Moments of truth in sport
Published on September 26th, 2023
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
I had just won the Snipe US Nationals, and went straight into the road trip from Miami to San Diego. Forty hours later, I grabbed fresh clothes, connected the Lido 14 to the hitch, and drove another eight hours to Huntington Lake, site of the Lido 14 US Nationals.
This schedule was made worse by picking up a new centerboard en route, with no time to test it before the first race. At this venue, there is only one way to go – a long starboard tack to the left shore. The verdict would come quick, and thankfully in my favor for another title
Yacht designer and past Seahorse magazine editor Julian Everitt shares other moments of truth:
Dennis Conner referred to it as ‘the reality check’ – the sometimes gargantuan difference between boat speed on trials and boat speed in a first race. As every race boat designer in history knows, appearances can be deceptive.
You know how it goes. After the launching party comes the sail trials. The experts all assemble. The sailmaker, the spar maker, the builder, the crew, even the owner and, of course, the nervous as hell, boat designer.
The sails are sheeted in. Loads are gently increased. Everyone slowly gets braver and generally there are smiles all around and the consensus is: Oh wow ‘she feels great’. Beautifully balanced and then of course that key word ‘fast’.
That first impression remains firmly in place until the day of the first race against a real competitor. Then suddenly everything seems to fall apart. Fast becomes slow – agonizingly so sometimes. ‘We can’t point with them!’ The sails are a disaster. I knew that keel wouldn’t work’.
And so it goes on – a litany of disaster. But, of course, sometimes it works the other way. You sheet on and magically emerge from the pack. Such was the magic moment enjoyed by Doug Peterson on Ganbare (above) when she first raced against the cream of the Californian One Ton Fleet in the spring of ‘73.
I remember vividly the first race of Cowes Week 1990 on board Wavetrain II. She was 36ft by 14ft beam, with canard and winged bulb below the waterline and a highly experimental giant non-overlap rig. You could say she was pretty radical!
Our competition, the new J/44, the 12 Metre Crusader, five Farr designed Benateau 45f5s, half a dozen Oyster 395s, and a mass of other quick one offs, IOR One and Two Tonners and a great array of performance production boats. I could definitely equate to the idea of some nerves on that Royal Yacht Squadron line start!
Along for the ride, not steering this time, was my great friend and sailmaker, the late David Robinson. He was sitting at the back – just observing. I caught him staring at me as we began to shape up for the line. “What are you staring at?” I barked. “Just waiting to see the look on your face when we sheet on,” he replied. Oooh – if looks could kill!
But in the end, it all worked out. We beat all the aforementioned boats to place fourth behind three lower rated boats. It was one of those days…….
Pictured below, the 12 Metre Mariner. ‘Fast’ enough in the model testing phase to persuade designer Britton Chance to go with a radical, flat back end to the bustle, but not quite so good when she ’sheeted-on’ against another ‘real’ 12 Metre!