Diane Strang was volunteering at the Extreme Sailing Series’ San Diego stop last October when the invitation came out of the blue: Would you like to take one of the guest rider spots?
“Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes!” answered the petite and middle-aged thrill seeker. Her ride for the afternoon would be on one of the Series’ GC32s, the foiling machines shipped round the world for stadium sailing fans and pro-sailing squads.
“I did have some apprehension because of the fear of the unknown,” says Strang, who lists her only sailing experiences as “occasional Sunday beer and champagne sails on San Diego Bay. “My only concern was really how fast it goes and whether I’d be scared.”
With her “yes,” Strang was swept into the Extreme Sailing Series’ VIP and Guest Racer routine: to the briefing room for an instructional video and safety brief, then to the dressing room and into a drysuit and PFD before boarding a RIB bound for the racecourse. “They made it so easy for me,” says Strang. “They make it such a seamless experience.”
The VIP and Guest Racer spot are now fixtures of all stadium sailing events, from the Extreme Sailing Series, to the RC44s, and Marstrom 32 regattas, providing sponsors, celebrities, and sailors off the street the rare experience of being right in the middle of the action, but the Extreme Sailing Series is unique in that it offers for nearly all of its guests a rare opportunity to foil. To foil is one thing, but to do so in the middle of a high-energy, short-course environment is another experience all together.
“It was amazing just being able to watch the crew move around the boat. Sitting there, I was captivated by the sounds of the boat—it’s just impossible to describe the sensation,” says Strang, describing her takeoff.
“It’s like a hum, then the boat tilts to the left, then right and next thing it’s up on the foils and I’m gliding across the bay. It is unbelievable. The crew and the precision of what they do, to me, that was the most fascinating part of it. They each had their responsibilities and to watch them was unbelievable.”
Strang is about 5-feet-four-inces and about 130 pounds and athletic, and admittedly not as fit as her host crew that day. When she stepped onboard the GC32, her instructions were to go to an orange square marked on the forward portion of the trampoline netting. “I sat down, facing forward with legs crossed,” she says. “You have to wear gloves to hang on to the netting, and sometimes I had to duck a line or something, but it is pretty much just sit there in that position and stay out of the way of what they need to do to get done.”
Her only advice to her host crew was, “Let ‘er rip.”
They promptly obliged, foiling a few times while they sailed a few practice laps. “It was such a great, great rush,” says Strang. “I understand now why they do what they do. I was grinning ear to ear for days after that. It really is an extreme sport and it’s one thing to watch from shore or watch the videos, but to actually be on the boat when they’re doing it, it’s amazing.”
Strang says for days she walked around telling everyone what a great experience it was. “I can’t wait for them to come back to San Diego in October. “This regatta is really unique, especially the enthusiasm behind the event. The experience of riding on the GC32 on foils is not something you can appreciate until it happens. It was top of my list for thrilling experiences—and I’ve had plenty.”
Would she do it again? In a heartbeat.
“Because I have experienced it, I would absolutely pay to do it again. It’s worth every penny, especially if wind was really good,” says Strang, who once did a ride-along in a NASCAR racecar. “That was six laps at 120 miles per hour and was over in a nano-second. “This was not. The ride during a race is a long time; it could be a couple of hours, start to finish. If the winds are good the races go quickly, but it’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else. I strongly recommend it to anyone. It is a phenomenal experience. “
More on Extreme Sailing Series San Diego’s VIP and Guest Racer can be found here.