Archive for the ‘sailing’ Category

Cal 40eeeez

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

UPDATE: The business end of a Cal 40 looks like this:

The Cal 40 revolutionized ocean racing when it appeared in 1963. It was fiberglass, for one thing. For another, it was cheap by racing sailboat standards. William Snaith, famous and colorful ocean racer from the 1960s, once described ocean racing as being like a man standing in a cold shower tearing up thousand dollar bills. The Cal 40 was eventually retired from racing by the simple action of changing the rules. The IOR rule (International Offshore Rule) came in 1972 and penalized the hull shape of the Cal 40. In addition, the new rule set out standards for construction that would lead to a disaster in the 1979 Fastnet Race, where boats were lost and men’s lives were lost because many of the smaller, newer race boats were not seaworthy in extreme conditions. Here is a better link for that story. Olin Stephens, one of the authors of the rule, later wrote that they had erred in the rule’s factors for scantlings, meaning the hull construction.

Eventually, the Cal 40 came back and Stephens, at the age of 99, had the privilege (I’m not sure he considered it as such but he was a gentleman) of presenting a trophy named in his honor to a Cal 40 that had won the Bermuda Race twice in a row in 2006 and 2008.

The first winner of the Olin J. Stephens Ocean Racing Trophy was Peter S. Rebovich Sr. from Metuchen, N.J., and the Raritan Yacht Club. After winning a St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy in his Cal 40 Sinn Fein in the 2006 Newport Bermuda Race, Rebovich heard about the Stephens Trophy and entered his first Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race. His third-place finish in the race’s ORR Division in 2007 won him the trophy. Olin Stephens himself made the presentation at Halifax. When Rebovich, in his seventies, came up to the podium to accept his prize, the 99-year-old Stephens joked, “It’s good to see an old guy like me still sailing and winning.” A year later, Rebovich won his second St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy in the 2008 Newport Bermuda Race and was again presented with the Stephens Trophy at the award ceremony in Bermuda.

Now, the indefatigable Timm Lessley has provided us with more Cal 40 action.

I wish I could be there.

The cruise was about more than eating

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

My wife and I spent a week on the National Review post election cruise.

That is Half Moon Cay and the ship did offer a lot of eating. However, that wasn’t all we did. Cindy had a ball driving a jet ski around the island for an hour.

We went ashore and did sight seeing. This is Grand Turk Island, which got flattened by Hurricane Ike on September 7. There were repairs going on all over the island.

Then, of course, there were other people on the cruise.

The program was put on by National Review and two full days plus most evenings were filled with seminars. Guests included Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson plus a number of well known writers such as Bernard Lewis and Bing West. I read West’s book, The Strongest Tribe, which I think is the best book on Iraq thus far. I have read several of Bernard Lewis’s books and he has another currently available that is a primer on Islam. Additionally, there were National Review writers and other well known writers, such as Mark Steyn who is as colorful in person as in print and on the radio, and John O’Sullivan, a Margaret Thatcher intimate. O’Sullivan joined us even if his luggage didn’t, and his enthusiasm for Sarah Palin was reciprocated by the cruisers.

The theme was a review of the election and a discussion of where the GOP goes now. There were some very frank discussions and assessments of the Bush administration and the McCain-Palin campaign. The first day was mostly devoted to the election results and Fred Thompson was interviewed by Kathryn Lopez from NRO. Fred was a McCain supporter and is a likable and engaging speaker. He also has a gorgeous wife and cute kids. The afternoon session the first day was a discussion of the GOP future. I drew some conclusions that were not necessarily those of the panel. We need a better “ground game” and Brent Bozell addressed this but there should have been more talk about it. This pertains to reaching the young voters through avenues like “Facebook.” The discussion of a possible reimposition of the “Fairness Doctrine” by Obama should prompt a serious discussion of satellite radio and its role in the future of talk radio. I think Obama will appoint an FCC that will impose it since it will thrill his base and there is not much else he can offer them given current economic conditions.

