Front Rudder - November 2018

A Dream Within A Dream

In San Francisco for my annual Rolex Big Boat Series pilgrimage fix. This year also carries a special meaning for me, which ultimately became a dream within another dream. It also was the last year for my Sonoma IndyCar conflicts as that date has been unfortunately switched over to the Laguna Seca in Monterey, which means that tearing from one venue to another is a bit beyond Mt. Everest!

The numbers were down this year as a lot of fleets, that have peppered the numbers in recent years, were sadly elsewhere. In addition, the promise of more Pac 52’s we are nary to be found as their numbers dwindled to 4. Compelling, but not too exciting. That said, there were 28 J-105’s which created several on the water dramas and the best fleet action of the regatta.

My own adventures took me from one end of the Bay Area to the other and in the weekend that followed, the promise of a wonderful dream folded into dust like the thud of an anvil when we landed back in Detroit! But, that’s another story for another day. That said, we conquered everything from Vesuvio’s in the City to Viansa Winery in Sonoma to the Stud for a show (Jill’s puppies had to be put away!) to the Def Leppard/Journey show and last but not least a little bit of Broadway. Pictures next time.

As for the host yacht club, all was in order once again as the media leadership torch has been passed from Meredith Laitos to Amanda Witherell with a minimum of disruption. Though press boat assignments seemed sometimes to be more like Junior High musical chairs than a true pecking order.

Rolex’s chief photographer Daniel Forster returned for another round, given a leave of absence from the prestigious watch maker’s other event; the New York Yacht Club’s Resolute Cup, which unfortunately enough is held on the same weekend in Newport, Rhode Island.

The extra-curricular activities took place with their usual fanfare, again like last year minus the hats. Trust me, the sailors miss them as well as most of them end up in the hands of the wives, girlfriends and children. Not where they belong as many of the guys lamented that the prize of a Rolex or Mt. Gay regatta hat was usually their only reward for a weekend of hard sailing. Of course, that was generally a little bit like spilled milk because this event is Christmas and New Years Day for most Bay Area sailors!


Day One

It’s not often that Mother Nature’s agenda perfectly aligns with a regatta’s racing schedule, but that is exactly what unfurled for the first day of racing in the St. Francis Yacht Club’s (StFYC) 54th Annual Rolex Big Boat Series (RBBS).

It was fun to be back out on the water as we ripped from one area of the Bay to the other, generally following the Pac 52’s outside the Gate. Unfortunately, no whales for us. I think Forster pays them!

The 76 participating teams hoisted sail in 12-15 knot breezes and flat seas for the first race. Warm sunshine and a flooding tide ensured the good times only compounded as the day unfurled and the breeze slowly but consistently built, eventually just knocking the tops off the waves to punctuate San Francisco Bay with sporadic white caps.

“I’m really excited about all three ORR classes,” says regatta co-chair Susan Ruhne, about the week’s racing. “It’s the most robust and competitive handicap fleet that we’ve had in years. I’m also excited about the first race of each day, as some fleets will have their finishes off of the Race Deck. This is new and it will bring racing to the clubhouse windows.”

Sailors competing in Class ORR-B began their day on the Treasure Island race course and while the flood tide effectively lengthened each beat, the fastest teams did a great job finding maximum current relief along the city front.

“This is my third or fourth RBBS, but it’s my first time doing it as just the Big Boat Series and not as a pre-Worlds,” says Charlie Enright, who is serving as tactician aboard Julian Mann’s C&C 30, Don’t Panic (USA 30026), and who served as skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing in the 2017/2018 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. “We left the dock yesterday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. and we came back in at 6:15 p.m.,” joked Enright about the team’s pre-RBBS preparations. “We sailed the boat for two weeks in the Caribbean this spring, and the owner Julian Mann, is an old friend and even came and sailed Leg Zero of the Volvo Ocean Race with us aboard Vestas 11th Hour Racing from Plymouth, England to Saint Malo, France. We like 18 knots and flat seas,” he says, adding that, “our strategy is to get better as the week goes on, [make] no big mistakes and keep it close, like in golf.”

These flat, fast waters offered opportunities for huge leader board changes, especially in the Pac52s with the straggler in the first race, Invisible Hand (USA 5202), reversing fortunes to win the second. Gary Panariello’s Courageous (USA 77) and Marc McMorris in M Squared (USA 75) mixed up first and seconds in the J/88 fleet. Two boats dominated their classes, David Halliwill’s J/120 Peregrine (USA 25487) in ORR C and Kame Richards’ Express 37 Golden Moon (USA 18488).

