Unique Opportunities

Could this be the same sport? One summer day found the author immersed in two very different facets of sailing. "Gaining Bearing" from our November/December 2010

Sailing World

Hanuman

The author (standing) enjoys the view from the expansive deck of Jim Clark’s Hanuman.Leighton O' Connor

Recently, I had a day on the water that caused me to sit back and scratch my head. It snuck up on me, and, once it was over, I was left wondering how two boats in the sailing world could be so different and yet both provide such interesting sailing experiences.

This particular day started the way most do, by going to work—though my workplace is a little out of the ordinary. A typical workday starts by driving to the PUMA Ocean Racing compound within Newport Shipyard and preparing to go testing on a Volvo 70. To many sailors, this sounds like an amazing workday. For others, who know that sailing a Volvo 70 is akin to riding a mechanical bull, it’s much less appealing.

On this particular Saturday, it was an early start; we were off the dock at 8:30 on PUMA's il mostro to test some systems that had recently been completely rebuilt. We needed to make sure everything was working correctly in advance of a three-week training session with the entire race team.

To better understand the day’s sailing dichotomy, let’s refresh as to what a Volvo 70 is like. If you’ve ever wondered about the inside of a jail cell, a Volvo 70 is a good approximation. There’s a bare carbon interior with 10 pipe births and a camping stove forward of the main bulkhead. There are no floor boards, just structural frames to trip over. The only hint of luxury is the gimbaled head. But even this is a necessity, because the boat is so frequently tipped over 20 degrees and bouncing over lumpy seas at 25 knots.

On deck are nine winches and three pedestals. Sailing this boat is like competing in the grinding world championships. The handles start to turn when we leave the dock and typically don’t stop until the mainsail is flaked on the boom.

If we get hungry, or thirsty, there are four insulated coffee cups, four stainless bowls, and four spoons. And a lot of freeze-dried meals, beef jerky, and water. Glamorous, it’s not. Functional, it is.

In a 15-knot northerly, we beat up Narragansett Bay before reaching back and forth at about 16 to 17 knots of boatspeed. Everyone on board had a quick steer, and all the systems checked out. After two hours, it was sails down, back to the dock, and on to the day's next adventure, which proved to be just a slight contrast. Built for Netscape founder Jim Clark, Hanuman is a replica of the 137-foot Endeavour II, the challenger for the 1937 America's Cup. It has an 87-foot waterline and draws 15 feet. That's amazingly close to a Volvo 70, which has a 70-foot waterline and draws 14.75 feet. But the similarities end there.

Hanuman was one of 17 megayachts competing in the Newport Bucket that weekend, though competing might be too strong a word. The Bucket featured staggered starts based on rating, so there was no starting-line congestion to deal with. It was as relaxed as you can get on a boat with a mainsail the size of Detroit.

I was invited on board to help with tactics and make sure we didn’t get into trouble. The normal crew was aboard, plus a number of local legends. Having talent on a boat this size is pretty crucial. Things can go bad very fast.

I began to notice the contrast between il mostro and Hanuman the moment I stepped aboard the latter and was greeted by McKenzie, the eager hostess. She was back in a flash with a fresh blueberry muffin and a cappuccino that was warm but not too hot, and in crystal. Hmmm. Don't remember this on the PUMA boat. Let me make a note for the future.

From there, the day proceeded with a level of comfort and elegance I hadn't seen in a long time. Hanuman captain Greg Sloat and the rest of the full-time crew got all the sails up and ready, then turned things over to the race team. Once we made it to the start, I brushed the muffin crumbs off my Hanuman jacket and began scouting the situation around the start line.

That is when Jim spoke up: "Kenny, would you mind driving the boat today. My ankles are killing me, and the doc said I need to stay off them for a bit."
Okay. This ought to be interesting. From a Formula 1 speedster in the morning to a lap-of-luxury RV in the afternoon.

We nailed the start—it’s the least we could do with no other boats around—and off we went, the push-button winches whirring in unison. All the boats in our class started long before we did, and we had to somehow reel them in. We couldn’t see them; how were we supposed to catch them?

Hanuman doesn't exactly leap out of the water on a plane as il mostro does. We went on a reach and went 10.5 knots, turned to go upwind—slowly, and after seven revolutions of the solid teak wheel—and went 10.5 knots, and put up a kite and ran to the leeward mark and went…10.5 knots.

Most of the guests and crew watched the sails move in and out while snacking on a beef Wellington sandwich. No beef jerky, that’s for sure. The most important part of the pre-start routine was tying down the antique dining room set and making sure the crystal wouldn’t move when we heeled. Down below it was serenely quiet, and there were four heads from which to choose, each with a unique décor. I was glad to see that il mostro was one up on Hanuman when it came to toilet comfort. None of the heads on Hanuman gimbaled.

The racing was low-key, entertaining, unique, and absolutely spectacular. On the beat to the finish, Jim jumped on the wheel and did a really nice job. Multiple Olympic medalist Kevin Burnham picked a few shifts, and we finished third. After a first on the second day of the Bucket, Hanuman was the overall winner. Wow, all this and a trophy, too?

Where did this leave me? Well, a day of such stark contrasts has made me look around a bit more when we are out training on il mostro. It's amazing the diversity on Narragansett Bay alone: wooden Herreshoff S boats, J/22s rented by the hour, il mostro, Hanuman, schooners packed with tourists on a two-hour tour, an Opti fleet gathering for a start. All are an integral part of our crazy sport. There are so many facets to sailing, I can't imagine anyone not being able to find a part of it to like. Or in my particular case that weekend, more than one part.

My two-boat day was an unexpected blessing, and it reminded me to keep my ears open and eyes wide. You never know when someone is going to slip you a cappuccino and ask you to take his luxury RV for a drive.