Tens of thousands of you watched years of hard work turn to dust during the first race of the Little America’s Cup last month when Steve Clark and Oliver Moore’s new ride "Aethon" capsized and broke her wing. The break meant that no one could see what kind of quantum leaps the mad scientist of Bristol made, and that the shootout between Fred Eaton’s sleek "Canaan" and the clever Aethon couldn’t happen. Of course Eaton ended up defending the Little AC, but the C-Class folks are nothing if not constantly curious, so they decided to have a little ‘sailoff’ in Toronto last weekend. And for a while, it went well. And Steve’s boat was indeed fast – for a short time, anyway. Here’s the story from ‘blunted.’ Thread with more reports and pics is here.
It was agreed that Steve would bring his platform to Toronto and Fred would lend them a wing for the session. Aethon would use our 2007 wing which was on Orion for the last event and we used to win in 2007, and Fred and I would sail Canaan in her Current configuration. So on Sunday evening Steve and Oliver arrived in Toronto with Aethon in tow at about the same time Fredo was taking his son the emergency room with a broken arm from a playground fall. Steve came to characterize this event as “The Closure Tour”.
Monday was spent setting up the boat and fitting the Canuck wing to her. Likewise Fred obviously had family things to attend to. The plan was some Tuesday sailing, Fred was not going to make it for Tuesday, but would be on board for the planned Wednesday and Thursday sailing.
So following lunch yesterday we saddled up to go out for a short afternoon spin in the lake. We had been watching the weather carefully as on Lake Erie it was blowing 20 and on Georgian bay it was 20 it was more than 100 KM in either direction of us and we were in a lot less breeze in between, but caution nevertheless. So we drifted through the harbor in 6 knots of breeze, turned the corner and found 10-12 right away. We sailed up the channel (Yes THAT channel) through some chop and headed out onto the lake.
Both boats tacked off of the beach and headed offshore, looking for some slightly flatter water. As Fred was not there I was driving Canaan and had Lawn Boy on the wing, so we were being extra cautious about everything, certainly not sailing at full bore. The breeze was now 12-14 with the odd puff higher than that. The breeze didn’t concern me all that much, it was the chop. It was running at 2-3’ and was stacked up pretty close fighting a slow current on this part of the lake.
As soon as the tender said it was blowing 15 steady, I said, “OK we’re all heading in”. If more breeze came in we would be running down in big short chop with the wrong guy on the back end of the boat so I was being careful. I figured we’ll manage the risk on the basis of the weak link, and that was me driving, not Steve and Ollie, a fully trained and well paired crew. We bore away, burned off some distance, did a chicken gybe and started the long run for home on a broad reach. Looking back upwind we saw Aethon stopped and doing some work. A few minutes later Rob spotted them about a half a mile or more behind us at pace. The tender was with them at the back of the pack herding us all to shore.
We were soon approaching the beach and had to do two more gybes to make the channel safely. Needless to say I had visions of our last crash there, in these conditions, firmly planted in my head so we talked it up on every wave. I commented on my empathy for Fred in these boats as when you are driving, you actually only have a very limited input as to the outcome of any wave. The guy on the sheet has all the control, it was utterly nerve racking driving the boat.
We were just about into the channel with one more gybe to pull off, we watched a huge Police RIB tear out of the harbor, as they so frequently do and they were heading straight to about where we last saw Steve. At this point we were speculating that Steve had tipped it in. A flat spot opened up in a puff, so we snapped in one last gybe and tore off into the safety of some flat water. We backed right off and started looking upwind, knowing it was probably futile. We took our time in the harbor hoping to see them come around the corner. The breeze started to pick up so I made the decision just to get the boat in, what ever had happened to them was done and our job was to get this rig on the beach. We punched the throttle and were doing 17 knots upwind in the harbor.
We got the boat out and the wing in the shed, (Thanks Rossi), I had to run for my kids as my wife was out on the RIB. As I hopped on the launch in the other direction I watched the Police RIB motor past to the club with one Aethon Hull onboard and the other towed behind, it’s beams dragging in the smooth water of the harbor.
Fred and I always characterize a main beam strap failure as our worst-case scenario. If it goes, both beams will go instantly, and the wing will crater into the water as the wreckage of the boat runs over it. You will essentially blow the whole show. So seeing the hulls not flying in formation was a very bad sign. Lawnboy and I talked on the phone and confirmed the wing was indeed a write off.
Aethon had headed in after correcting a rudder issue and had been running down wind on a broad reach like us navigating the steep chop. Steve and Ollie were both on the trampoline when a beam broke, followed instantly by the other and the whole show crumpled folding them into the trampoline like a taco. They don’t know which beam broke first.
Big Show, Hogan and Nautichic made a valiant effort to save boat, people and wing. They called up reinforcements quickly but it was all for not. The police got there and gathered up the platform and Steve and Ollie. When they finally got the wing onto the rib it was already in rough shape. Half way in it flipped over right on top of them in a gust, all of them poking through the Clysar film between the ribs. In the short chop the ends of the wing were dragging in the water making steering almost impossible. Eventually they had to unload the whole thing on a beach in crashing surf, or risk a crash into a sea wall in crashing surf, which was the smart thing to do. Sadly however, following all the abuse, the wing was totally dead, a broken spar is the end for these wings.
A few phone calls later and Fred had the full update on the program. As always he was gracious and level headed about things. True to Fred’s nature he also wanted to know how we had been going upwind against the Yanks. But you know, that’s another story…
So for the balance of Tuesday evening there was discussion, there was analysis, there were more than a few moments of silence for our fallen friends, there were pints and Orange whips.
The “Closure Tour”, well, not quite yet. Stay tuned.