Well so much for that plan!
The year started out well, but that all came to a crashing halt on March 13.
My year started in Cape Town South Africa in January with a training session on the TP52 Phoenix. I had signed on with this two-boat program to do a training session and then the first two events of the 52 Super Series in February and March. It is a great program, led by Hasso Platner of SAP driving one boat and his daughter Tina driving the other. A great team, mostly South Africans, but also plenty of good veterans from around the world. I was tactician onboard, but getting plenty of good help from our strategist Andy Horton, main trimmer Paul Wilcox, and several others.
The first event went well. We opened up with a 1-3-1, which surprised many people, including ourselves! It was a challenging place to sail, with one course very close to shore, and some serious local effects. The wind was also highly unpredictable and went through the full range from 0 to 30knots. We sailed well, had our fair share of lucky breaks and bad luck, and a few breakdowns that cost us points. But in the end we sailed smart, avoided big mistakes, and managed 2nd place. We were very happy with this in what is arguably the hottest grand prix class in the world. Capetown is also one of the cooler places on the planet to visit, with whales, amazing sea & bird life, so that made it all quite special.
There was a two week gap until the second event in Cape Town, and fitting perfectly between these 52 events were my next regattas in the Caribbean on the J Class Topaz. After a long flight from Cape Town via England to Antigua, we had several good days of crew training and confirming sails and systems before racing started.
First up was the Antigua Super Yacht Challenge and then the St. Barths Bucket. This was going to be a big year for the J Class as we rolled out a new handicap system, several J’s that had taken a year off were returning to the circuit, and everyone was then heading down to New Zealand for our J Worlds just preceding the Americas Cup.
As we were lining up for the start of Race #1, well positioned on starboard with 1:30 to go, another J approaching on port tack crashed into us. It was a horrific incident, with serious damage to both boats, and two of our crew injured. These yachts are 135 feet long, 175 tons+, with 30+ crew onboard. Any crash is bad, but with the magnitude of these yachts, it was a particularly sad and scary day. Luckily neither rig came down, and no one was killed. The other boat was disqualified, but we were out for the event with too much damage- broken boom, mainsheet, runners, backstay, runner winch, etc.
Then two days later the world started to go into lock-down, so the racing schedule would have been interrupted anyway. We have since shipped Topaz back to the yard in Holland and will now use this period to repair the damage. Hopefully by the time we complete repairs in August, sporting events will resume and we might be able to compete in a regatta or two in Europe.
So what looked to be another exciting year of racing has turned into a time-out and re-set for our planet. Personally I will focus on being extra healthy, and living safe and smart. And hopefully people and societies will find the positive lessons from this and we will emerge on a better path in the end.
Well here we are in a still never ending Pandemic. I hope that you and your family are all doing well. I just got back from Mexico and adjusting to Chicago. It has been such a strange time and as you write I wish we could all find the positive lessons that this time can teach us. I certainly value friends like you and I hope that you can get back to what you love soon. I imagine that you heard that Eric Merganthaler passed away last year. On the 18th his family and friends took his ashes and put them into the ocean off the coast of Cadiz. He, like you loved to sail and being on the water was so special. Both of you sailed in Los Angeles in 1984.
So, I send you all my best wishes and hope to hear that you are back to sailing soon.