The Express 37 class has served as one of the RBBS true beating hearts for several decades and sailed their second race of the day on the Alcatraz Race Course, out under the Golden Gate Bridge, passing several humpback whales en route and hugging the Bay’s north shores for current relief as they charged into a growing breeze that at times registered as high as 18 knots.

“We pay no attention to the weather,” says Richards, a former (and repeat) RBBS perpetual trophy winner. “You can spend a lot of energy on stuff that you don’t have any control over. We leave the dock saying that these conditions are the best conditions, we’re not looking for any specific conditions, we just want to go sailing.”

Instead, explains Richards, the team focuses on the variables that they can directly influence.

“Our strategy is good communication, we want to make sure that everyone knows what the next play is, and we want to sail with our heads out of the boat and be ready,” he says. “We’re a group of friends who like sailing together. We prepare for this with beer can racing at Oakland Yacht Club, and we don’t stress too much about preparing. We have a few new sails, but not lots of practice.”


Day Two

Following a short postponement to let the breeze gather, the starting guns began sounding and racers were rewarded for their pre-racing patience by a flood tide and 10- to 15-knots that built all day. The net result of westerly wind cooperating with tide was long beats juxtaposed with blistering runs, bow spray and big grins.

“It’s been awesome” says Gary Panariello, skipper of the J/88 Courageous (USA 77), about conditions. “It was a long way upwind, it took days! I needed to shave! But downwind was super quick with the flood tide.”

While the flat waters have been making for long uphill legs for the sailors, the swiftly flooding tides haven’t exactly been making racecourse management easy. Here, however, the StFYC’s highly experienced teams of professionals and volunteers, as well as the father and son team of Peter and Anderson Reggio, the event’s Principal Race Officers, have a steady pulse on an otherwise highly complex situation.

“No two races are ever the same,” says Anderson Reggio. “That’s what makes it interesting in my mind. StFYC provides a great venue. It’s one of the most well set-up facilities for running an event of this style. The volunteers are amazing, and they provide us with a level of confidence that we can do what we need to. I don’t mean to say the company line, but the quality of the sailors, from the Pac52 class to the largest class –the J/105s – is great and is a testament to time spent sailing on the Bay. You become a hardened person sailing here.”

“We’re having a very good time, and we’re better prepared this year,” says Gerard Sheridan, skipper of Elan 40 Tupelo Honey (USA 28908), who returned to Rolex Big Boat Series last year after a short hiatus. “We’ve got some new sails, new rigging and we’ve got a couple of new people, but we gelled really quickly into a team. I’ve been happy with the crew work.”

When asked if it’s sailing well in an StFYC event or winning a shiny new Rolex for their skipper that serves as the bigger crew incentive, Sheridan laughs. “The latter!” he says. “But win or lose, people really look forward to racing in the RBBS. It’s the club’s premiere event and everyone wants to race in it, so winning a Rolex would just be the icing on the cake.”


Day Three

Strong airs and freshening white caps greet the third day of racing as long uphill bashes in three to four-foot seas and 20 knots, gusting higher, were rewarded with blistering downwind runs and adrenaline-saturated kite rides juiced by a flooding tide.

“I’d say these conditions are typical of San Francisco Bay, but the courses are so much longer that it’s testing people’s endurance,” says Jenn Lancaster, StFYC’s Race Director. “We tried to improve the reaching angles on the course for the handicap boats, and it’s been exciting to see them perform. These fleets are really competitive this year.”

A classic rivalry on display is between Skip Ely’s Santa Cruz 52, Elyxir (USA 28474) and Dave MacEwen’s Santa Cruz 52, Lucky Duck (USA 28729) in the ORR-A handicap class. This duel peaked in the 2018 season during the StFYC’s 2018 Aldo Alessio and Phyllis Kleinman Swiftsure Regatta (August 17-19, 2018), when Ely’s crew arrived in Scotch plaid duck hunter’s garb, a cheeky stunt that earned the team the regatta’s best-dressed award, while MacEwen went home with the first place trophy. No, they’re not from Minnesota, even if they looked like it. Cool flannels though.

“They’re our frenemies and they’re awesome people,” says MacEwen about his multi-year contest with Ely and his battle-hardened crew. While this competitive relationship had previously remained a mostly private, inter-boat affair to determine the fastest Santa Cruz 52 on the Bay, it transcended generations today as all ORR-A boats carried a junior sailor aboard for the day’s racing.

