Racing a Superyacht: How the Other Half Lives

/SW/ contributor Herb McCormick scores a ride where the grass is greener. From Herb's Blog for March 27, 2008

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Woody Allen once said that a big part of success in life is showing up, and by doing just that at a party midway through the recent St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, I successfully wrangled a ride aboard the Farr 100 Rapture midway through the event (and yes, that's one-hundred feet). It was an old story: I knew a guy who knew a guy, there were three races the next day, they needed manpower, etc. and so on. Seemingly before I knew it, I was stepping aboard and someone was handing me a nice T-shirt.

That's when it hit me. Good heavens, Rapture was a BIG boat. As someone usually racing with the 35- to 45-foot crowd, I was about to get a taste of how the other, rarified half lives.

I was introduced to the owner, a fellow called Brooks.

"Brook," he corrected, and I had my second revelation. Superyacht racing in the islands with a pick-up crew is just like the bar "Cheers" in the old sitcom, but exactly the opposite: It's the place where nobody knows your name (even when you're writing the checks).

Actually, that wasn't precisely true. As I met my fellow crewmen, there were the usual gaggle of nicknames you always find around a racing program: Cloggy, P.P., Beno, Bongo, and that term of nautical endearment among the Aussie set, Boof. Then there was my connection, Sill-Lee (navigator Phil Lee). I also knew the sailmaker, Guy Standbridge from Quantum, who for some unfathomable reason went by the name "Guy."

As it turned out, the owner, Brook Lenfest, proved to be a very interesting and approachable chap. Rapture was his second boat, the first was a Swan 86 called Dreamland, aboard which he sailed the Newport-Bermuda Race and enjoyed, by stages, a three-year circumnavigation. When he decided to upgrade, he wanted something quicker and more comfortable, which he could cruise with friends between events like the Middle Sea Race and Sydney-Hobart, both of which he plans on sailing this year.

His search ultimately led him to South Africa's Southern Wind Shipyard, a builder of "luxury maxi yachts," including the Farr 100. He took delivery last December and with a crew including skipper Jeff Hanlon, sailed straight to Barbados, arriving on New Year's Eve after a passage of 22 days.

For the Heineken Regatta, Lenfest had brought aboard a few friends and their wives from his hometown of Philadelphia to augment a roster of mostly Dutch and Aussie sailors whose collective task was to put Rapture through her paces. There were either 24 or 26 of us aboard; I never got the same number twice and eventually stopped counting.

In any event, with such a massive team the division of labor becomes rather specific, and I soon learned my mission would be to help get the kite up and down. For a Superyacht gremmie like myself, unaccustomed to the loads and manners of such a grand vessel, that seemed perfect. For after about five minutes scoping out Rapture, she of the complicated hydraulics and electric winches, I'd identified about 30 different spots where I could lose a finger. And I really like my fingers. They allow me to scratch all sorts of interesting places.

The inaugural dilemma came when it was time to unroll the headsail in preparation for our first start. "You ready, Tony?" someone asked, invoking the name of the port trimmer.

Silence.

"Tony? You trimming?"

More silence.

"Where the hell is Tony?"

Not on Rapture, that was clear. (Apparently our crew list should've numbered 27. Or 25. Whatever.) "I wonder," someone said wistfully, "what happened to him?"

As we were in sequence for the first race, a windward/leeward, it was a question to be answered another time. We had a second-row start and it was a sign of things to come. Peter Harrison's majestic Farr 115 ketch, Sojana, rated about the same as Rapture and was clearly the vessel by which we could gauge our success (or otherwise). Sojana nailed the start with pace and on time, and before I blinked, it seemed, was halfway up the track.

This, too, was a preview of the day's coming attractions.

So I eased down onto the rail with my couple of dozen new friends and enjoyed myself. And by that, I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Upwind, in 20-plus-knots of breeze, Rapture tracked along at a good 10 to 11 knots, and once we rounded the top mark and hoisted the massive asymmetric, we trucked downwind knocking off 13s and 14s. There were plenty of fine sailors aboard, I did my little job efficiently, the breeze was great, the sun strong, and the temperatures in the mid-80s. Even the sandwiches were good. Back home, I knew, there were flurries in the forecast. I mean, what was there not to like?

The record will show that Rapture claimed no hardware in the 2008 Heineken Regatta--on corrected time, we were deep in all three races on my day aboard--and didn't enjoy a single finish among the top three in her eight-boat class. But from my brief stint on the sensational 100-footer, I'd say everyone in the program had a grand old time at the event. The last time I saw Brook was during the prize-giving ceremony: he was downing a greenie and wearing a big, crooked smile.

So maybe Woody was right. And Rapture's bound for the Sydney-Hobart Race, you say? Gee, it makes a fellow wonder. What would transpire if he made his way to Australia, and just happened to show up on the dock?