There is a debate going on in the party that will continue for some time. This concerns health care and other policies that might appeal to part of the Obama coalition, such as Hispanics.

Scott Johnson, from Powerline, was also on the cruise and here is his take on what went on. I didn’t get a chance to meet him but he did contribute quite a bit on a couple of panels. More of his thoughts are here. Victor Davis Hanson was there and he has a nice assessment this morning of the Obama future.

The Monday afternoon session (After a tour of Grand Turk Island that had been flattened by Hurricane Ike in September) concerned external threats in the Middle East. Anne Bayefsky was the most pessimistic of the commenters, possibly because she is an expert on the UN.

Tuesday and Wednesday had day-long shore excursions (during one of which Cindy and I toured Morro Castle) with late night sessions by some of the speakers. Thursday was another all-day session as the ship was returning north to The Bahamas. The morning session was on “America’s Enemies” which began with an interview of Bernard Lewis by Jay Nordlinger. Professor Lewis does not look or sound 92 years old. The afternoon session was on the GOP future. The Friday afternoon session was an assessment of the Bush Administration and Deroy Murdock’s column above was previewed during the discussion.

We met some interesting people and listened to some interesting talk. Whether the Republican Party returns to power in any degree in 2010 will probably depend on outside influence far more than it depends on these ideas. However, the distant future will be determined by the long range concepts at meetings like this one.

One more outstanding guy we met is a Catholic priest from Michigan named Robert Sirico. His brother is a star on the TV series “The Sopranos.” He runs a free enterprise think tank named The Acton Institute, which is intended to teach the topic to Catholic clergy who have shifted far left politically in the past 50 years. Today, Michelle Malkin posts an excerpt from a speech given before the cruise but he gave some similar talks we attended. She includes his speech as part of a call to reverse the bailout.

The institution of government—what many view as the first resort of charity—is the very thing that unleashed and encouraged those vices of greed and avarice and reckless use of money that got us into the current financial imbroglio. It did so by first placing a policy priority on a worthy goal, increased home ownership, but pursued it with a fanaticism that neglected other goods such as prudence, personal responsibility and rational risk assessment.

Moreover, its official banking centers enjoyed subsidies which distorted that most sensitive of price signals—the price of money—to delude both investors and consumers into believing that capital existed to support vast and extravagant consumerism when in fact no such capital and savings existed.

It’s an obvious point but one the mainstream media appears intent on missing: The financial crisis did not occur within a free market, a market permitted to work within its own indigenous mechanism of risk and reward, overseen by a juridical framework marked by clarity, consistency and right judgment. Quite the contrary. The crisis occurred within a market deluged and deluded by interventionism.

Today we find institution after institution “in the tank” for unrestrained government intervention. One is reminded of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s call for the left to begin a long march through the institutions of Western Civilization. The left, it seems, got the memo. How will we respond to this disheartening situation? Now is no time to retreat in disarray. Now is no time to stumble. There remains a remnant … a potent remnant who has not bowed the knee to big government. My call to you tonight is a transparent one: strengthen the soldiers of that remnant. In particular—strengthen that band of brothers gathered with you tonight, the Acton Institute.

Amateur Sailing

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

I have been sailing since college. I didn’t grow up sailing and can barely swim. I can’t really explain why I got interested but I can remember looking at boats in the old Wilmington, CA marinas and dreaming of owning a sailboat. I got into racing by crewing for my next door neighbor in South Pasadena. He and his brother-in-law had an Islander 33. There may be slower sailboats but I haven’t been on one. We raced in the PHRF races out of Newport Beach and, even though we almost always came in last, we learned a bit about what we were doing.

Here is another sort of history. I didn’t know this fellow but the story is a compelling one.

Vale Bunky Helfrich, whoever you were.