“The juniors are used to sailing in heavy air, so the conditions weren’t eye-opening, but doing 17-18 knots downwind must have been different,” says MacEwen. When asked about the impetus for returning the elevator to the ground floor, MacEwen explains that he and the other ORR-A owners are simply repaying childhood debts. “We need to encourage the kids to get into big boat sailing,” says MacEwen. “They’re the next generation.” After six races, Ely’s Elyxir is leading the hunt in the ORR-A class, followed by MacEwen’s Lucky Duck and Michael Moradzadeh’s Santa Cruz 50, Oaxaca (USA 8927).

The Pac52 class wasn’t taking juniors out sailing, but these cutting-edge monohulls certainly commanded plenty of race course attention. “I don’t think that anyone can say that they have sailed a great race in the Pac52 class,” says Gavin Brady, tactician on Invisible Hand (USA 5202), after the regatta’s first four races. “That shows you how tough the Bay can be. At most other regattas you spend the first day or two getting a feel for who is fast, but in the Pac52 class it’s all guns blazing from the start,” says Brady. “In the Pac52 class, Invisible Hand and BadPak are more optimized for downwind, whereas Interlodge and Rio are more optimized for upwind sailing. It’s subtle. We even know each other’s tactics.” With two days of bullets,  Invisible Hand is topping the four-strong Pac52 leader board, followed by Manouch Moshayedi’s Rio (USA 3545) and Tom Holthus’ BadPak (USA 60052).

While the 2017 Rolex Big Boat Series saw one additional boat in the mix, according to Brady this hasn’t changed the cutthroat competitive nature of this Grand Prix class. “It’s almost harder this year, because there are less points up for grabs.”


Prize Giving

Bright sunshine, steady breeze and flat seas greeted the teams for the final day of racing. The race committee announced a 15-minute postponement on both the Alcatraz and Treasure Island race courses to allow the breeze to consolidate and given the flood-tide cycle that the racers have been enjoying all week the water to flatten-out prior to the day’s single long-form Bay Tour race.

Yes, I was in Sonoma for most of the day for that venue’s last hosting of an IndyCar event for at least 3 years. They do such a wonderful job of hosting! Going to miss it but I won’t have to worry about playing hooky for RBBS’s last day.

This traditional final-day course selection allowed all seven competing classes to finish this no-drop series directly in front of StFYC’s Race Deck, giving onshore spectators a fantastic view, their cheering audible from the water as winning sailors crossed the finish line in one of the sailing world’s greatest natural amphitheaters.

“It’s been very successful with the wind, great sailing and competitive classes,” says Susan Ruhne, regatta chair. “San Francisco Bay delivered the breeze and flat water to allow all boats and classes to show off great teamwork. I liked having all handicap boats in ORR, including the sport boats, and we continue to learn about the ratings.”

Others agree. “We’ve been blessed with amazing conditions,” says Jenn Lancaster, StFYC’s Race Director, who explains that some of the pre-regatta work entailed editing the course shapes and scratch sheet breakdowns. “I think the new courses worked well,” continues Lancaster. “The classes were still compressed, especially in the handicap fleets, and we saw the one-design boats finish close to each other. We tried to group like boats more than worrying about rating bands, and it’s been successful.”

While all teams were primarily racing for top honors in the West Coast’s most prestigious regatta, six classes, Express 37s, J/88s, J/105s, ORR-A, ORR-B, and ORR-C, raced for StFYC’s perpetual trophies. Of these perpetual-trophy winners, five will also be rewarded with gleaming new Rolex Submariner Date timepieces. The Pac52 class competed for a take-home trophy and Grand Prix bragging rights.

Going into the final day neck and neck with Kame Richards’ Golden Moon (USA 18488), after seven races, Mark Dowdy and his Stewball (USA 18278) crew won the Express 37 class and the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy, which is the ship’s bell from the Transatlantic-record-breaking schooner, Atlantic (1905), while Richards and Nick Schmidt’s Escapade (USA 18051) took second and third places, respectively.

Dorian McKelvy and his crew aboard his J/111, Madmen (USA 17) fully owned the ORR-B class, winning the City of San Francisco Trophy one of the golden spades used during the 1933 groundbreaking ceremony for the Golden Gate Bridge. While the Madmen team sailed away with a Rolex they faced plenty of racecourse competition from Daniel Thielman’s Melges 32, Kuai (USA 7676), who finished the regatta in second place, and Zachery Anderson’s J/125, Velvet Hammer (USA 51517), who sailed to a third-place finish.

StFYC’s Commodore’s Cup went to the winner of the largest one-design class, once again the J/105 class, which has commanded this enviable perpetual for the past decade. With 28 on the starting line and top contenders shuffling firsts, this was one of the regatta’s toughest wins. After seven races, Jeff Littfin’s, Mojo (USA 119) crew claimed top honors and a beautiful new Rolex chronometer, followed by Tim Russell’s, NeNe (USA 3) and Ryan Simmons’, Blackhawk (USA 40).  

