours and a few rum punches, McAdoo filled me in on his adventures of growing up having never left Tortola, and I shared stories of snow, ice-skating and traveling on airplanes.  For two strangers from different worlds, there was effortless conversation and laughter, making for a worthwhile afternoon of aimless traveling.

Check out results and take a few minutes to browse the photos from Joy Dunigan.  Up next is a few days at home and soaking up as much family time as possible before a very crazy month of sailing and traveling in April:

April 7-15 – Melges 32 European Series Event #1 – Gaeta, Italy // April 17-21 – Melges 20 Charleston Race Week // April 23-29 – Melges 32 Carribbean Series #3 – Peter Island, BVI

View of the bay and beach from Callwood's


Volpe getting put away in Tortola

View from Cane Garden Bay


Entrance to Callwood's

Hanging with McAdoo