An old lady learns to dance

Friday, July 4th, 2008


UPDATE #3- Ragtime has won her class in the Sydney-Hobart Race. She was given almost 2 hours credit for going to the aid of a 53 foot boat that had lost its rudder and was taking on water.

She was the 18th boat to finish and also the first non-Australian and the first wooden finisher. She just keeps winning.

UPDATE #2- Ragtime has won the Tahiti Race overall on corrected time. The story is here. Ragtime won the first-to-finish trophy for this race in 1973.

UPDATE: Ragtime still leads the Tahiti Race and the report on 7/5/08 is: “Ragtime: wet and fast all night long.” Finish time estimated on 7/7 at noon.

In 1971, when I was sailing my Cal 25 one day off Marina Del Rey, I saw a low and sleek black yacht come out of the harbor and sail past us. It’s name was Ragtime. I later learned that it had been brought to California by John Hall, a yacht broker and owner of a Columbia 50. I then found that it was for sale for $19,000 ! Even then, that was a small price. I talked to my next-door neighbor, with whom I had done some sailing on his family boat. We decided that a 62-foot boat was more than we could handle and it probably needed a lot of work. We were correct on both counts.

A year later, my wife and I were at anchor at Catalina Island, at the Isthmus, when we saw the boat again. It had been purchased by a syndicate of owners from Long Beach Yacht Club. Most of them were aboard that day and we went over in our dinghy to compliment them and get a closer look. That was 35 years ago.

Ragtime began in 1964 as a yacht named Infidel and eventually made her way to California after being excluded from races in New Zealand because of her light construction. She is built of plywood and has hard chines as a consequence. The Long Beach Syndicate made history as Ragtime was first to finish in the 1973 Transpac. The favorite that year was Windward Passage, the great racing yacht that is still a legend. Ragtime appeared behind ‘Passage a day or so before the finish and she is so low that she looks like a submarine. The next day, she had passed them and the finish was exciting as they both had trouble finding the line and sailed though a fleet of spectator boats at midnight doing 17 knots. Ragtime won first to finish by less than 5 minutes.

The syndicate sold Ragtime to Bill White, a doctor from Sierra Madre (near Pasadena) and Bill Pasquini, both Long Beach YC members, and in 1975 everyone wondered if the new owners could make her go as fast. Once again she was first to finish. Since that time, she has sailed a total of 14 Transpacs and many Mexican races when they were run back in the 70s. She was so fast, and so wet, that they would seal up the foredeck hatch for the duration of the race. Her bow was often under water when she was going fast; and that was much of the time.

Eventually, she fell upon hard times. Few race boats inspire affection after they stop winning races. She even ended up being auctioned off by the sheriff, like some old car. Fortunately, she fell into good hands and was resurrected.

On her way to the shipyard

Here she is on her way to the shipyard after the auction. By 2007, with a new high tech keel, she was racing again.

Last month, she was one of four boats to begin the race to Tahiti, the first since the race was last run in 1994. It is a far greater challenge than the Hawaii Race since the course crosses the equator and the boats must pass through the Doldrums. Trade winds on the other side blow in the opposite direction. In the north Pacific, the Trades blow from the northeast, driven by the summer north Pacific High, which rotates clockwise sending strong breezes from east to west. In the south Pacific, high pressure rotates counterclockwise, just as the coriolis effect dictates how water rotates as it goes down the drain. We were at Catalina that weekend and Sunday, the 22nd, we sailed back to Los Angeles keeping an eye out for the race boats. We saw them about half way across, close hauled but with a good breeze and able to lay the West End without tacking. Now they are 11 days into the race.

If you play around with this tracking site, and enter Ragtime as boat name, you can follow the track and see how the course differs from the Hawaii Race.

Magnitude 80, a modern ultralight maxi boat 80 feet long, has finished, breaking the old record by three days but Ragtime still leads on handicap time and could win one more race.