ORR-C sailors competed for the Keefe-Kilborn Trophy, established in 1976 to honor the memory of the late StFYC members Harold Keefe and Ray Kilborn. David Halliwill and his crew aboard his J/120, Peregrine (USA 25487) out-pointed and out-ran Barry Lewis and company aboard Lewis’ J/120, Chance (USA 28484) and Thomas Furlong and his crew aboard his Club Swan 42, Elusive (USA 4216) to win this prestigious perpetual trophy and accompanying Rolex timepiece, his fourth win in four years.

J/88 sailors raced as a Rolex Big Boat Series’ one-design class for the first time this year and, in addition to dockside bragging rights, were competing for the Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy, which honors former StFYC member Richard Rheem and his crew aboard Morning Star, Transpac record-breakers in 1949 and again in 1953.

This year’s trophy and accompanying Rolex were presented to Gary Panariello and his Courageous (USA 77) teammates, who beat out Marc McMorris and his M Squared (USA 75) squad and Aya Yamanouchi and her Benny (USA 79169) team.

Finally, Skip Ely and his crew aboard Santa Cruz 52, Elyxir (USA 28474) won class ORR-A and the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy, first awarded at the 1964 inaugural Rolex Big Boat Series. Ely and company were joined on the winner’s podium by Dave MacEwen and his crew aboard his Santa Cruz 52, Lucky Duck (USA 28729) and Michael Moradzadeh’s team aboard his Santa Cruz 50, Oaxaca (USA 8927).

Interestingly, 2016 U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, multiple Formula Kite World Champion, and StFYC member Daniela Moroz joined Ely’s Elyxir crew today for her first ever race on a keelboat. While it’s unclear if her foiling skills came into play on this displacement sloop, the team’s impressive first-place finish in today’s Bay Tour race and overall speaks for itself.

In addition to the highly sought-after perpetual trophies, the red-hot Pac52 class competed for take-home trophies and class honors. Frank Slootman’s Invisible Hand (USA 5202) team won this four-boat strong Grand Prix class, followed by Manouch Moshayedi and his Rio (USA 3545) crew and Tom Holthus and his BadPak (USA 60052) pack.

While the sails have barely been flaked and furled after this year’s regatta, the St. Francis Yacht Club’s 2019 Rolex Big Boat Series is set to unfurl September 11 through September 15 on San Francisco Bay’s always challenging waters.


Sad News, Indeed

Chicago Yacht Club has launched an inquiry into the Auto-Inflate PFD safety vest following the Imedi incident this past summer.

Over the past two months, the Chicago Yacht Club (CYC) has investigated the death of Jon Santarelli, one of the crew members aboard Imedi, a TP52 sailboat racing in the 2018 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.

CYC formed a Safety Enhancement Committee to determine not only what occurred but also to derive the lessons learned for the future. The Committee includes members with extensive experience from the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and Race to Mackinac and will consult with external safety and marine experts, as well as U.S. Sailing, the national governing body of the sport of sailing, to further enhance its mission.

To date, the committee has obtained information from crew members on board Imedi, reviewed reports from nearby vessels who responded and conducted meetings with the U.S. Coast Guard. What follows is a preliminary report of CYC’s findings, which includes the failure of Santarelli’s auto-inflate personal flotation device (PFD).

On July 21, 2018, shortly after the Turbo Section Start of the 110th Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, Imedi was sailing upwind in winds in the range of 20-25 knots and short-period waves averaging six- to eight-feet.

These conditions were uncomfortable but not uncommon well within the experience of the crew on board Imedi that day and certainly within the design parameters of the yacht itself.

Immediately prior to going overboard, Santarelli was trimming a sail using lines near the aft-end of the yacht behind the helm. Most of the crew was hiking (sitting on one side of the sailboat) on the windward rail.

Due to the motion of the yacht in the short-period waves, Santarelli lost his footing on deck, slid under protective lifelines and off the back of the yacht.

Santarelli was not clipped to the yacht with a tether, but was wearing an auto-inflatable PFD, designed with a hydrostatic trigger that would inflate a flotation bladder via a CO2 cartridge upon sustained submersion in water, a type of PFD commonly used by boaters worldwide. The PFD was also equipped with an AIS (Automatic Identification System) beacon. He was also wearing foul weather gear.

Crew members on board Imedi observed Santarelli slide off the back of the yacht, immediately shouted man overboard, assigned crew member observers to mark his position, and then performed a quick-stop maneuver in under one minute.

