by Rich Roberts
Now that Olympic champions, America's Cup winners and other world class talents have scuffled with the high-tech trials of San Francisco Bay, it's time for some seasoned competitors to show their flair at the 2012 18ft Skiff International Regatta.
2012 18ft Skiff International Regatta
This week the feisty 18ft Skiffs return with Nespresso coffee products as the title sponsor of their 11th annual International Regatta running through Saturday, hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club … which, by the way, has no direct involvement in the America's Cup other than a front-row location on the race course in an area where spectators can enjoy the show and the new sponsor's specialties.
Even the celebrated sailors from Ben Ainslie to Dean Barker to Russell Coutts, et al, who raced their AC45 trimarans in last week's opening event of the latest America's Cup World Series admitted they were on a steep learning curve.
Ainslie is now a quadruple gold medalist in the singlehanded Finn class, but he's learning a new game. He commented early on his daily blog, J.P.Morgan BAR, 'When the breeze is up, the pace is incredible. The whole way round the guys are working flat out just handling the boat. As the helmsman I’m the only one who really has any time to look around and make some decisions. It’s certainly not like sailing my Finn where I can flick in a few quick tacks to get into a better position.'
The 18s fill the gap between the AC45s that concluded Sunday and St. Francis YC's annual blockbuster Big Boat Regatta starting next week. Tentatively, the 18s' first race is scheduled Monday, but that may be used as a practice day. Otherwise, they'd be rushed to unload their boats from containers arriving from Oakland Monday morning, assemble them on the Crissy Field launching area just west of StFYC and hit the start line hoping all the nuts and bolts are tight.
Instead, they may choose to just practice Monday and race on Thursday's scheduled lay day. They'll do two races daily for a total of 10, including the traditional 7 1/2-mile Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race from the Golden Gate to the Oakland Bay late Friday afternoon.
A couple of the AC45 crews may hang around to learn something and, possibly, race in the Bridge to Bridge classic, which is open to kiteboarders, windsurfers and almost anything else that sails. After all, that's what the AC45s are: a crew trainer soon to be replaced by the AC72s that will compete for the Cup next year.
normal 18skiffs2011d1-08H~0 - 2012 18ft Skiffs International Regatta
Howard Hamlin thinks that might be a good idea. The Long Beach, Calif. veteran racer of high-tech skiffs and such holds world championships not only in the 18s (the JJ Giltinan classic) but International 14s and 505s, as well. He avows that there is no more challenging venue than The Bay.
'Besides the [wind] pressure and the shifts, we have the current,' Hamlin said.
The Bay's prevailing westerly wind generally builds through the afternoon from the mid-teens into the 20s and even the 30s, bringing a head-on collision with an outgoing ebb tide of 3-4 knots---the ugly afternoon forecast for this week. Let your bow down too much and you plow into a wave and … ask Coutts about his AC45's cartwheel on a practice romp this summer.
Nathan Outteridge, the Australian who just won Olympic gold on a similar 49er skiff, is now on Team Korea's AC45. He told Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle, 'I'd never sailed a boat in [winds] over 18 knots until I got here. We did 29 knots on the boat the other day.'
Most of the 18s are equipped with two masts: tall ones for normal conditions, short ones for abnormal blows. Most leave the tall ones at home when they come to San Francisco.
With boat speeds in the 20s, flood tides also are lethal, as witnessed last week when several AC45s, on a flying carpet of water and wind, rolled and flipped down the course like tumbleweeds.
normal 18skiffs2011d5-02H~0 - 2012 18ft Skiffs International Regatta
The variable tidal flows and currents on the sides of the course also make gauging laylines to the marks tricky upwind and downwind, so Hamlin says the best bet is just 'to get your boat handling down because there are going to be lots of tight situations.'
Otherwise, the AC45s have a couple of close connections to the 18s. AC World Series Regatta Director Iain Murray, a native of Australia, was a pioneer in the class, while Mike Martin, the director of umpiring and rules administration, crewed for Hamlin, a fellow Southern Californian, on the first four of Hamlin's six 18ft Skiff International victories, along with his JJ Giltinan titles that are recognized as the class's world championship.
Maybe they'd like to crew for someone this week, just for fun.
St Francis YC website