(0600 PDT)
156 MAGNITUDE 80 FINISHED 0 1 2 03/23:13:18
93 MEDICINE MAN 09-55- 146-42 483 2 4 06/02:08
90 FORTALEZA 01-09- 140-05 1127 2 3 09/16:13
152 RAGTIME 05-25- 143-24 809 1 1 07/16:34
Yachts listed: 4 07/04/2008 11:05:48

Note that the latitude is zero at the equator and Tahiti is 17° 52 minutes south and 149° 56 west. Hawaii is 20 degrees north. Ragtime still has 12 degrees, 27 minutes south and 6 minutes, 32 degrees west to go. In the southern hemisphere, the trade winds generally blow from west and south to north and east so the boats are beating and close reaching into the wind, very different conditions from the Transpac race to Hawaii, which is mostly a broad reach after the first few days. These are not her best conditions but she is still 1 and 1, so far. Not bad for an old lady.

Trimarans that shoot back !

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

I’ve never been a multihull sailor but this multihull looks pretty predatory. This is one of our new Littoral combat ships. They can go into brown water and are very, very fast. Interesting design concept.

Boat for sale.

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Today, I saw in Latitude 38 that Maltese Falcon is for sale.

Maltese Falcon


We saw her in Venice last summer. Here is a view from our hotel window as she was pulling out.


Maltese Falcon in Venice


The price is steep but the yacht is irreplaceable.

April 4, 2008 – South Pacific

You could be the proud owner of Maltese Falcon.

Photo Courtesy Maltese Falcon© 2008 Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc.


Tom Perkins, the Belvedere-based owner of the 289-ft Dyna-Rig Maltese Falcon, has confirmed reports that his big boat is up for sale. He’s been quoted by other sources as saying that much of the joy for him was the project itself, and that he’s now interested in submarines. Perkins has always enjoyed innovation and riding the cutting edge. Some folks find it shocking that he would be willing to sell Falcon. Not us. After all, consider the asking price of 120 million euros. If other reports are to believed, he paid 120 million dollars for the boat, so if she sold for close to the asking price, he would have realized close to a 50% profit. That’s nothing for even a venture capitalist to sneeze at. In addition, it can sometimes be more difficult to find buyers for $170,000 boats than $170 million boats. But it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. 


See you on the water. If you wonder who can afford this thing, he’s a partner in Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield who gave us companies like Google and Apple.

The workers paradise

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Click to enlarge the photo.

This makeshift raft carried eight residents of Fidel’s paradise to Belize.  The picture appeared in Latitude 38, a  sailing publication based in the San Francisco Bay area and exhibiting no right wing sympathies I have ever been able to decipher. Last week, I spent an afternoon teaching medical students the abdominal examination. One of them was wearing a Che Guevara tee shirt. Castro and Guevara have captured the imaginations of thousands of students and I sometimes wonder at the naivete’ of these children. My middle daughter, who is fluent in Spanish and tends left politically, took a trip to Cuba a few years ago. She expected to find that Cuba was much better than it was portrayed in her home country. Instead, she found it was worse. I think her fluency in the language helped. This would be an argument for opening travel to the island but the chief benefit would be to Castro and his jailers. Hopefully, he will be gone soon and then, maybe, it will be possible for the young to get a true picture of the regime and its consequences. In the meantime, think of why those eight people (six of whom are still hospitalized) would risk their lives to escape.

Goodbye Davey

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Davey and crew

Two weeks ago, the world lost one of the nice guys. Davey was a great shipmate and competent sailor who was comfortable only on the ocean. In this photo, he is in the foreground to the left. Next to him is Byron, who in those days was my boat skipper and delivery captain. We had finished the Transpac a few hours before. Behind Davey to his right is a friend of Byron’s whose name I no longer recall. In the middle is sailmaker Steve Dair who sailed the race with us. Behind Byron, wearing a straw hat, is Carol who flew to Hawaii to surprise Davey.


