World Wide Open
Planes are wonderful places to write. The tiny bottles of vodka fit perfectly next to the computer, I throw my headphones on, and kill hours putting together event reports from all over the world. This flight from Cagliari (pronounced "Calgary" but with a ‘y’ instead of a ‘g’) to Rome is especially good, with a full row of empty seats and a blonde Italian stewardess that proves that not every nation has succumbed to the US requirement that ugly girls get stew jobs too. Sometimes, being a little backward isn’t a bad thing, especially when you do so many other things so well.
And the Italians do sail well – in fact they sail the living shit out of their boats and they are as passionate as any nation on Earth when it comes to sailing fast – but not fast enough to beat a rag-tag group that includes three Americans, four Aussies, and a Dutchman who lives in NY. Of course I am talking about Pieter Taselaar’s ‘Bliksem’ being crowned the first-ever Melges 32 World Champions on Sunday, with a race to spare, over a fleet that included some of the most famous and accomplished names in racing.
Taselaar’s victory was far more important than just another regatta win for a host of reasons, the most important of which is his smashing of the myth that Italian Grand Prix sportboat racing is so far ahead of the rest of the world. While Italy’s passion for certain types of racing is legendary, Taselaar’s mixed-nationality team proved that a good driver with a well-prepped boat and a great crew can show up on the home turf of guys like Vincenzo Onorato, Claudio Recchi, and Giovanni Maspero, and deliver a straight-up beating to all of them. And it was a beating; even before they won the protest that clinched their victory, Bliksem had opened up a substantial gap on the fleet. They had speed in all conditions, great trimming, near-perfect boathandling, and masterful tactics and main trim from Jeremy and Nathan Wilmot. Halfway through the week you could see their confidence spike upwards; they knew no one could hang with them, and it kept them loose, fast as hell and a lot of fun at the bars each night.
Taselaar went to his first Italian regatta in Scarlino this year, and promptly won it. They then went on to Cagliari and won that, all the while sharing tuning tips, going upwind with other boats and testing, and generally bringing the level of the fleet higher with each successive event by giving their opponents something to shoot for and then helping the slower boats achieve it. Despite winning both Italian events so convincingly, they showed up in Porto Cervo with one of the best coaches on the planet, Morgan Reeser. One competing tactician said, "We don’t have a coach with us and we’re in the teens right now and need it – no wonder no one can touch these guys!" Bliksem were so confident that they even lent Morgan to Jason Carroll’s "Argo" crew – one of the fastest out there – to help them with some of their issues, which contributed to Argo’s 5th phenomenal 5th place finish for the regatta.
While Bliksem’s intensity and focus has raised the bar in performance, their off-the-water attitude has been even more impactful. The fact is that these guys party as hard as anyone, and frequently are both the instigators and the closers on any barroom deal. They blast music in the morning on the dock, they are the first to the beer tent, and for chrissakes, they picked bow number 69 for Worlds. And the fleet loves it. While you’ll still find the occasional curfew and tight-assed ex-Farr 40 crew moping around the dock looking to justify their salary, for the most part this class seems to understand that this is about boat racing, not brain surgery, and Taselaar is the first to say "if this were not fun, I would never be doing this." When a team can party, (late) laugh (hard), drink (daily), and smile through almost an entire event and still win convincingly, it has to make the super-serious, stress-filled teams think twice.
But you don’t have to take my word for it – you can listen to the hilarious, informative recording from the live talk show we did with the entire Bliksem crew (and Reeser) just two days ago from the Audi tent in Porto Cervo. Just press "next clip" when the recording stops, and we hope you enjoy these guys as much as I do.
You can also, finally, check out the shaky video of the incident that cost tactician Jonathan McKee and Team 93 a shot at the World Championship. McKee’s been down this road before, but it’s always amazing to see the actual incident when you hear the honest perception from each party., It’s a shame to see Claudio Recchi’s campaign and Melges 32 ownership come to a close in this way because of a single high-risk move – Recchi was one of the first Italians to but into the 32 fleet with his first boat, "Let’s Roll," and this Worlds was his last for the foreseeable future. We initially picked Recchi’s Team 93 to win the event, and after Day 2 it looked like they were going to destroy the fleet. But when the wind lightened up a bit and Bliksem kept flying, 93 found it harder and harder to hang. The pressure built, the mistakes built, and the Recchi/McKee/Favini/Michetti wheels fell off the bus on the final day when they fouled yet another boat while tacking too close under a starboard tacker. By the time their penalty turn was over, they were out of the running, and in the light air the passing lanes they’d found all week just weren’t there. Giovanni Maspero with brilliant tactics from the gifted Chicco Bruni landed them tied in points with Uka Uka Racing for third, winning the tiebreak for 2nd overall, with Recchi just one point behind – in fourth. You can also watch the excellent OTW Cocktail Hour chat we had with Bruni, McKee, Freddy Loof, Ray Davies, Adrian Stead, and Jeremy Wilmot, and the show we did with six prominent owners right here. Since Justin.TV only allows clips of less than 15 minutes, you need to press "next clip" when you get to the end of each.
And for those of you who aren’t entirely sick of the Melges 32 by now, we’ve been promised a fun and interesting post-event wrap-up from Argo strategist Molly Baxter along with the infamous weigh-in "boy shorts" pics of two of the hottest sportboat sailors on earth, and I’ve got a final piece about some of the back stories, the gossip, the pro/amateur debate, and more coming later in the week.
A huge thanks to Melges Europe, Melges Performance Sailboats and the International Melges 32 Class for bringing On-The-Water Anarchy to Porto Cervo, and to Tom Carruthers at Point Loma Outfitting for once again being our official apparel provider for this great event.
Pics of the winning Bliksem and of Sailing Anarchy’s newest racing partner, Mascalzone Latino (check out that mast decal!), are from the lovely Meredith Block. You can see her entire gallery here – all order proceeds go to buying her either a new laptop or some lacy lingerie…