Change of tack…

My last article seems to have created quite a stir, even prompting an online poll showing a big split in opinion over the nationality requirement for the pending America’s Cup match between BMW Oracle and Alinghi. There was even at least one email lobbying people in how to vote! As I struggled to find something to write about this month I thought I would at least include some photos that I am pretty sure will get unanimous approval. Doesn’t matter if you are Swiss or American, you will like the graphics of my new boat. However, I can’t take credit for all of it, just the bikini top, as the original artwork came with the boat.

With the America’s Cup in a constant state of waiting for court orders and speculation about when it will happen, where it will happen and so on, like many others I am growing tired of that subject. But there is plenty of other great racing going on around the world right now.

The Farr 40 Worlds was a fantastic event with 33 boats from 10 countries. The TP52 season has just kicked off and I am racing with the new boat El Desafío Español, built in the team’s AC shed in Valencia with their crew and shore team doing the construction… I am very impressed with what they did in four months! And the RC 44 fleet is growing and becoming impressive as well. So there is a lot of good sailing going on but instead of talking about that this month, I ended up writing an introspective piece that I hope hits a note with someone.

The other night I was lying in bed in a Spanish hotel room, jetlagged and awake at 0400, and I started thinking about what I am doing (don’t do this, it is definitely a bad idea). I started thinking about the fact that I will be 50 next year, that I have been doing this pro sailing thing since 1983. I started wondering if I should be doing something else. As I was thinking to myself, ‘I have spent the last five years doing…’ I focused on the word ‘spent’. We often use this phrase in lieu of ‘I passed’: ‘I passed the weekend doing such and such’.

As I focused on the words ‘spent’ and ‘spend’, it really hit me. Someone got it right when they coined the phrase… you are spending your time and your life. Years are like cards and you only have so many of them. Figure you have 90 ‘year cards’ if you are lucky. As I am almost 50, I have 40 more to spend… if I am lucky. Then that’s it, you can’t ask for more, you can?t buy more, you simply run out.

All this thinking made me very happy with my decision to buy a boat and race with my kids to Hawaii this summer. I am going to spend a few months of time for a lifetime of memories and for enhancing the most important relationships of my life. In fact, I will lose some income during this period, missing two TP52 regattas with Desafío. Further, the project will cost me a few hundred thousand dollars.

I usually spend my time trying to make money. Now I am spending my time on something much more important and valuable to me: my kids. At the end of the road, when I am 90 and about to check out, what will be stuck in my mind? My trip to Hawaii with my kids, or one more race with a bunch of pros. And what will be stuck in my kids’ minds? A little more inheritance or the race to Hawaii with their father? That is how I want to spend my cards.

So the Hula Girl project for the 2008 Pacific Cup is now well underway. I have a few friends helping me make some improvements to the Santa Cruz 50, which was designed by Bill Lee and built in 1980. At 28 years, she is a little old for a boat, but she is still very cool. And as is the trend in today?s world, she has had some work done to perk her up…

Compared to how she was born, she has a 2ft deeper T-keel, 2ft more of pole, a carbon mast and boom and a 2ft hull extension. And we are putting her on a diet right now: stove off, refrigeration off, Spectra watermaker on, freeze-dried on, wood table off, laminate table on, quarter berths out, pipe berths in. And now she has gennakers rather than spinnakers.

My crew (18-22 years old) all sail 49ers and the like. They know what it is like to get up and plane and sheet on when the apparent wind goes forward. When they catch a wave, they are not going to want to bear away to keep the kite from collapsing, so we are putting on a Harken pedestal as top-handling the winches would get old and could be hard on us ‘senior’ guys.

We had our first crew practice at the end of April. We checked all the sails and gear that came with the boat. We reefed, peeled the kite, we hit 14kt in the bay reaching across the top of Alcatraz in 20kt of wind. In the evening I had all the kids over for a barbecue and we opened the liferaft in my pool. They got in it, checked out what gear is there, flipped it over and righted it. We will be training again soon with some night sailing, then again in July when we will sail the first 200 miles of the course and back to get a feel for the sails to be used, the watch system, cooking the freeze-dried, running the watermaker, and so on…

Then on 18 July we will slip out of the Golden Gate with an ebb tide and head to some islands 2,070 miles to the southwest. We understand that when we get there the natives may have some refreshments for us… pronounced MaiTai.