Blood in the Gutter

The Sailing World 50th Anniversary Rain Gutter Regatta exposed the competitive streak of the sailing industry.
Sailing World’s Rain Gutter Invitational

“Ack!” someone in the crowd shrieked. “Does anyone have a band-aid?

Martin van Breems, the veteran salesman of the Dutchman sail-flaking system dashed behind his mainsail display in his exhibit booth at the US Sailboat Show in Annapolis. Flustered, with blood oozing from his fingertip, he fumbled with a miniature cellophane spinnaker, attempting to attach it to his toy kit boat’s mast. The pressure of advancing into the semifinals of the Sailing World Rain Gutter Invitational Cup had him flummoxed, and as he attempted to shave away another layer from the boat’s balsa hull in the final seconds before his sudden-death match against the darkhorse Dellenbaugh entry, he sliced his fingertip wide open.

“Team Flying Dutchman,” says the emcee over a small PA system, “please return to The Gutter for your match.”


Meanwhile Dave Dellenbaugh is getting pre-race boatwork services from Peter Harken himself, spraying Dellenbaugh’s paper box with McLube. Dellenbaugh, who’d stumbled upon the regatta, got clever by using the small paper box in which the balsa wood Rain Gutter boats came.

Just as Harken finishes with one final coat of lube, van Breems scurries to the end of the eight-foot vinyl rain gutter mounted on the table, gently places his bloodstained boat onto the water’s surface, leans down to its level, purses his lips and places the drinking straw to them

“Dutchman versus Dellenbaugh, ” says the emcee. “Ready . . . three, two, one.”



The competitors exhale at the whistle, and their boats lurch forward. Dellenbaugh’s box slides across the surface, and van Breems, in the adjacent gutter, launches his equidistant down the racecourse, cheeks puffed out, ready to exhale a second time.

As soon as the straw-load of hot air hits the sail, its head patch detaches from the mast, drapes forward, and lays on the water surface. The boat comes to a halt and his dreams of a Rain Gutter Invitational Cup victory vanish in one Young America moment.


Dellenbaugh and his rain gutter teammate, Dawn Riley, whom he’s plucked from the crowd of bystanders, sail the rest of the course uncontested and advance to the finals.

Up next are the Pewaukee Posse, sailed by Harken big cheese Bill Goggins and engineer Neil Evans. Their black boat is up against the feisty duo of Cameron Hueston and Hunter Adkisson, yacht hawkers for Bavaria Yachts. They’ve been carving out a deep channel running the length in their boat’s bottom. Its low-profile cupped sail, attached near the transom, was fast in the lead-in qualification time trials: They set the benchmark of a gutter lap at 13 seconds.

This will be a tight match and Peter Harken seizes the moment to rally his employees by grabbing the PA mic from my hand and declaring, “My guys are great block builders, but they’re lousy boat builders.”


At the sound of the whistle, Goggins sends the company’s black boat hurtling down the gutter, leaving a two-centimeter wake. Bavaria is slow out of the gates, but is quickly up and planing as the skippers propel their boats down the gutter, arriving at the far end virtually neck-and-neck. When they reach the end and strip their lifejackets for their relay partners it’s even closer. The relay transfer goes quicker for Bavaria, but soon Harken is giving them a race. Down and back once more, Bavaria surges to the finish with one final blow, its bow slides up and over the gutter end cap is an crowd-pleasing snazzy finish.

Bavaria versus Dellenbaugh in the Challenger Finals. No one ever saw that coming.

Dellenbaugh needs to get another race out of his water-soaked box, so he wraps it in the box’s cellophane packaging. Harken applies the McLube once again, and into the gutters they go. Bavaria, confident in their design, declines their right to modify between races.


Bavaria jets out of the gate while Riley’s impressive lung power nearly sinks their boat on impact. Its blunt bow surges underwater, and the boat comes to a dead stop. As much as they tried, their rectangular hull was no match for the tunnel-hulled Bavarian slayer.

As per the Sailing World Rain Gutter Invitational rules, the winner faces the Defender, Sailing World magazine. Their entry, designed and built by senior editor Stuart Streuli, is a bright yellow catamaran, with sharp, wave-piercing bows. A scoop sail is mounted on the hulls. It has the look of a sure winner.


The banana boat leaps into the lead, but fleetingly, as its overtaken before the end of the gutter by the speedy Bavarian craft. With a smooth lifejacket transfer and another solid lap of the gutter, the Bavarians easily take the first race. The, next, only a fraction closer at the end is all the Bavarians. The Defense is theirs for next October.

See photos of the Rain Gutter Regatta here.