Here is another photo, taken not long before the first but after substantial champagne had been consumed. Byron, to the left, in his white shirt and with his lei around his neck, has obviously had his share. In the center is my then-wife Jill with her arm around Davey. Davey looks as he always did, happy, friendly and competent.

I lost track of Davey for 25 years until I saw his name on the crew of my friend Timm Lessley’s family Cal 40 in the 2005 Transpac. Davey was still sailing and working on boats. He had spent a lot of time with Timm, his wife Victoria and Timm’s parents and, aside from them, life had not been too kind to Davey. He had spent the intervening years working on boats, sailing when he could and drinking a little too much. I had a new boat and, when Davey had some time, he came down and did some work for me. He was still the same guy, competent and trustworthy. He even looked the same except for a couple of teeth that were missing in front. He was most at home on the ocean and the shore had not treated him well. Those of us who knew him, did what we could to keep him busy and doing as much sailing as possible. It was about all we could do. A couple of weeks ago, it just wasn’t enough and Davey left us. I am sure he had no idea how many friends he had and how much we liked and respected him.

His sister has written us that she will always see him as a dolphin still enjoying the ocean and at home. His friends will sprinkle some of his ashes at the finish line of Transpac next time the race is run. I have already told my children that is where I want my ashes someday, so maybe Davey and I will meet again.

Another restoration story

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

This is the story of the restoration of a classic wooden yacht. Fiberglass is easier as the hull is almost always sound. Still, restorations of old yachts are heartwarming stories for those of us who love messing around in boats.

The history of the Cal 40

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

I have been working on a history of the Cal 40, the first fiberglass sailboat that was a successful racer. In 1963, racing sailboats were custom boats built generally in wood and affordable only for wealthy men, and a few women. That year, a new boat appeared which, for the next nine years, dominated racing, especially offshore racing in which men and their boats matched themselves against the sea. One design racing had been popular since the Star class was organized in 1912. The Star is still popular but it is not intended to go offshore or to race long distances. It is a daysailer and the courses for the races are inshore and usually a closed course. Class racing is based on a design rule in which boats are intended to be as nearly identical as possible. The Cal 40 was different. For one thing, it cost $17,000 dollars. That was a sail budget for one of the custom boats.

Illusion finishing the 2003 Transpac

“The following is from an article that appeared in Sailing Magazine:
When the selection committee of the American Sailboat Hall of Fame considered boats for induction this year, one boat was an instant consensus pick. No question, no argument, no doubt. No wonder–it was the Cal 40, the boat that changed everything.

When I assigned a young staff member to write a profile of the Cal 40 and told him that when it was introduced in 1963 it was considered a radical and possibly dangerous racing design, he gave me one of those “jeez, he’s lost it” looks. I couldn’t blame him. The Cal 40 doesn’t have the predatory look of today’s ocean racers, no angles, sharp edges or towering fractional rig. But, make no mistake, it was a predator, one that preyed on conventional thinking.

The Cal 40’s gently dipping sheerline, curve spoon-bow, counter stem and squatty sailplan gave it a deceivingly soft appearance. But there was nothing soft below the waterline. In an era of wineglass-shaped hulls with deep, stack bilges, the Cal 40 had a shallow dinghy-like hull with firm cheeks. The keel was a fin. The rudder-gasp!-was not attached to the keel, and this was heresy.

Conventional wisdom made the rudder a hinged extension of the keel. On the Cal 40 it was a freestanding spade at the end of the waterline. What it did back there was to give the helmsman exquisite control of the boat, particularly in fast off-wind sailing. Perhaps the reason it had not appeared earlier on big boats was that offshore boats of the time were rarely in danger of going fast enough to need a spade rudder.

The Cal 40 needed it. While other displacement boats were at the mercy of the law of hull speed, the Cal 40 thumbed its nose at it. The shape of the hull and its appendages combined with relatively light weight gave the boat the ability to get up on the waves and surf. Sailing 40-foot boat had never been so thrilling. Just how thrilling was evident in a photo that appeared on the cover of a new magazine called SAILING in 1969. Our covers weren’t glossy then; they weren’t even printed in color. But the cover, featuring the Cal 40 Melee, is still one of my favorites.