Imedi was able to make three close approaches to Santarelli during which they observed that his PFD had not inflated. The team members threw additional flotation, which he was unable to reach. During the third approach, the crew observed him slip under the water and sadly not resurface. 

Based upon Imedi’s navigational software, the duration of the immediate rescue effort and subsequent loss of Santarelli occurred in approximately six minutes.

Eight nearby racing yachts, after seeing Imedi’s rescue maneuvers and hearing distress calls on the radio, suspended racing to assist the search for Santarelli. Additional water and air support joined the search, including units from the Coast Guard, Chicago Police Department and Chicago Fire Department, as well as numerous pleasure craft, searched until nightfall and then called off the rescue operation.The following day local authorities began the recovery efforts for Santarelli’s body.

Santarelli’s body was recovered one week later, Saturday afternoon, July 28. Upon being advised of the recovery, CYC promptly requested the Coast Guard to determine whether in fact he was wearing a PFD and whether it was operational. The Coast Guard advised CYC on Monday, July 30, based on their conversations with the Medical Examiner’s Office, Santarelli was wearing his life vest but that it had not inflated.

Unfortunately less than two days later the rumors of our worst fears were confirmed as the Coast Guard notified CYC that it could not perform a full analysis of the vest because it had been incinerated without the Coast Guard’s prior knowledge, but that the CO2 cartridge was still available for their review and in the possession of the Santarelli family. Neither CYC nor the Coast Guard was aware of any plans to dispose of the vest in any fashion.

Based on the Coast Guard review of the cartridge, which it coordinated with the Santarelli family, the Coast Guard advised CYC that it did not appear that the cartridge had been triggered to inflate Santarelli’s PFD and therefore the auto-inflate feature had not properly functioned.

The Coast Guard and Chicago Police Department did not pursue further investigation as the incident was ruled an accident, and the cause of death ruled as a drowning. The Coast Guard has the authority to investigate commercial marine and recreational vessel accidents and will generally defer recreational investigations to local jurisdictions.

In this instance, the Coast Guard was prepared to provide an analysis of the life vest as had been requested by CYC and the Santarelli family, and in fact did so regarding the cartridge. Moreover, CYC was in constant contact with the Coast Guard as this incident and the recovery unfolded, and the Coast Guard has continued to provide valuable information regarding inflatable life vests to CYC.

CYC has requested more information on the PFD from the Imedi team in order to conclusively identify the specific make and model of Santarelli’s PFD. What CYC has learned so far is that his PFD did not have any readily apparent branding, unlike many inflatable PFDs on the market today. CYC is awaiting additional information to make a conclusive identification, however its inquiry regarding inflatable life vests as outlined below applies to all inflatable life vests, regardless of manufacturer.

As a result of what it has learned, CYC has launched an inquiry into the safety of auto-inflate PFD’s and their future use in offshore racing events.

So far, CYC has met with the Coast Guard to review issues around maintenance procedures regarding inflatable PFDs, and training regarding the use of the manual back-up systems. CYC has also reviewed various statistical reports regarding the failure rates among inflatable PFDs.

All of this information underscores the importance of proper maintenance and training of inflatable life vests.

The inquiry also includes information provided by major manufacturers of auto-inflate PFDs and will factor in the information gathered over the past two months from the Imedi incident as well as independent reviews and tests, to evaluate certain parameters including the following:

• The reliability of existing PFD auto-inflation technology to inflate vests upon contact with water as designed.

• The extent to which auto-inflate PFDs are maintained in accordance with manufacturer guidelines.

• The effectiveness of secondary and tertiary manual inflation techniques with existing auto-inflate PFDs.

The inquiry’s goal is to present new solutions, guidelines, and education to both sailors and the greater boating community about the design, maintenance, and effectiveness of auto-inflate PFDs commonly used by boaters worldwide.

Based upon the preliminary findings, CYC strongly urges all users of auto-inflate life vests to fully comply with all maintenance and use instructions provided by the manufacturer, including but not limited to those related to periodic inspection, re-arming and replacement.

The sport of sailing impacts thousands of lives worldwide every day and while the Chicago Yacht Club, the crew members of Imedi, and Santarelli’s family and friends continue to mourn the loss of an integral part of the Chicago sailing community, it is the sincere goal that the positive changes resulting from this CYC inquiry will have a lasting and profound impact on the sport Jon Santarelli loved so dearly.

CYC will issue a comprehensive report in January 2019.

See you next month and would enjoy hearing your comments or questions at mark@yachts H

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