Watching it rain and Vendee news—Sailing News from the U.S. and Beyond

Make no mistake: My wife and I love living in the Pacific Northwest more than just about any other spot imaginable (minus New Zealand or Nepal, but those are different stories all told) , but there’s something about the dark, gloomy days of the winter solstice that often send my mind spinning towards sunshine-soaked, wind-fueled tangents involving spinnakers, friends and fast boats. And while I certainly 'sail vicariously' through the darkest depths of the winter, savoring epics such as the recently concluded Sydney Hobart Race (see the full media blitz inside), I find that it’s easier to instead focus on the fun sailing that awaits in 2013.


For the fortunate few who will be traveling to Key West in a few weeks, Karma will get you in your next life. For us Pacific Northwest sailors, the sailing season is in full tilt, with the Duwamish Head Race kicking off next Saturday (rain, snow, sleet and wind almost guaranteed). All sorts of classic local events will, of course, follow as the season continues, the crescendo being perhaps my personal favorite sailboat race on the planet (at least of the ones that I’ve been lucky enough to sail thus far), the Van Isle 360. This gem of a race circumnavigates Vancouver Island in a series of stage races, exposing the fleet to everything from testy inshore conditions to the wet and wild west coast, a place where fetch can be measured in the thousands of miles.


Paul Shultz in the new Gill showroom.



But by far, the most exciting west coast sailing event of 2013 will be the 34th America’s Cup, which kicks off next September in San Francisco. There, 72-foot wingsail-powered catamarans will be used to determine the winner of the longest-running trophy in sports. Count on a strong Sail-World.com presence at the 34th Cup, as well as the best media coverage available.


Speaking of the Cup, Sail-World’s Richard Gladwell caught up with Dean Barker, skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand’s (ETNZ) AC72, to get his thoughts on ETNZ’s first thirty days of sailing aboard their wingsail-powered, foil-borne catamaran. 'The one thing you learn very quickly is that these boats are apparent wind animals,' reported Barker. 'The wind is always in front of you no matter whether you are going up or downwind.'


Dean Barker on the helm of Emirates Team New Zealand’s first AC72 on the Hauraki Gulf.



'To both make the boat safe and extract performance, you have to push incredibly hard,' continued Barker. 'There’s not a conservative approach to sailing one of these boats. You manage these boats differently as the breeze increases. The best way to manage the power is to sail the boat at its full performance as much as you can.' Be sure to check out Gladwell’s great multimedia interview, inside this newsletter.


And in offshore news, there’s been some interesting meteorological changes in the Vendee Globe Race, where 13 skippers are single-handing their IMOCA 60s nonstop around the world, as the leaders have slowed relative to their nearest rivals. At the time of this writing, the runaway race leaders Armel Le Cleac’h ('Banque Populaire') and Francois Gabart ('MACIF') and were sailing several knots slower than both Jean-Pierre Dick ('Virbac Paprec 3') and Alex Thomson ('Hugo Boss'), both hundreds of miles astern, as the fleet powers towards Cape Horn.


Jean-Pierre Dick, Virbac Paprec 3 - 2012 Vendee Globe



'Right now I have a 28-32-knot wind but I know it’s going to go up to 40 knots so I’m ready to go out there and trim my sails for whatever comes,' reported Dick. 'There’s so much noise on the boat! Right now my speed is 19-20 knots, it’s pretty good. But the waves are quite rough. It’s tough but it’s still better than yesterday, when the wind was much lighter than the weather files had predicted. I’m glad things changed and I think Gabart and Le Cléac’h will slow down so hopefully I can catch up with them a bit in the next few days.'


The low-pressure system is expected to reach the leaders soon, so it will be interesting to see how this impacts each skipper’s decisions as they near Cape Horn. According to reports, the leaders are expected to reach this mythical place around the first of the year before then pointing their bows north and continuing their long-distance match-racing session back to Las Sables D’Olonne, France.


Also inside, get the latest news on ETNZ’s frantic push to get their second AC72 ready to sail/fly, get an inside peek at Oracle Racing’s New Zealand-based wing-building facility, and finally, be sure to spend plenty of time gawking at all the great Sydney Hobart photo galleries. Enjoy!


May the four winds blow you safely home,