The boat, embraced in great plumes of pure white spray, is locked onto an enormous wave, surfing to the finish of the Miami-Nassau Race. Though the wind is so strong the boat is carrying a poled-out genoa instead of a spinnaker, the three visible crew members look nonchalant as they enjoy the ride of their lives on a boat that is in perfect control.

Melee finishing Montego Bay Race 1969

Sailors like to cultivate a swashbuckling image, but as an establishment they tend to be conservative. And so when the Cal 40 appeared it was ridiculed as some sort of wacky California take on sailboat design and criticized as unseaworthy. The rudder would break off; the keel would drop off; the hull would fail.

None of that happened; there was no chance of it happening. The Cal 40 was a carefully engineered, strongly built fiberglass yacht. It was only somewhat lighter than other 40-footers but the difference was accentuated by its long waterline, which yielded a displacement/length ratio of 250 at a time when the norm was more like 330.

The boat was thought of as a downwind machine, but in fact it was an all-around boat, fast on any point of sail. The best indication of that is that Cal 40s won both the Transpac Race, mostly a surfing contest, and the Bermuda Race, usually an upwind slog. In the 1966 Bermuda Race, five of the first 15 places overall were won by Cal 40s. Cal 40s won three consecutive Transpacs in 1965, ’66 and ’67. Incredibly, 22 years after it was designed, a Cal 40 won the 1985 Transpac.

No production boat has ever dominated racing the way the Cal 40 did, yet it would be wrong to classify it as a pure racer. Classify it instead as, simply, a good boat. Long after its racing heyday, the Cal 40 delights its owners as a safe, comfortable, easy-to-handle offshore cruising boat.

The Cal 40 was not chosen for the Hall of Fame because of its racing record. It was chosen because it propelled big-boat sailing to the future. Sailboat design was progressing in microscopic increments until the Cal 40 took it on a great leap forward. It leapt so far that today’s fastest racing boats are refined Cal 40s with fin keels, spade rudders and shallow hulls, free of rule induced distortions. They are far more sophisticated in many ways than the Cal 40, but you could say that, essentially, they were designed 33 years ago.

The designer of the Cal 40 is Bill Lapworth. His creation now has a place in the American Sailboat Hall of Fame and he, retired and living in Virginia, has, in the minds of knowing sailors at least, a place in the pantheon of the world’s most influential sailboat designers. There are some revered names in that group, but Lapworth may be the only one about whom it can be said — he changed everything.

— Bill Schanen
Editor and Publisher, Sailing Magazine”

These boats were so successful that, in 1972, the Ocean Racing Rule was changed and the Cal 40 was no longer competitive. Over the next ten years, the racing world returned to the realm of the rich man who could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on boats that were uncomfortable, unsuitable for anything but racing and quickly obsolete as the designers found new loopholes in the Rule. This trend culminated in the disaster of the 1979 Fastnet Race, in which unstable boats were “caught out” in a severe storm in the English Channel. The result was the loss of boats and lives. Olin Stephens, a famous designer who had a hand in the rule change in 1972, later said that they had made a mistake in the new rule. The material that boats were made of had changed from wood, which was well understood from centuries of experience, to new materials. As a result, the rule had not taken sufficient notice of the “scantlings” factor. How strong was the hull and what the limits of design stability were in this new material. Stephens regrets that they did not consider this factor more carefully.

The Cal 40 was built, not only to win races, but to carry the crew in safety and relative comfort. Now, 40 years later, they are still sailing and still winning races. Ironically, Stephens, himself, at the age of 90, recently awarded a trophy to a 40-year-old Cal 40 for winning modern races competing against modern designs.

I will post the story of the restoration of my own Cal 40 on a separate page of this blog.